Cow is a four-legged animal

 Published in: The Daily Star on January 13, 2016
Cow is a four-legged animal

Long ago, an essay on cow was the easiest challenge of a primary examination. We were always given hints on what to write in case we chose to attempt such a “common” essay. The most obvious first line defined a cow: “A cow is a four-legged animal.” Many of us, who were a little ambitious with exam scores, would always shy away from such easy baits. Somehow, we were taught not to be regular or predictable. We were taught to score more with writing essays on topics that were a little more challenging. Young children, by habit, get tired of prompted repetitions. Young children, by habit want to soar to the skies. Adults, unfortunately, choose the easiest option and indulge in cycles of bad practices that ultimately harm both the public and the private.

In a television channel day before yesterday, when the anchor and the guest kept on asking a politician why the whole city had to come to a halt because of a grand rally, the gentleman perhaps remembered his childhood mantra of the cow being a four-legged animal while answering, “You can define suffering in many ways. Think about 1971. Think about how the people suffered when the Pakistanis tortured us.” At one point, both the anchor and the guest were infuriated. Right then the gentleman started defending the traffic chaos saying, “But you are trying to undermine the spirit of January 10.” The anchor then reminded the politician that January 10 was certainly not to be forgotten. January 10 is a day covered in the media with highest honour. The congestion that happened because of VIPs going to the rally has nothing to do with putting January 10 down. Finally, much to our satisfaction, good sense prevailed and the politician ended up apologising to the audience for having suffered the whole day.

On the ground, while the honourable Prime Minister was being taken to the venue from the wrong side, the other side too, was at a standstill. And I was “only” two and half-hours late for a meeting. Instead of reaching at 2:30, I reached at 5:00 pm. Luckily I was pardoned. On a separate occasion, just the other day I heard a very senior person associated with the law saying that he always chose the wrong side to go to court. My jaws dropped in surprise a little more when he proudly justified his action by saying that his time mattered and that he could not afford “not to be on schedule”. I shuddered at his audacity. Why would he, for even one second, think that his time was precious than the rest of ours? Very unfortunately, this is how atrocious egos surface with power while the wrath of the real people go unnoticed. While VIPs clear roads and blow their sirens, and go from the other side, does it ever occur to authorities that the challenges of the next elections are just around the corner? Does this ever occur to the authorities that the VIPs need to remember that one cannot ride the opposite stream for long?

Just when it was time for everyone to talk about how ineffective Arvind Kejriwal was, he started the odd-even experiment for Delhi for 15 days; the drive to alternate between the odd and even numbers was supposed to be effective in controlling air pollution. Ten days into the 15-day experiment, the air quality monitors have indicated that not much has improved. But though nothing may have changed, the simple visibility has gotten better and at the same time, the Delhi courts are themselves banning diesel engines outright. This experiment was only possible because of Delhi authorities launching 6000 new buses.

Delhi has done this to clean their air, while we must do this to clean our streets. There cannot be 200 new cars registering every day; there cannot be party supporters riding on horse carts, elephants and various other transportation to attend rallies; there cannot be a full city coming to a halt just because of a lack of planning or public transport.

Therefore, in public interest, your columnist humbly suggests that there must only be a designated space to be demarcated by a rope or light fence, so that the procession or the rally cannot occupy the entire street and completely halt transport; the VIPs must not be allowed to use streets from the wrong side, ever; the sirens, whistle et al. must be banned; the VIPS must kindly make sure that they plan way ahead of their time and start off early, so that they can reach their destination on time and don’t demean the public, who also have appointments to keep and places to go to. And last but not the least, apart from the honourable prime minister and the honourable president, no exceptions should kindly be made for anyone to bypass the laws of the streets.

At a time when stats, facts and figures are all on the government’s favour, at a time when the city is also starting to look better with a bit of a cleansing drive, perhaps it’s the right time to brand the ruling party better with the right initiatives and the right actions on the streets. While the honourable PM may not have known that the traffic gridlock was created only because of the prioritised transport of the VIPS, and had probably thought that the traffic was a sign of affluence of the people of Dhaka having more cars, it’s essential for people close to the centre of governance to convey the right message.

With so many achievements, the government cannot afford to lose popular support just because the number of VIPs in town has increased and just because many of them feel entitled to cross lines that are majorly defined by the public and are indicative of public displeasure. Let us all remember that with every validation comes the risk of a subsequent controversy and with every achievement runs the threat of critique. A traffic gridlock for a public gathering that belongs to the “public” cannot run contrary to public interest. A rally cannot only belong to the political people. Since Bangabandhu belongs to the nation, a procession on foot would have been more appropriate. And in all honesty, had it been over a weekend and had the public given an advance call, just to honour this great man, just for him, many of us would have happily walked miles.

But resorting to the cow essay format is not the answer; referencing to 1971 for a traffic gridlock is not fair. There’s only a limit to being defensive. After a point, the line of acceptance begins to fade and the bold stature marked in red with pride begins to wane. With so many trophies to flaunt, the current government cannot afford to lose any ground because of the greed and the callousness of a few.