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.
Dhaka. 14th July 2002.