There was chaos out in the streets when Inora left her parents’ house. An absolute bedlam.
It took the Uber almost thirty minutes to arrive. The driver popped the hood and Inora put her travel-bag in there. The ride was a smooth one from the steps where Inora was picked up till the main entrance of the building. Not so much after that. They managed to travel a mile in the first fifteen minutes and Inora thought she could be making better time on foot. She paid the driver and got out at the intersection at Manik Mia Avenue.
Whichever direction Inora looked that, men in bandannas and sticks were rioting, beating people up, or just hitting posts and poles and the pavement in frustration. Truck-drivers were fighting bus-drivers, rickshaw-pullers were kicking autorickshaws, and the traffic-polices were busy talking to private-car chauffeurs in hushed tones. Inora started walking but did not make good progress since everyone else had also decided to start walking and gotten exhausted and were just ambling on at this point. The aforementioned men in multicolored bandannas were beating some of these tired citizens with sticks.
It was tough for Inora to work out if this was the Apocalypse Initiative or if yet another political rally was holding up the traffic. She had already walked for an hour when it occurred to her that she had forgotten her travel-bag. After another ten minutes of walking, she had a call from work but the commotion around her was so deafening that she did not think a proper conversation was possible. She slowed down her pace to send a message, remind them that she was still on vacation. By the time she was done, a twelve-year-old peddler was trying to sell her limes and a sixteen-year-old peddler was trying to sell her combs. She was trying to shoo them both away without being too rude, gradually picking up speed when they came to a standstill. A crowd had formed ahead and Inora could not see why.
“What is going on?” she asked the person next to her. He wiped the sweat off his face and looked towards the man next to him, “Hey, do you know what is going on? The lady wants to know.”
“What do I know? Does anyone ever tell us anything?”
“So you do not know?”
“Na, bhai, how will I know?”
“Do you think anyone else here knows?”
“Well, let me ask around.” He said, tugged on the shirt of the man next to him and asked, “Boro bhai, do you know why there is a gathering ahead?”
“I do not know, bhai. I saw a crowd, so I came. May be a famous person is up ahead.”
“Who do you think it is?”
“How will I know? I just came. I was just about to ask someone else.”
“Give me a minute and I will.” He said and did so.
“It must be Mashrafe bhai,” the other person was saying, “who else can pull such a crowd?”
“But what is he doing? What is going on?”
“Do not know, chacha. But let me ask someone.”
And so, the curiosity spread. Everyone knew the question and everyone was asking the question, yet no one knew the answer, but because the question was being continuously asked anew, there was a feeling of tremendous progress being made in the crowd, and a believe that a wholesome outcome was right around the corner.
Very soon, the question circled back to Inora, “Apa, do you know what is happening ahead? Have they blocked the street to shoot a commercial?”
Inora answered scornfully, “If you want to find out, why don’t you just push forward and see for yourself?” she said and started making her way forward, which was surprisingly easy since a lot of the people, instead of trying to get to the epicenter of the gathering, were more interested in getting out of it, and gladly let Inora move farther ahead. After some fifteen or twenty steps forward, Inora asked someone again, “Do you know what is going on ahead?”
“Well, that remains to be seen, does it not?” he replied in a smooth gravelly voice, took a drag of his cigarette, and extended his hand for a shake, “Hi, I am Shaheen. Pleased to meet you. Here, let me help you get out of this crowd, come.” he said, and his outstretched hand turned ninety-degrees, from an upright vertical position to completely horizontal, waiting for Inora to give him her hand.
Inora moved ahead. She took another ten steps forward and asked someone else, “Hey, any idea what is going on?”
“Someone has stolen the mosque, apu.” He said, throwing his hands up in the air, “Gone completely. Vanished. Kaput! Modern technology; you have to marvel. Koi uthai niye gese!”
Inora moved farther ahead, another five steps. Then she saw it herself.
Someone had stolen the mosque.
“Does anyone know what happened?” Inora asked, loudly so that everyone around could hear.
“It is the gobment!” someone shouted. “This is what secularism gives you.” Another voice joined in. “One more shopping mall! As if we need one more shopping mall!” “Let’s form a human-chain! Quickly! We will stop the construction.” “Give me your hand!” ’Here! Come quickly, around the perimeter. Quickly now!”
“Here, take my hand.” Someone told Inora. She turned out. It was that man Shaheen again.
Inora turned around and began to make her way out of the gathering[i].
She pushed herself out of the gathering and started making her way towards Emil’s apartment, which was still a very long away. She checked every few steps to make sure that Shaheen, if that was his real name, was not following her. Once she was certain he was not, she picked up her speed. Once she got to a relatively emptier place, halfway along the Old Airport Road, she took her phone out and got herself a Pathao ride. It arrived within five minutes and the driver handed her a helmet. She put it on and they were off, whizzing their way through the cars and busses and the people.
Inora noticed plenty of gatherings along the way, similar to the one she had just traversed. From that she concluded: someone has stolen all the mosques. Near Badda, she saw another similar crowd and she concluded: someone has stolen all the churches as well. She put the two conclusions together and came up with a working hypothesis: someone has stolen all the places of worship.
She could be relatively certain under those circumstances that it was indeed the Apocalypse Initiative.
[i] What is the best way of getting out of a gathering/crowd?
Assuming that by getting out of a gathering, it is implied that all backs should be turned towards you and all gazes looking away from you, the most labor-saving mean of getting out of a gathering will be by interesting all members of the gathering in the direction exact to their position relative to you. Therefore, a guy standing north-west of you should suddenly find something very interesting in north-west and immediately turn in that direction. As everyone turned and looked away from you, you would, indubitably, find yourself outside of the gathering, without having to move a muscle.
This method, despite its theoretical niceties, has, however, proved to be rather impractical.
The most successful method, a Newtonian approach, is based around concentrating on incremental, small change. Instead of trying to get yourself out of the crowd, one is advised to simply concentrate on putting whoever it is that is facing you behind you (if no one is facing you, you are either already out of the gathering, or facing the wrong way). Do this enough time and depending on the size of the gathering, you will, without fail, find yourself outside the said gathering in time.