People have called Dhaka the “City of Mosques,” but I think such a designation fails to fully capture the spirit of this great, bustling, confusing city. To be sure, Dhaka has many, many mosques, many beautiful and grand, others humble and often hidden. They form an integral part of the city, but are not its defining feature, if you ask this particular observer.
Dhaka is, first and foremost, a city of music. People have said that New York is a city that never sleeps, and having been there, I can tell you that this is true – from a certain point of view. In New York, someone is always awake, perhaps walking the streets, perhaps stopping in for a midnight cup of coffee – but in Dhaka, the city is always alive and constantly churning out new tunes that the listener can choose to consume, and even participate in.
The first thing you’ll notice in Dhaka are the horns. They are incessant. People use their horns constantly, sometimes to signal their own actions, sometimes to respond to the actions of others, often seemingly for no reason at all – save the simple reassurance of knowing that you can. Rickhaw drivers and CNGs will often ring their bells or toot little horns, as well, and this only adds to the cacophonous noise that pervades the city. Together they form a part of a broader piece that is unfolding in the city.
Every denizen of the city participates in this grand symphony, to the children running down the streets, calling out the names of their friends or the latest television stars that they have seen in the Hindi television shows that fill the screens of many a Bengali household. The calls of the faithful, shaking bells, or making the call to prayer through the streets. Wearing traditional dress, or simply jeans a t-shirt, the roam the streets, attempting to bring the word and feeling of Allah to the people.
On their own, each part of this orchestration feels discordant and alone, but together, they produce something truly beautiful, a city that bathes in the beauty of its own sounds without cessation. Every person has a part to play and actively participates in the creation of this symphony, whether they realise it or not.
As the warm winds of the early morning brushed gently over my skin, I felt another, softer, more enveloping feeling take hold of me. In the receding clouds of the morning, across a veritable ocean of greenery, I could hear the gentle sounds of the morning call to prayer echo in the distance. It had been so gentle and soothing, I had not even realised it had awoken me, until I began to focus more on the sounds washing over me. Gently, the sounds of devoted holy men drifted in the air, intermingling with the cooing of birds and the whispering of the wind. Together they formed perhaps the softest note I have yet heard in this symphony, but by all accounts my favourite.
I lay my head back down on my pillow, letting the sleep and dreams I had before retake me into their midst, but in the back of my mind, I felt myself sway slowly with the tune of the music; Dhaka’s music.