It is often said that big cities never sleep. They remain open 24 hours. The workers work in the factory, the prostitutes entertain their customers, people addicted to wine and gambling are busy with friends and this way large cities never sleep. In many large cities of the world, you can find bus and taxi all the time. You can find many food shops open whole night. This matter is some true and some false for Dhaka. Dhaka is not that famous as a large city but the reality is that it has a population of more than 10 million. It is one of the top 20 most populous cities of the world. Perhaps it is the smallest city in size and most densely populated of the cities with a population of over 10 million. On the question of never sleeping it is difficult to say exactly if Dhaka sleeps at night or not. On the one hand, factory workers, prostitutes and gamblers are dedicated in their nightly works like their counterparts in other large cities. However, their numbers are fewer than many other large cities as there are fewer industries in Dhaka and since it is mainly a city with a overwhelmingly Muslim population very few people go to prostitutes and clubs (for gambling). It is the story of one night in Dhaka city. It is the story of a man in his 30 who has never experienced night life in Dhaka in the street.
Shajal Rahman is a man of 30. He works in a private company as a manager. The company he works for is one of the most famous oil companies and Sajal works in the head office located at Motikhil, the heart of Dhaka. Everyday he comes to the office at 9 AM and although his working hour is supposed to be until 5 PM he has to be in the office often until 6 or 7 PM. He has been working in this job for the last 4 years and he is happy with his salary. After returning home at 6:30 or 7:30 PM he takes some rest and then reads or watches television and then goes to sleep. Then at around 11 PM he goes to bed so that he can get up at 7 AM next day and not be late for office. He is happy with the salary he gets from his office. He is yet to get married as he has not found a girl to marry yet. Her parents and relatives are looking for a bride for the last 6 months but they could not reach into a consensus about one particular girl. All the time, their opinion is divided. May be Sajal’s mother likes a girl but her father seriously dislikes her or maybe her parents like a girl but her uncles or aunts find every fault with her. Sometimes they insist Sajal to accompany them in their mission to look for a girl but Sajal has resisted by saying that first they must get a consensus about a girl and then the question of his going comes. He now regrets deeply not for trying to win the heart of a girl seriously in his university days. He was not bad looking, nor a bad student and he comes from a middle class educated family too. If he tried enough he could have surely found a girl for his life. It is not that he did not try but most of the time he could not even dare to inform the girl about his feelings. Now he has no time to find a girl. All the time, it is office and home and home and office. Even on Fridays, he is sometimes busy with office work.
That day was like every other day. He got up at 7 AM and then got ready and ate breakfast and went to office by a taxi. The day was busy like every other day. He had to solve some problems of some subordinates. One clerk applied for leave of 3 days for the marriage of his sister and although at first he did not want to grant the leave of absence, thinking of his own marriage he agreed after one hour. His boss, the Deputy Managing Director, Mr Chowdhury reminded him to prepare a presentation by 3 days about a possible deal with a large multinational company. This is the thing he is very good at- making presentations. He can bring something extra than other managers and that is why whenever the company needs any presentation, he is given the task of drafting the first version. Shajal replied to Mr Chowdhury that he will give him the write up on Saturday.
He was thinking of leaving the office at 5:30 PM but then he had to talk to the manager of another company about a problem and then it took him around 6:30 PM and finally he got free and started for home. It was such a rush in the Motijhil area that no taxi wanted to come to Mohammadpur. He offered even double fair to some of them but they did not come and one taxi driver politely said sorry to him and told him that since there was a political procession in the Shahbagh area there was a huge jam in the every road to Mohammadpur. So, Shajal was thinking of an alternative. He tried for the bus but they were so crowded. So he started to search for a rickshaw. He found a rickshaw that would not go until Mohammadpur but New Market. He felt himself to be lucky as for the traffic jam there were fewer rickshaws. After coming to new market, he found another rickshaw that would go to Nurjahan road, his home. It passed Dhanmondi Road 2 and came to Satmahjid road and passed Jigatal bus stoppage. Near Dhanmondi road No 15 bus stoppage a new restaurant had recently opened. When Shajal’s rickshaw was near the hotel he saw a small crowd beside it. Certainly something happened there. Normally, Shajal avoids this kind of unpleasant situations and they are every day happening in Dhaka. He had to stop as he saw his friend Ali in the crowd. Ali had studied him in the university and is now a college teacher. Seeing him Shajal stopped the rickshaw and paid the rickshaw puller the money. The rickshaw puller also instead of going away remained beside the restaurant to see what had happened.
Going a little more inside Shajal found that a poor boy of 10-11 was screaming loudly as fresh blood was flowing from a fresh wound on his head. Shajal’s friend Ali and some of the customers in the restaurant were in a hot argument with the restaurant manager over this incident. What happened was that the boy came inside the restaurant to drink a glass of water and he accidentally broke a glass. The manager and two waiters of the restaurant were furious and when they found that the boy did not have any money they started to beat him. At one stage, the manager hit him with a wooden stick in the head and this caused the deep wound. Some customers in the restaurant protested and thus a small crowd gathered. When Shajal went inside, his friend Ali was shouting at the manager,
“The boy broke a glass and for that you hit in his head with a stick! Look, bastard, what you have done to this small boy! How would you like now we hit you same way?”
The manager hit back at Ali and others, “It is none of your business. Mind your own business.”
At this one customer beside Ali got angry with the manager and slapped him hardly. The 4 waiters and boys beside the manager wanted to retaliate but they controlled themselves seeing that the odds were heavily against them in number. Shajal looked at the boy. He was still crying and blood was still flowing from his wound. Shajal told Ali, “Let us take the boy to a pharmacy. This way he is losing a lot of blood.’
