Yesterday was a Hartal. It turned out to be quite relaxing. I came to work in a rickshaw, enjoying the early spring breezes on reasonably empty Dhaka streets and smelling the flowers (or the bus exhaust fumes on unfortunate moments.) Returned home in a CNG, but by that time the streets were getting crowded with post-hartal crowds.
My mood was in sharp contrast to hartals that I faced when I first got here last July. I was always on edge - should I take a Rickshaw or a CNG or a taxi? Should I just stay at home? Is some crazy mob going to attack me on the streets? - when a hartal was announced. Getting to work was a big struggle.
Of course, getting used to hartals does not mean they are good. Take for example the transport strikes that took place around SAARC time late 2005. Transport strikes are supposed to affect public transportation only - buses etc, and not private cars. A person who is close to me - a persistent and dynamic businessman - had a potential investor visiting from the USA. My friend had spent months setting up the visit, and the investor was really interested in building a factory. Well, my friend was taking his visitor in his private microbus to show the site of a proposed factory near Mymensingh. On the way some transport workers stopped their microbus and asked some questions, but eventually let them go on. My friend was able to show the place to the investor. But the investor was so unnerved by the incident on the road that he got on the next available flight, saying something like, "Your country is not ready for my investment". My friend smiled sadly when he told me this story.
So, hartals may be nice for me to enjoy Dhaka, but they are very very very bad for the country. The good thing is that most working people (excepting shopkeepers) go to work anyways on hartal days.