Every city moves to its own beat. Although I am a city dweller through and through, it took me some days into my visit to Dhaka before I could sense its unique rhythm. It was only when my friend Mahmudul Hasan took me one evening through the narrow streets of the Old City, down to the Buriganga River boat terminal at Sadarghat, that I felt the Dhakan bassline in my belly for the first time.

As our rickshaw approached the Buriganga that defines the southern edge of the city, the full moon lit up a portside vista – a rank of passenger ferries waiting to cast off, boarded by the streams of people making their way down the gangplanks carrying bundles of possessions and goods to sell, families, many with small children, and elderly people in tow. The low long boom of the ferry horns cut across the incessant treble ‘beep, beep, beep’ of cars and auto-rickshaws trying to gain an inch advantage through the traffic-jam streets.

Men with nothing else to do leant silently against the riverside wall, smoking cigarettes and watching the flow and ebb. A stall with heaps of toothbrushes was doing good business, making money a few Bangladesh Taka at a time selling to those who had forgotten to pack the essential item for an overnight trip. On a warehouse overlooking the wharf hung a huge banner by the ruling Awami Party, with a picture of its leader Sheikh Hasina’s hand raised as if imperiously waving off the masses. The slogan read: ‘The Principal of Sheikh Hasina is the Development of Democracy’.

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