Emil was back at his workstation, checking his inbox, organizing his desktop, rearranging all the paraphernalia in his desk drawer, and generally trying to look busy. Anindya, who sat diagonally on Emil’s left, was serenading the office with a song about a girl who is usually seen hanging around a bus-stand, is of a buxom built, and has pouty red lips while Kaiser clapped and stomped and let out the occasional hoot to keep the rhythm going. Masum bhai, who sat on Emil’s immediate left, was proof-reading a press release that was going out at the end of the day.
Shaheen bhai had suggested ’For a Fresh Slice of Life!’ and Masum bhai had immediately thought up of a better line, ’For a Refreshing Slice of Life!’ and a heated argument had ensued about who was plagiarizing whose work. Rashed bhai had to call the meeting to an end on account of everyone being too stressed out and Masum bhai needing to go out to a mosque to pray. Another meeting was scheduled for the next day.
Emil worked on the daily crossword puzzle after that and made his way through three-quarters of it. The rest, he knew, he could rely on Shaheen bhai to complete with the help of his thesaurus which he called his words-dictionary.
Emil checked the time again. It was afternoon. Pretty soon, it would be late afternoon, then pre-evening, evening, and around 6:00PM, he could finally leave for the day. Breaking a large stretch of time into smaller segments made it easier for Emil to pass time (for clarifications, see the first axiom of passage of time). He did that every time he was stuck in a traffic-jam[i].
“Emil, want to come have lunch with us? We’re having biriyani at the new place.” Someone asked; perhaps Rubel, breaking Emil out of his reverie.
“There is a new place in Banani every week. You guys go ahead, I’ll check it out later.” Emil replied, “I have a few things to take care off.” Twenty minutes later, he was the only one left back on the floor. He looked out the window and saw it had started to rain. That would definitely cause a traffic jam. The sewages were going to overflow onto the sidewalks around the office as well. Emil was glad to have not gone out with everyone. But he had also not brought lunch because Sania had thrown his lunch-box away since it had a hole on it. Emil had passionately argued that the hole was on top, not at the bottom, and if anything, kept his food fresh but Sania would hear none of it. Flexibility was not her becoming.
Sometimes, Emil wondered how he felt about her narrow and dogmatic worldview.
[i] Customary to every gridlock in Dhaka, there is always an initial period where everyone tries to maintain law and order and driving down the wrong side of the road is quite optional at this stage. However, given enough time, and not enough mobility, we soon enter the second period, where a blame-game ensues where the cars blame the rickshaw-pullers for the gridlock, the rickshaw-pullers blame all the rich people and their clumsy big vehicles, and busses blame everybody but themselves. Around this period, one or two cuss words begin to appear here and there like the elusive release of a soothing breeze in the hot summer months.
The third phase is initiated when someone collides with someone else, a jaywalker gets run over, a private car gets a tiny scratch, a rickshaw goes toppling over, or an autorickshaw stops working for no reason whatsoever, blocking the road, and the yelling and cursing suddenly comes down like the torrential downpours of kalboishakhi – sudden and vicious – and catches the rickshaw-pullers with their lungis down. Someone invariably tries to drive down the wrong side of the road at this point and immediately, everyone else knows they have to do the same or risk losing out and being left behind in life and if there is one thing that the rickshaw pullers and CNG drivers and chauffeurs are, then that is a group of winners. Driving down the wrong side of the road is no longer optional; it is a necessity.
If you consider yourself better than that and try to stick to your side of the road, everyone who gets stuck behind you will let you know just who they think you are. That can range from being a sissy-boy to a romancer of all the women in your family to the son of the road’s owner; perhaps all three at once, such will be the eloquence of the abuses hurled towards you.
Everyone tries to outdo, outmaneuver, and outthink everyone else until everything is stationary and stuffy and then, only then, can you expect to find a way out of the traffic jam.
Because then we enter the fourth period, when some good Samaritan, bearing a cudgel in one hand and a red-bandanna tied to his forehead, appears out of nowhere and begins to direct the traffic around (Bangalis as a rule of law will always obey anyone with a stick in his hand and an aura of unearned accomplishment about him) until his own ride gets through and he runs off and the process is repeated again and again with other Samaritans (color of the bandannas need not be constant) until the gridlock is taken care of entirely.