Sunday Post - True to its spirit

I am writing this on a Sunday. After a long time, I must add. There are other peculiarities too. First, I am working. Well, I had to work on most Sundays in my life, but now I am compelled to, as I am in Dhaka. I am not sure why they work on Sundays. It is perhaps their way of saying that they have a different God. Second, as I said, I am in Dhaka - trying to work out a joint venture with a local business house. Third, I have to go in a few minutes - so this will be short. I just wanted to keep the habit.

So far, my visit to Dhaka has been disappointing. I have not seen many changes. Except, of course, as I looked out of my hotel window, I could see a super-mall, one I saw being built up when I came first time to this city in 2000, and which, I assumed, I shall never see completed when I left the country in 2004. There is also a flyover, work on which went on forever, and I assumed that it would never get done. Unfortunately, this time my visit is too short and agenda too limited for me to interact with many people here, so I am unable to comment if anything changed.

However, one thing did not change. I always thought Bangladesh is a here-and-now economy. There are so many things outside the control for people of a relatively small country like this, they are bound to focus on the present, and make the most of out of it. Unless it is Israel, that is. In my interactions with businessmen here, I have seen that they are much more focused on cash-based short term return maximization. Unlike my western colleagues, I probably know the reasons - I shall say this is structural. With a volatile currency [I got 68 takas for my dollars from a bank counter, and noted that I used to get 50 takas for a dollar in the open market - which is always higher than the banks - in 2004], high interest rates and political uncertainty, you don't necessarily think long term and try to build institutions. However, I am also aware that a country is stuck where it is, unless some people start building those institutions. Despite my disappointment so far, I am certain that there are entrepreneurs in the country who are thinking long term and global. Did Skype not come out of Estonia?

My visit coincides with many things. The first annivarsary of the military backed government, for example. There is a cabinet shake-up, speech by Chief Advisor [Prime Minister equivalent in the technocratic government] allowing political activity but with a paternalistic warning advising parties to stay within limits. My friends tell me that the country may not be heading for democracy, as hoped, but towards a more authoritarian regime, as the army chief is feeling more confident. All this sums up - something like Pakistan!

Also, Dr. Younis releases a book in New York, John McCain wins New Hampshire and Hilary Clinton makes a come back. All this suddenly opens up a possibility of another republican administration - as McCain can beat Clinton. I am spending hours on the Net digging out whether McCain can find a post-Nixon era Executive team, or do we have to live with another eight years of fear-mongering? Also, I am keenly waiting for these candidates to pick their running mates, as suddenly those people will have greater roles because of McCain's age and Clinton's vulnerability.

So, that is that, and i sign out now and rush to meet one of my most dear friends - to have a feel of how an educated and cultured Bangladeshi really feels these days.


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