Christmas Chronicles from Dhaka
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Who said the World Cup would be weird to watch in the run up to Christmas? I thought it gave it added sparkle … despite the re-smashing of England's dream ... and, believe it or not, a large proportion of Bangladesh's ...
Now, I expect you know that Bangladeshis are cricketing nuts. However, did you also know it is a nation divided in half over football? One half is mad (and currently euphoric) about Argentina, whilst the other half comprises of diehard (and currently disappointed) Brazil fans …
… And this takes me back to a studio shoot in Dhaka during a previous World Cup, where we had one toilet. And we had a workforce of over seventy people: so you do the math.
For this toilet, which had both a basin and an ingenious hose (for those tricky areas) we had a fantastically efficient young man whose job it was to sit outside, ready to whizz in after each frequenter so that it was squeaky clean for the next visitor. He had a nickname of which he was very proud: Kaká. You'll be pleased to hear he wasn’t called that because of his job, but because of his allegiance to Brazil and most notably, Kaká, its legendary midfielder whose number 10 shirt this lad wore with huge pride.
As I waited in the line during filming breaks (although, as one of the few women on the shoot, I was sometimes given precedence) myself and this guardian of the toilet would discuss the World Cup. This said, due to language limitations, the sum total of our exchange was Kaká! England! Brazil! David Beckham! … Well, that was up until the Quarter Finals when Brazil got knocked out by the Netherlands, whereupon Kaká (the toilet guardian one) took off his Brazil football shirt, set it on fire, and jumped on it.
I have to say, that I felt a little bit like Kaká at the end of Day One of this shoot when, after a 7.00 a.m. start, the freshly painted studio floor repeatedly kept melting and so we couldn’t actually start filming until 5 p.m. Then the first game, which involved giant flies (pretend ones), disintegrated in a mess for a variety of reasons and I locked myself in a (actually, the only) dressing room and howled self-indulgently until a posse of rescuers found me and force-fed me medicinal vodka and told me that it was all going to be okay until I was drunk enough to believe them.
Luckily, they also stopped me from setting fire to my shirt ... because it was okay.
What an outstanding team and crew who never stopped with the ideas, the best shots, sound, or props, and the tea boys with their endless cups of chai. Of course, we scheduled in Fag and Adda breaks (cigarette and gossip), as well as prayer time (sometimes done spontaneously in the gallery and in the studio), so everyone was happy.
The Learning With Fun series, (presented by the very talented and beautiful Munmun) comprised of game show elements including contestants competing in getting giant bananas through appropriate holes, (It’s A Knockout lived on, as did innuendo) and Kamal’s World - comedy sketches in which the comedian Kamal tried out his English (as taught by Alex his teacher) on unsuspecting bideshis (foreigners).
These ‘foreigners’ were played by ex-pat am-dram artistes from the Dhaka Players, who I first saw perform in a Ray Cooney type farce in which they did a fair bit of stripping off and straddling one another. Now, in a country where I had seen little flesh, (asides from lunghi-wearing rickshaw drivers) seeing quite so many boxer shorts and bras on display was pretty surreal – and perfect for Kamal’s World (although they kept their clothes on for that).
By November, the filming finished and the edit began, as did Eid al-Adha, and on Eid Eve our editor asked if he might finish early so that he could go to market to buy a cow – not a request I’d had before.
In fact, on my morning runs, I had already noticed that Dhaka had filled with cows; cows that were fêted and lovingly fed, watered, stroked, given names and decorated with marigold chains. They languished outside supermarkets, in the parks and on the back of vans … most were docile, but one or two would bravely canter through the traffic. There were two in my apartment’s parking lot, who I named Dolly and Dot, and a man up the road had eleven cows lined up outside his gaff, but most people could only afford a goat or a manky old sheep.
However, the morning after Eid Eve the city emptied of cattle & co, because they had all been offered up to Allah – even Dolly and Dot, which was a bit sad, but I was reassured that this was an altruistic custom in that the beef was to be divided up between family, friends and charity as part of the Eid tradition – a bit like us getting the best turkey for Christmas, but being more generous with it.
And then, a few weeks after Eid, it was Christmas in Dhaka! The city was alight like a thousand Regent Streets and everyone was dressed like it was winter in Perthshire, despite the fact it was 23C.
Of course, the ex-pats threw themelves into their parties: the French soirées featured
Secret Santas of cashmere wraps and Chanel parfum, the Dutch had crazy Abba-themed knees-ups, and the British Consulat threw parties where senior consul staff dressed up as giant penises.
One weekend, as I sat in the good old BAGHA Club sipping a cooling lime and soda, watching the paperchains tacked to the ceiling blowing in the air con, I was feeling pretty festive, thanks to the Christmas carols playing on the dodgy speakers - although it was a little odd when Mendelssohn’s Wedding March popped up.
My attention was taken by a Christmas party for ex-pats’ children taking place in an annexe room, so I wandered in. As the adults enjoyed a glass of festive cheer, the kids scoffed cupcakes and jelly, and then played Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs before settling down to watch magician
'Uzzi the Marvelos'. One of the tricks involved a parrot but, unfortunately, as the magician pulled the parrot out of a sack, he accidentally twisted its neck. So, to put the poor creature out of its misery, he then whacked it on the edge of the table to kill it.
I think it’s safe to say, Not-So-Marvelos-Uzzi probably didn’t get any more kids’ party gigs at the BAGHA after that.
Merry Christmas everyone. xxx