I go to the park for a walk in the morning. An average person exercises or walks during two phases of their life - in their youth to attract or impress someone, and at an old age on doctors' advice.
I belong to the latter group. This write-up is about some of the pictures that I have witnessed and words that I have heard there in the past few days.
The respectable beggar
Yesterday morning while entering the park, I noticed a young woman wearing a black veil (niqab) getting down from a rickshaw with a small pouch in her hand. I have never seen anyone like her walking in the park before. I also didn't find her inside the park.
While I was returning after finishing my walk, I noticed her again outside the park sitting in the beggars' corner. As I passed by, she stretched her hand towards me. The only difference, she was now wearing a printed prayer garb on her head.
I could not figure out whether the cellphone in her hand was a smartphone. I had to set off, because if I stared at her for too long people might think otherwise. Maa sha'Allah, begging is now also a respectable profession.
It doesn't matter what the politicians say about not having any beggars left due to the tide of development, but in practice only the style of begging has changed. Even though our garment industry is not able to export high value-added products, the beggars have achieved it.
The beggars have been able to take their profession to a higher value-added level. No wonder, because their cost of living has also increased!
Article in Prothom Alo
The day before yesterday, I met Zakia apa, the first female secretary of Bangladesh. She was the prime minister's secretary from 1998 to 2000. She complained of not being able to meet me these days to convey her appreciation of my last write-up in the daily Prothom Alo.
She elaborated on what she liked. She even praised my choice of a certain word. Oh! I realized that some people even read the articles published on the sub-editorial section. However, I am sure that those who needed to read those, never do. Thanks Zakia apa.
Farewell winter, welcome spring
On the morning of the second day of Falgun, for the first time I went for a walk in the park without wearing any winter clothes. I thought it would not be fair to delay the advent of the spring season.
Many people had come for a walk wearing their winter clothes, but after two rounds in the park, they had to take off their warm clothes, tie the clothes around their waists and hold the hats in their hands. I felt like patting on my own back. Well done boy!
Love in the air
Today, at the park's amphitheater, I had an illusionary view. A lady was publicly touching the feet of a lying gentleman (assumed to be her husband). And the man is rising and then lying back to his position repeatedly.
From a distance, it looked as if the woman was asking for forgiveness for something. When I got closer, I realized that the gentleman was exercising, probably in an effort to reduce the bulge in the mid-riff area of his body.
It was delightful sight. I was amazed by the devotion of the women and the couple's chemistry!
Children going to school
On the third Falgun, my friend Shahjalal (a former colleague at the Bangladesh Bank) showed me two pictures recently taken on his smart phone, while walking with me.
The first one was about eight to ten boys and girls in their school dresses travelling in a risky and overcrowded rickshaw-van. In the second picture, several boys and girls of the same age were going to school wearing fancy clothes in an air-conditioned minibus.
Shahjalal wanted an explanation of this from me, but I could not reply.
Because, even in the USA – a country with extreme income and wealth inequalities – I saw the same yellow school buses picking up rich children from the multi-million dollar houses and also children from the poor housing estates.
Should the rich, middle-class, and poor children be segregated at such an early age? Not to speak of the children who did not even get the opportunity to go to school.
Can the government and city corporations not take the initiative to start school bus services to promote equal opportunity for all citizens?
The age of 'Yes sir!'
Today, four or five elders were talking loudly with mixed emotions of resentment and anger. The topic of discussion was the post office savings rate, which was lowered to 6 percent from 11.28 percent from February this year.
They also seemed unhappy over the previous decisions of the government about the National Saving Certificates or Sanchayapatra.
According to the Bangladesh Bank's own statistics, the inflation rate in the country is 5.6 percent. Even though, many people think that the actual inflation rate is much higher. Then there are other charges such as the advance income tax, vat and other bank charges under different names.
If the interest rate on deposits is 6 percent, then what will be the real interest rate or profit rate?
One of the person walking in the group also complained that the UNOs (Upazila Nirbahi Officers) are being given cars worth around Tk1 crore. Earlier, the police and the other government officials were given the same favour.
I saw secretaries in Islamabad traveling in 1000cc Datsuns assembled in Pakistan or Indian ministers traveling in outmoded Ambassador cars.
Is it any good to pit the general public sentiment against government officials?
The complaints of the retirees are valid. There is no social security system for the public in the country. After retirement, savings are the only source of their sustenance.
Government spending has to be slashed and businesses have to be given low interest loans. Fine! For this, cutting down the government's huge wastage of resources is enough. Interest rates will come down automatically if the amount of bad debt and bank operating costs are reduced.
Rather than doing the logical thing, why make the lives of the retirees difficult? Is it just because the retirees are helpless and they would not come out to protest on the streets?
The first thing we were taught in the development economics course was the relationship among economic growth, savings and investment. We were also told that the savings rate depends on the real interest rate.
Why would people save if the real interest rate is zero or negative? If savings are low, what will happen to investments and future economic growth?
Earlier, I had seen ministers pondering over the impacts of any financial proposal on the poor and middle class, and bring back secretaries from the theoretical world to the real world. I had also seen the secretaries restraining the ministers from taking hasty and poor decisions.
These days, there are no such ministers nor secretaries. Now is the age of "Yes sir!" The power of the government is now absolute. The opposition is no longer interested in the problems of the people.
So, difficult times lie ahead of us.
In the park, several textile and garment industry owners come for a walk. Usually, they are in a lively mood. Today, even some of them sounded anxious and distressed.
One said that if the outbreak of the coronavirus in China does not stop soon, then they will have to close their factories. Manufacturing and exports will be adversely affected. When another man asked why, he explained that the raw material, chemicals, dyes, etc are mostly imported from the People's Republic of China.
Now, all the import and export activities are completely halted over there. Even the shipments of the previously opened LCs (letters of credit) are not coming.
A banker who was walking in the group added that this would also impact the banking sector, as the number of loan defaulters will increase further. For now, our only wish is that China and the whole world get rid of the coronavirus epidemic.
Talked a lot about frustrations, let me finish by saying something cheerful about flowers.
Birds of Paradise
Yesterday on my way back, I saw rows of "Birds of Paradise" flower in front of a house. These are beautiful yellow flowers that look like flying birds nested in between large green leaves.
These are the favorite flowers of my daughter and son-in-law. They used the pictures of these flowers on their wedding invitation cards.
A belated wish to everyone, enjoy the beautiful spring season!