I had to take a CNG across town the other day. Turned out the driver was talkative with a lot of opinions. (A CNG is a small three-wheeled taxi, running on Compressed Natural Gas, popular in Dhaka.)
Of Bangladeshis he said, "We are the most luxury-loving people in the world." Why, I asked. "Because for only 12 Taka you can get a half-hour ride on a super-luxurious Volvo bus from Mirpur to Farm Gate. A bus that costs 1.5 Crore (about $210,000)! People seem to love it, too" he complained.
His other complaint was about the rich people. There are many families who have 4 or 5 cars now. Not only that, they change models every couple of months. "What do they need so many cars for? No wonder the roads are all clogged up."
We got on the rich people track after he complained how hard it was to make money. "We have to pay Tk 600 every day as rental for this CNG. We have to sweat so much just to earn Tk 200 daily income." He said he was hoping that the rental would drop to 500 soon.
We passed by a strip mall in Gulshan-1 where, among a row of about 10 almost identical storefronts, one had been demolished (because of unpermitted construction.) "Don't you think it is unfair to pick out only one while the others are intact?" I asked. "Not at all, that is a warning sign to the others. If they don't fix their storefronts, they will go, too," he said sternly.
He was optimistic about the country's economy, as I found out in a roundabout way, when he said that the Rangs Building was coming down for sure (this is a controversial Dhaka landmark, reputed to have been built unpermitted.) "But think about it," I said, "there are at least 1000 people who work in that building. Each one supports at least 4 or 5 others. That's a lot of people who will be out of a job." "No problem," he said, "they can get other jobs. They have to just look - there are plenty of jobs."
While he was talking he forgot to tell me that he was almost out of CNG. So we made an unplanned stop in Tejgaon Industrial Area for 15 minutes while he waited in the CNG fillup line, while I took a quick stroll in the underbelly of industrial Dhaka.
Back on the road, he ranted about the CNG business. "These CNGs should have cost only 1-1.5 lac Taka ($1500-2000) but because of the corruption and everyone taking their cuts, the owner had to pay 3-4 lac. That's why poor people like me have to pay Tk 600 a day for renting it," he complained.
Well at least he is not burning petrol. The bill for filling up with CNG (to last him 1.5 days of schlepping people around town) came to Tk 45, about seventy cents.
We reached our destination. The meter read Tk 80 ($1.10) for about 8 miles. I paid him an extra Tk 10 bakhseesh, and with freshly filled CNG tanks our garrulous driver went off to find his next passenger (and captive audience.)