Adventurous is not the first word that pops into one’s mind when thinking of us Bangladeshis. Hospitable? Yes. Warm? Yes. Resilient? Definitely yes. And laidback? Yes. But “adventurous”?
Perhaps we are getting the word wrong. How about “adrenaline junkie”? People who just love living on the edge, some of them engaging in extreme sports like surfing, paragliding, mountain climbing, tightrope walking between buildings without a safety net, you get the drift. Without trying to undermine their amazing feats, one does get the impression that these individuals get a kick out of having “near-death experiences” as frequently as possible. And here lies the similarity with the people of this country.
Take the classic jaywalker near a busy crossroad who couldn’t give two hoots to the killer bus that lunges forward with all its might on the little human being who has the audacity to lift a puny hand and signal stop, even when the lights have gone green. What is most amazing is that in most cases, the vehicles, no matter how mighty, actually do stop, albeit screeching with disbelief and perhaps inflicting considerable bodily harm to the passengers within. It is as if the drivers behind those killer wheels become hypnotised by “The Hand” no matter how small and unimpressive.
There are also the “street surfers” who contort their bodies meandering through traffic in between buses, jumping on or jumping off those crazy vehicles while they are moving, dangling like jackfruits, half their bodies exposed to the carbon monoxide, dust and other speeding buses. These individuals are no less fearless than surfers and scuba divers—who have had limbs torn off by irritated sharks—for they risk the loss of limb every time they try their Houdini acts knowing full well the ruthlessness and sadistic streak of our dear bus/truck drivers.
Speaking of which, bus and truck drivers are perhaps the most intense adrenaline junkies: they may or may not know how to drive, have a driving licence, but who believe in the motto “To live is to always be on the brink of death.” “Reckless” is their middle name and risking the lives of their passengers or other fellow beings in other vehicles or on the highways is part of the thrill. With no deterrent in the form of stringent, enforced laws to hold them back, these are really the “killers on the road.” Often operating under the influence of various narcotics including alcohol, they add to the thrill by taking, at the behest of their bosses, inhuman number of trips so that they are also abominably sleep-deprived. The result is the death races that we see on the highways, creating the jaw-dropping statistics of casualties as a result of these daredevil acts gone wrong.
But there are other daredevils who surf the streets in other ways. Let us not forget the swarms of motorcyclists and their friends and families. Apparently the first thing one needs to know when learning to drive a motorcycle is how to zigzag through the roads like a maniacal “hula hoop” enthusiast. Wearing a helmet still seems to be optional despite the law that makes it mandatory. Mysteriously for some, this has been interpreted to mean either only the driver wearing a helmet or only the adults. Hence the many trips with Daddy wearing a helmet, sometimes Mommy too, though she insists on sitting side saddle —which of course is not risky at all (!)—and the two kids in between the parents plus baby in front with the fluorescent sunglasses, going totally helmet-less. Perhaps they are more diehard adrenaline junkies than their parents whose IQ seems to drop to earthworm levels whenever they decide on these daring ventures, euphemistically called “family outing”.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to incorrigible thrillseekers. There are thousands of men, women and children of this country who voluntarily partake in activities that keep them inches away from sure death or disfigurement. There are those tiny boys who can stand, jump and dance on the roofs of speeding trains and buses. There are wiry young men dangling from ropes as they clean windows or paint walls of high-rises while those watching from inside the buildings have their hearts in their mouths. Others called construction workers balance themselves on thin slabs of cement as they hammer away or slather cement to hold bricks together. Yet others known as electricians risk thousands of volts striking them or dropping a few hundred feet into the concrete street while trying to fix the blasted transformer. Protective gear? What on earth is that? Definitely not something their employers worry about. After all, a death here or there is no big deal—nobody forced them to take this job right? Right. With poverty acting as the producer and greed the director, these nail-biting, heart-stopping circus acts never stop and are never out of thrilling moments with real-life deaths and injuries.
So are we really incurable thrillseekers or is there something inherently missing from our sense of logic regarding the probability of death under certain circumstances? Or else why would someone ride on a rickshaw carrying a huge mirror, peddling behind a truck carrying sharp and pointy iron rods in the middle of Airport Road? Or why would someone negotiate the barbed wire on the dividers to cross the road risking mutilation or a journey to the ‘other side’ instead of taking the more logical path over the footbridge? It could be boredom, it could be an affinity to taking shortcuts that has become part of our national culture. Or it could be a total disregard for common sense and value for one’s own life or anyone else’s for that matter.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is Senior Deputy Editor,