By Benji Zeitlin
It took about half an hour after landing in Dhaka at the beginning of my fieldwork with British Bangladeshi families from London for the feeling to hit me. I shuffled off the flight from Doha in a haze and gradually awoke as a taxi drove me into the city. The sights, smell and sounds of Dhaka took me back vividly to the years of my childhood spent in the city. The powerful, confusing feeling, I now think of as a combination of nerves about the beginning of my fieldwork, the weary guardedness of being alone in a far away country, and a sense of being at home, as the car honked and harried its way through the traffic.
I was on my way to Sylhet to meet a British Bangladeshi family from London who were participating in my research. A brief stopover in Dhaka allowed me to revisit some of the places I had known as a child. Being in Dhaka felt like being in the eye of a ferocious cyclone. All around was chaos of breath taking scale and complexity. The traffic had swelled to fill every shred of road, but it competed with flows of wires, goods and busy people in a city-system that was dense and diverse, seemingly on the edge of collapse and yet somehow fantastically resilient. The city had exploded into a monstrous mega city, a building site of concrete and reinforcing rods extending in all directions as far as one could see. At the same time, at the centre of this cyclone, inside I felt a sense of calm that I could not reconcile with the surroundings. It came from a subconscious, affective feeling connected with my childhood memories of the place. Continue reading