After arrival in Dhaka, the experience in the airport may be diverse. One way is just to do it the straight way. You walk the stairs to the immigration area always to find yourselves behind a long never moving line of impatient passengers. And if this line ever moves, after relentless pushing from the person who is standing 0.0005 millimeter behind you and you finally reach the immigration counter, you will always find a unwelcoming face scrutinizing you with the most suspicion full look and trying the best to find a glitch (The picture is too old, does not match you, how did you get US passport, “ki Koren Oikhane?” etc.). Next step beyond the immigration is the customs, where people is white eagerly wait with knife and scissors( Literally– to cut open the luggage) for Middle east passengers , being European or US returnee you usually get an easier ride. Next, once you are out of airport you find yourself lost in front of hundreds or thousands of suspicious eyes, apparently everyone is trying get something out of you. Porters snatching your luggage to help you, beggars literally hounding you for 5 dollars, and you try to find your way to the unassuming parking lot through a narrow uneven alley.
This will happen if you belong to general class. However if you belong to a “connected class’, you will find someone asking for your name just outside aircraft gate, have you wait for 10-15 minutes in air conditioned VIP lounge until your passport is sealed and luggage are in your car waiting for you just outside.
Who are these connected people in Dhaka? Not so difficult, you can be a VIP if your distant grand uncle -in-law is an ex MP (does not matter whether he is now in jail or in hiding) or if you know someone wearing an olive green dress-be it a sepoy or a general or if your uncles wife’s cousin’s in law’s grand father is a who’s who in the government or a rich businessman AKA CIP.
Starting from the airport experiences, Dhaka never cease to make clear of it’s different handling of two classes. In hospital there are different bathrooms and cafeteria for professors, junior professors, junior doctors, other employees and at the bottom, for the patients.
Apart from these differences between the connected and not so connected, the obscene difference between the haves and have not in Dhaka is getting more distinct with every passing year.
The photo below will define the two classes very clearly.
People on both sides illegally occupy the lake, however only those on the right side gets bulldozed.
In current market value, a housing unit in the left side will cost you 3 to 5 crore
taka. An inhabitant of the right side of the lake, with his current daily rate of 60-80 taka /day long manual labor, if he saves all his money without feeding-boarding, will need more than two thousand years i.e. around 72 working lifetimes to ever be able to move from the right side to left side of the lake.
Then talk about the left side. It also has its uppers and lowers. There are some who live in those houses and those who guard the entrances to these palatial places. Each time you pass through the gates, those in the gate will honor your being in the upper class by a big salute. One such place gave me food for an interesting arithmetic. That place has 20 housing units, each with 4-5 inhabitants, so total of 100. If each of the 100 elites pass through the gate on average 4 times a day, that will be 400 times. And there are guests, friends etc. So a total of 500 salutes a day for those men in khake at the gates. 500 a day becomes 14000 times in a month. This man in Khaki gets a meager salary of 2500 Taka a month. So he is being paid 17 Paisa (0.17 Taka or 0.2 cents) per salute if we consider that he is doing the rest of his job for free.
When you mingle with the fortunate class in those 4 crore taka apartments, you hear a lot of commotion about the exorbitant salary of 4 to 5000 taka for the driver. This driver works effectively 7 days a week from 7 am to 12 mid night and occassionally beyond midnight. It hurts a lot to pay that 5000 but it hurts little to pay similar amount o money for a dinner of 4 at the Saltz sea food place or the spitfire or the Royal Orchid.
Dhaka, in the past, used to have three classes, but the class in the middle is fast disappearing. Some in the middle are desperate to swim the dirty lake to the left side at any cost while most in the middle are rapidly drifting down to the right poor side of the social divide.
After spending some days in the fortunate class in Dhaka, while I return to the airport, I again see the divide between the connected and the disconnected. One directly drives into the VIP area and waits in the Balaka lounge while his passport and luggage are being processed. Rests of us wait in line, again to be grilled by immigration police who tries unsuccessfully to stop the millions from leaving Bangladesh.