Dhaka as dawn rises, city stretching beyond my look, beyond any believable horizon packed with bodies, cars, objects strewn across the roads. A city of colours, a city of smells. The mingling of unimaginable stench and scents; rotting garbage, sewages left open, lakes overflowing with human and animal waste and behind it all the sweet fleshy smell of jackfruit often fighting the powerful smell of sweating armpits, a whiff of a girl’s perfume, jasmine, oily scents masking sometimes the putrid smell of rotting fruit; a crescendo of some of the most beautiful scents and the worst stenches.
This is a city of human labour, the heart of where people have come from all over the countryside to live and often die for textile.
Bangladesh is the next emerging world hub for the textile business. It is set to grab a larger share of the market it seems as India, China and to an extent Pakistan no longer offer prices that are cheap enough to be affordable for the West. When I say affordable I mean of course prices that will allow the West to make a fat margin off the difference between the price the Western retailers are willing to pay for the garments they buy from this country and the price at which they can sell them to their customers. Dhaka is at the heart of the textile trade covering a large part of what Bangladesh has to offer in terms of textile industry.
The West shocked by what happened at Rana Plaza shows its hypocrisy when a young lady, following the latest trend, refuses to pay a dollar or two more for the fancy jeans she will wear a year maybe two, when the same young lady or perhaps another feels satisfaction over having bargained to gain a couple thousand Takas on the price she paid for some garments to a local merchant during a trip to Dhaka. It shows it when those same retailers from the West with their accusing pointing fingers come here to bargain. The same pointing finger they used then to accuse the Producers in Dhaka of not respecting proper conditions for their labourers would now indicate a piece for which they are bargaining, for which they are not willing to pay a dollar more. They want discounts. They want a better price.
A better price… What is a better price? That lower price comes surely at the cost of one human being’s livelihood, perhaps a few human beings but that seems so remote when they are sweating in the heat of Dhaka, pointing at that vital piece they want for their collection and swearing internally at the seller for not giving in quicker and offering them a better price so that they can finally go back to their air-conditioned hotel rooms and soon after that back to their clean homes and comfortable weather. Away from this heat and dust , this unbearable mingling of the ultimate scents and the worst stenches.
Hypocrisy it seems has many faces.
Across my mind’s eye flash the images of textile on the floor and men lifting it up, painstakingly folding the yarns, women covering their smiling faces, shy yet excited to be for a time the centre of some foreigner’s attention, children huddled together and closer to their mother, a small square room with barely enough space to sit in comfortably for two as far as westerners are concerned and which holds the huddled bodies of three children gathered around their mother while one young girl lifts a string of jasmine for sale…
I close my eyes to the imprint of beautiful liquid eyes looking up at me, hopeful that I will buy some flowers. Warm sunny faces, here and there a set of crooked or missing teeth but almost always a smile except for the beggars with their stony faces and piercing eyes, keen to spot that soft hearted person who will maybe give in and offer them a few Takas.
Human beings everywhere in their silent suffering, some taking it better than others.
As with most cities, this one too counts a lot on the manual labour, the textile business that will help build the country into a thriving economy. A business that will help the population evolve to the next level of hierarchical needs if you take Maslow’s theory. India too went through that cycle around 10 years ago and is still doing so to some extent. As for Bangladesh, for the time being, they are in the now, in the dust of cotton and the fumes of dyes, living and dying for textile.
I’d like to think that each time I buy some chains of jasmine or a few scarves at local markets whether in India or in Bangladesh without haggling on the price I am somehow doing my bit.
I’d like to think that some day as human beings we will understand that what we want for ourselves is rightfully what each other human being wants and is entitled to want and have.
I’d like to believe that some day there will be no requirement for any human being to suffer and live in squalid conditions for others to thrive and live in luxury.
I’d like to think that and so many other things.
Meanwhile, Dhaka is waking up with its throbbing heart exhaling jasmine, jackfruit, sweat and all things wasted while I slip into my suit.