Ali and Shajal came out of the restaurant along with the boy while the other customers were shouting at the manager. Luckily 100 meters ahead of the restaurant there was a pharmacy. The doctor was there and he with the help of his assistant put a bandage around the head of the boy and gave one injection and also wrote down the names of some medicines. Ali wanted to pay the bill but Shajal did not let him and he paid the bill himself. They came to know that his name was Matin.
The next question came where the boy lived. Ali asked it and the boy replied that he lived in the street near Abahani Club playground. The boy also had some fever and became very weak. Ali and Shajal both were at a loss about what to do. At first Shajal suggested that they should give the boy enough money so that he would not need to pick up old garbage for at least one month and will get his health back. This was surely a generous idea and the boy was really lucky to meet Ali and Shajal that day. However, he had high fever and it was sure that in the street he would not survive. They first took him to another good restaurant but the boy was so weak and sick that he could hardly eat anything. This caused both of them get sympathetic to the boy. Talking to him, they came to knew that his father had left his mother 2 years ago and then his mother got married to another man. That man did not agree to keep Matin with him and for 2 years Matin lived in the street. Every day he walks through the different parts of the city and picks up paper, anything metal, old bottle- virtually everything that he could sell in the evening. This way he has been living in the street for the last two years.
Shajal became very sad to hear the life story of the boy. ‘Poor Matin’ he thought, ‘this boy has no past, present is dead for him and the future is worse.’ Every one in Dhaka knows about the street people and particularly street children. They are called ‘Tokai’ in Bangla language. Shajal and Ali both of them have read about their lives in the newspapers so many times. But here they were actually eating in the same table in a restaurant with a tokai. They thought that they should take the boy to his mother. The boy told him the location of the slum that his mother lives with her second husband. It was near Uttara and with the traffic jam; it would take more than one hour even by a taxicab. They took a taxicab and after getting into the taxi Shajal asked the driver to go to Mohammadpur first so that he could take some money from his home- incase they need. After going to Mohammadpur, Shajal took 2000 Taka from his drawer and then again got into the car. They boy protested that his mother would not accept him because of his stepfather but he was too ill to protest strongly. It took them 90 minutes to reach the slam in Tongi and they found Matin’s mother. She cried for her boy but did not agree to keep him for fear of her husband. All she could do was give Matin 50 Taka. She cried and begged to Shajal and Ali to help the poor boy. Shajal got angry and he told Matin to return his mother’s money but Ali took the money from Matin and kept it in his pocket.
After going out of the slum Shajal shouted at Ali, “How you took the money from his mom? What can 50 Taka do? Even the taxi fare is 120 Taka.
Ali spoke softly, “His mother is helpless Shajal. Do you think any mother would want to leave her son? Poor people have the same love and care for their children as us Shajal. By giving this money, she felt some consolation and just think to you 50 Taka is nothing. She saved this money little by little and may be it took her 3 months.”
Shajal did not like what Ali said but he became silent as he knew in his heart that what Ali said was logical and Matin’s mother was even more helpless than them about helping Matin. So, the two friends became nervous. It was implied that none of them could take the boy in their home and keep him for few days. The best place would have been going to a clinic or hospital. Shajal proposed this idea but Ali disagreed, “if we take this boy to a hospital or clinic then they may think we have tortured him and now leaving him in a hospital. There may be involvement of police and we will suffer harassment for nothing.” Shajal agreed and then they started to ponder seriously what to do about the boy.
Matin’s fever gradually disappeared and he felt better. Shajal and Ali again took him to a restaurant. This time, he could eat at his heart’s content. He felt some better and wanted to go near Abahani playground. He must sell whatever he picked for that day. They brought him to that place. Today was really a bad for Matin. He got only 20 Taka. However, Ali gave the 50 Taka that Matin’s mother gave and this made Matin satisfied. He looked at the 50 Taka note for a long time. His mother cried for him and gave him money. This matter gave him a lot of comfort. In the last 2 years, he went to see his mother 5-6 times. Each time, she acted very cruelly with him and even did not give him anything to eat or any money. For him, it was like Eid that he received good behavior from her at last.
Matin saw some of his friends who live at night with him. There were 5 of them. Hamid, Asad, Karim, Liton and Azim. They are involved in the same profession like Matin. They have more or less the same story like Matin about their family. They were surprised to see the condition of Matin and even more surprised to see two gentlemen like Shajal and Ali with him. Matin slowly explained everything to them and they were happy for Matin. They assured Shajal and Ali that they would help Matin to recover from his injury. Shajal gave Matin 500 taka and told that he would help him totally to get cured.
Shajal and Ali felt satisfaction that they could do something for the poor helpless boy and they were thinking of returning home. However, they both knew that they were only cheating their own heart about the reality. There is every possibility that Matin may experience similar cruelty and there would be no Ali or Shajal next time to help him. To all the citizens children like Matin are eyesores. Sometimes, they come to the road to sell some cheap things; sometimes they join the political processions. Sometimes, they steal and get beaten while many times they beg. Life is an endless misery to them and no body seems to care at all. Their parents have given up on them after being unable to provide for them. City dwellers have condemned them to a life of misery and Shajal felt happy that at least one day in his life he could do something human for a human being in need. Both Ali and Shajal learnt one lesson from this experience- to say nice words is completely opposite of doing something meaningful in life. He touched it very deeply that most people around him were just like jokers not because they did not help the helpless people but because they had no feeling of humanity. They can cry watching an emotional movie but they get annoyed when a poor boy or a girl begs them for bread. The actors in the movie tries to bring out their best performance for money and fame but these poor miserable children beg or sell in the street just for survival. Their hunger is real and constant. There is no way out for them.