by Farah Ghuznavi. This article was originally published in the Star Weekend Magazine, Bangladesh. Reprinted with permission.
Like any 21st-century metropolis, the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka has its darker side. To be fair, with an impossible population density, crumbling infrastructure, gritty urban poverty coexisting alongside extreme wealth, and the general absence of public service provision, that is hardly surprising. In recent years, the city’s inhabitants have been struggling with rising crime rates, but it remains a relatively safe city for foreigners.
Anyway, fears of crime aside there are any number of oddballs to be encountered in my hometown – as a friend of mine recently found out first hand. Nadiya is a feminist writer, poet and translator, and very much a free spirit. She is in the habit of taking morning walks with a friend in one of the city’s few remaining parks, a pleasant place where a number of people congregate in the early hours of the day to take their daily constitutional.
A couple of months ago Nadiya was walking in the park in the early morning, dressed in her tracksuit and doing her own thing. She was approached unexpectedly by an older man who accosted her, and began a tirade – “What’s wrong with you, woman? Why are you out so early in the morning, dressed indecently in order to lead astray the young men who are here to exercise?”
Initially, Nadiya was moderate in her response, simply saying, “Listen, I am minding my own business, and I suggest that you mind yours!”
Unfortunately, this man was clearly agitated and continued, “Look at you! You have short hair like a man; you are dressed like a man. I suppose you have a job too! So you probably think that you’re just as good as a man!”
At this point, Nadiya understandably lost it saying, “Nobody else in this park is looking at me, or has had anything bad to say about how I dress! So why are you looking at me?! If you want to look at something, I suggest you go home and take the burqa off your wife – whom you probably insist on keeping well covered at all times – and look at her instead!” Leaving him speechless with apoplectic rage, she stalked off.
In fact, Nadiya was so angry herself that she made a full circle of the route and very quickly found herself again walking on the path just behind him. Apparently, the “gentleman” is a regular at that park, so when his friends began to arrive for their morning walks, they invariably greeted him; and he was then forced to turn back to acknowledge them. Inevitably, he caught her eye almost every time he did that. And whenever he turned back, Nadiya said, in a tone that left no room for misunderstanding, “Don’t you look at me, mister…You just keep looking straight ahead! Don’t you dare look back at me!” Read more