(Moved to

Where Sandals Fear to Tread

The invitation said `informal’, but I had put on my Friday best.

After all, the party was at the French Ambassador’s residence. I had

even swapped my bicycle for my 1982 reconditioned Toyota Starlet. It

had a fresh coat of paint and looked quite respectable. Road 99,

Gulshan, was chock ‘a block. Cars with flags, cars with yellow number

plates, cars with flag-poles, cars with drivers. Mine fell at the

bottom of the chain, a black number plate, flag/flag-pole less,

driver less, private car. Not much better than my bicycle in terms of

hierarchy. Since all the other cars were chauffer driven, I had to

park my car right at the end of the road, near the lake, and walk

back to the fairy lights. The drivers did look at one another as I

walked up the long road. What was a non-chauffer driven person doing

at the residence of the French Ambassador?


Not shaken by any of this, I strode up to the brightly lit gate.

After all I did have an official invitation. To my horror, I realised

that I had left my invitation in the car. The Frenchman at the gate

asked me who I was, and I suggested that I go back to the car to get

the invitation, but luckily his Bangladeshi colleague recognised me

and tried to usher me in. By then, however, the damage had been done.

The Frenchman’s gaze had gone all the way down to my naked toe-nails.

Sandals! No longer did he need to know who I was. I obviously didn’t

belong there. The Bangladeshi tried to protest, but with a furtive

glance, the Frenchman made eye contact with the extremities of my

feet. Oh, said the Bangladeshi. There was no need for further



The glitterati walked past me as they stepped out of their chauffer

driven cars. Peering ghostlike through their air condition cooled

spectacles which had misted up in the humid monsoon air, they

casually shook my hand with one hand as they wiped their glasses with

the other. Some did ask why I was walking the wrong way. That I was

being turned away because my attire wasn’t considered suitable for

such an august occasion seemed quite a reasonable explanation. Some

did pat me on the back in a fatherly sort of way for some recent

award I had won. Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, the director general of

Shilpakala Academy, kindly offered me a pair of shoes to wear. He

didn’t live too far away, and had plenty of spare pairs. He seemed

hurt at his generous offer being spurned.


The drivers nodded knowingly as I entered my reconditioned car. This

was Gulshan. National costumes could hardly be suitable clothing for

a party here, and a diplomat’s party at that! So what if my dress

code was known to those inviting me. It was after all, the French

National Day, and my principled stand of wearing non-western clothes

had broken their boundaries of tolerance.


Shahidul Alam

Dhaka. 14th July 2002.


July 14, 2002 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment