Those haunting cries can no longer be heard.
Night and day, even beyond midnight, they would scrape the streets, crying for food. Men, women and children.
Those desperate faces have now become fewer. Faded away into some nightmarish memory. They must have found back their livelihoods, whatever niche work they might be doing.
It now just leaves an unreal feeling about how the streets looked like just a few months ago. Six months to be exact. All empty. At full noon, they looked like 4 o'clock morning roads. Not a car in sight.
Now the Dhaka traffic jam is back on the roads, this time much to our relief. People, it seems, are loving the fume and honks that have drowned the songs of the sunbirds once again. They only can assure there is life still left in the city. Not everything is gone. Not every hope.
After the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept through so quickly almost every corner of the globe, barring those few island states like Vanuatu and Tuvalu, Bangladesh seems to show its resilience once again after six months. But at a great cost, and with a hard lesson as well.
The GDP has taken a great knock – the estimate of impact may vary from the government's account to the economists' counter argument – but the fact remains that even in this strange time growth has come for Bangladesh while it has eluded most countries including India and the US.
The swooning economy has suddenly stood upright, though very tentatively. Its exports have clocked positive and remittance flow has swollen with little explanations.
One reason that Bangladesh could stand up so soon from being bedraggled is probably its overwhelming dependence on the informal economy.
They were the first to stumble in the pandemic headwind, the invisible ones that keep the informal economy going, one teastove, one food cart, one vegetable van at a time. As panic-stricken people shut down at home, their sales plummeted to zero. With little savings, they drowned fast. Millions went out of jobs and lost their earnings.
But as the fear ultimately waned off, defeated by the primal urge to fill the tummy and survive, they were also the first to recover because they needed little capital and process to restart unlike the huge steel re rolling factories and cement plants that need to depend on long supply chains.
And the rest of the economy is also following. From real estate to hospitals to apparels to cement to transport. They are trying to recoup the loss of income that they suffered during the most acute phase of the pandemic.
But, and this is a big but, the economy is yet far from coming back to a level that can let us feel a little comfortable, let us heave a sigh of relief. The familiar will take a long time to return, and as The Economist had said, even a 90% economy is not enough. As they say, it is one thing to go to a live concert and an entirely different experience to watch it on TV at home.
Entrepreneurs will remain tentative and less innovative because of the uncertainty that the pandemic is still spelling over the world. The trade and political spat between America and China will give them no peace as well.
And the people who have either lost jobs or faced cuts in salary are yet to get them back fully, actually still a sizable workforce is still sitting idle.
Only yesterday, an Uber driver, Nazmul, was relating how he waited for four hours for a call to come. And the day before he could only retain Tk200 after the whole day's work. Not the easy Tk1,000 at least before the pandemic.
A tea seller who squats on Tajmahal road near the Shia mosque says he has at least started to get back his customers but only about 400 a day and not the over a thousand before.
I have not met the man again who was desperately seeking private tuition. He must have been looking for students even today unless he has learnt to seek money elsewhere. Because education has been one bad sector to be hit and yet remains mostly overlooked.
It seems a whole academic year will be spoiled with a yet to determine long-term impact on the economy.
It is comprehensible that a full recovery is not possible so early, at least until the pandemic is tamed down successfully with a vaccine. Even if a vaccine comes and shows effectiveness, the global economy will still keep on suffering, some say, into next year or even beyond.
It is perceivable that Bangladesh will have to brace for similar difficulties. For that the future recovery plans have to be robust.
The stimulus package promptly offered by the government has gone a long way into the recovery so far. But that also showed the gaping holes as leakage was considerable. Database was weak for the hungry. And all this gives new lessons to be learnt.
The pandemic showed how fragile our health sector was. How we have neglected it in subsequent budgets including this year's. how ill-advised the lockdown plans were – it was strapped on too early just like in India and when the virus finally became fully blown, everything was opened up spreading the pandemic even faster.
And now as the winter approaches, that gives rise to the fresh fear of a resurgence of the virus. The question is: Are we ready to face another wave while the current wave shows no signs of a letup?
These six months will roll into a full year and beyond, leaving a long list of dos and don'ts for us. The world will never be the same after it from regionalisation of supply-chain to cross-border data flow to mutualisation of research.
The work vulnerability, the question of resilience, the need for market and product diversification, hygiene, town planning and most importantly building a competent health superstructure are all part of the work on hand.
And this pandemic is not the last to come. There would be more because of climate change and other vulnerabilities.
So it is time to set up a robust and resilient system that is also humane so that such haunting howls for food are not heard again.