Back to Dhaka for the felicitation, I needed a haircut that I had put off in Calgary for lack of time and thinking of getting a less expensive one in Dhaka or Matlab.
I walked to a salon in Pink City shopping complex, south east of Gulshan-2 circle. I was the first customer and got all the attention. 250 Taka (~$4)! I was pleasantly surprised to see the price for a hair cut that was less than one-fifth of what I would have paid in Calgary. The hair cut itself took less than ten minutes, of which one minute was to establish my provenance and current country of residence, in a very crafty way. After figuring out that I lived abroad, the barber became a beautician and recommended me an essential treatment for my hair, showing me the price from a fancy hard-cover menu. My eyes were more on the price than on the type of treatment. I made the conversion to Can $, and finding it still much lower than my Canadian haircut, I said a confident OK. Then he showed me another treatment, explaining what it was going to do. I hardly heard what the benefit would be. I looked at the price that was many times more than the hair cut, and then said a hesitant okay. My head was on the sink twice to be washed for each treatment.
The focus then shifted to my face. He applied something on it after getting my barely audible consent again. My face was feeling the warmth of hot air from two front blowers. Then a mirror was placed in front of me to show all the blemishes, some visible and others I had to imagine, on my facial skin. I had looked at my face in the mirror for some sixty years since age five, more so before getting married than after, and rarely, lately. The blemishes there I thought were part of a person aging. I looked at the price again. The combined total by then was definitely way above my Canadian hair cut price, but it still did not cross my psychological threshold, albeit an arbitrary figure. The answer after squirming was a laboured okay, after hearing a discount of mere 200 Taka --- liking the word discount more than the actual amount. Then at one point, I felt a thick layer on my face. I looked at the mirror. The person in the mirror was not me. He had the face of a ghost, like one in a horror movie. Then he started scraping my face with a ring attached to a steel rod. The scraping was making me do 'Oh, ah', but it still was well within the pain threshold of an adventure marathon runner. He attempted to show me what he was collecting, as evidence. I did not see. I did not want to. A dome was then blowing hot air around my head, the kind I saw around women's heads in Canadian salons. A layer of chandan paste was applied on my face to soothe the irritation from scraping.
Then I felt my shoulder being squeezed, rather strongly, the squeezing climbing down my arm to the left wrist first and the same process continuing from my right arm to my right wrist. He did the same on my back, starting from the neck area and then stopping above the waist. He was not done yet. He offered me another treatment that sounded more like an overreach. It looked like he was running out of ideas. And by then, I also reached my psychological threshold for the total price. I declined with a sure No. The bill was not very pleasant to look at. Three staff rushed to the door to say good-bye to their pampered customer, one summoning the courage to ask, 'Sir, where are you from?' 'From the land of fools,' I almost blurted out.
I exited the Taka-shedding salon with a real-life lesson in psychology of selling, a psychology used by many savvy salesmen in the business world: enticing someone with a discount or a lower-priced item, or a lower quote, and then selling goods or services worth many times more.
Out on the Gulshan area street to my hotel, I thought my hair looked fantastic without even seeing my head. I thought my face was blemish-free without even looking at it. Those thoughts alone brought more confidence in my strides. I felt I was ready for the event.
Dr. Zaman came to my hotel. He looked at the new me for a fraction of a second longer than he should or did before --- or that's what I thought he did, being self-conscious of my hairdo and 'face-do' --- and took me to his house for lunch. Lunch would be a major understating; it was a feast, a feast on fish and more fish. He and Bhabi knew I liked fish. So he bought more fish and she cooked more fish. I sampled as many I possibly could without getting sick in stomach, as I had to go to a felicitation right after the late lunch.
After lunch, we were in Dhaka traffic on a busy hartal-free Saturday in Dr. Zaman's car. By the time we arrived at the BUET Civil Engineering Auditorium, all other important guests had arrived. Cameras with professional lenses were moving around. A professional video camera was set up already. The large screen behind the head table on the dais was reminding the guests why they were there: 'Reception to Felicitate Distinguished Alumnus. Dr. Tapantosh Chakrabarty'. A large fresh-flower centre piece of pink, white, yellow, and green rendered the white-cloth-covered table top a look fit for a special occasion.
The ABUETA Executive Committee organized the felicitation on January 30th, 2015, the same date the alumni reunion was to be held and I was to be recognized, but had to be postponed for another month, because of the 'hartals'. It turned an adversity into an opportunity by arranging a 'by invitation only' event for 90 minutes, allowing speeches by five main guests and inviting coverage by local TV and newspaper.
The selection of the chief guest --- Dr. Matin Patwari, a former VC of BUET and a Matlab High 'top-of-the-honours-board' alumnus, who is my late father's direct student and my role model at Matlab High --- was as thrilling as it was moving.
The function started with a recital from the holy Quran. I did not understand a word of Arabic. But felt warm, figuring it must be a prayer for my and other attendees' well-being and peace. My Sanskrit-teaching Hindu priest father would have been very happy that others from another faith was holding this event for his son and praying for him. The thought and the intent and the effect were hair-raisingly beautiful and innocent, like the flowers on the table. I was amazed how religion can be so powerful if interpreted the way it was meant to be: peace for all.
Father and his colleague, Matlab High School Headmaster Waliullah Patwari would have been overjoyed to see two of their direct students and close relatives sitting on the same stage: one to receive a BUET distinguished alumnus award from the other.
'Reality is more incredible than fiction!' I thought sitting on the stage table, with the new VC --- the first female VC at BUET --- to my left; a former BUET VC and the chief guest to my right; followed by the President of ABUETA and the current VC of UAP, Dhaka; another former VC of BUET; and the General Secretary of ABUETA --- the master of ceremony of the event --- sitting at the end, close to the speaker's platform. (The next instalment of this article will appear in the next week)
Tapan Chakrabarty, a seven-continent marathon finisher and an inventor, writes from Calgary, Canada