It was 9 in the morning as I got in the car from home to go to work. My destination was The Business Standard at SWID Building in Eskaton Garden.
From Char Washpur of Keraniganj, it took me just minutes to reach Shaheed Buddhijibi Bridge on the Buriganga. The approaching point of the bridge has scores of shops, tea stalls, and even a restaurant— all locked up and wearing an unusual deserted look. On any regular day, you would find the stretch bustling with crowds.
With a mask and hand gloves on, the owner of a small medicine store was the only person opening his shop. It was what I saw from the inside of my car, just for a few seconds.
An eerie feeling— no one is here, only we are racing towards — thoughts that engulfed me as the car got off the bridge. "I have never seen such a Dhaka. Have you, Sir," my chauffeur asked.
"I have not in my 34-year stay, except for the days of curfews," I replied.
Basila, the entrance to Dhaka North, welcomed us with a quieter appearance. Buses, blocking other traffic, used to pick up and drop passengers in front of the tea stalls on the left side of the road. At least 10-15 CNG-run autorickshaws would wait for passengers. And just a few steps ahead, there would be 20-25 motorbikes.
That Basila was totally different this morning.
All the shops on both sides of the road — from tea stall to auto showroom —were shuttered down. Riding a bicycle, one person was entering the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB-2) office on the right side of the road.
Our car came to the Mohammadpur Beribadh intersection, leaving behind all those unusual scenes of the metropolis. It was 9:33 — meaning we crossed a few kilometers in just three minutes.
This intersection was quiet too, in sharp contrast with its usual jam-packed look. There was no public transport, CNG, ride sharing services — all seemingly had just vanished overnight. A handful of rickshaws and a police patrol car were heralding the message that it was not a ghost town.
Mohammadpur bus stand next surprised me further, as the guardians who used to gather on the footpaths had vanished. The human haulers who raced for parking space were gone too. There were no public buses which blocked the roads for picking up and dropping off passengers amid busy traffic.
All I saw were a few pedestrians and a handful of rickshaws. A police patrol van was parked yards ahead, and a policeman was browsing his smartphone with undivided attention.
We kept moving; passing by Academia School, UniMed, UniHealth new corporate office, Al-Noor Eye Hospital to Dhanmondi road number 27.
No private car was plying on the roads or streets, and most of the shops had their shutters down. We entered road 27 after a left turn.
Premium Sweets, Bar BQ Restaurant and Artisan were closed. Only Meena Bazar was open with a few shoppers going in.
When we reached the intersection of road 27, it was almost 9:37am. All seemed in home quarantine except us. An ambulance suddenly passed us by. However, I could not be sure whether it had a dying patient or anything else.
In a flashback to my student life during the anti-Ershad movement, I can recall student leaders who used to carry their weapons safely by ambulance.
Street beggars would knock on your car windows at Dhanmondi 27 intersection. Neither the baggers nor traffic police men were there today.
We moved on to Sobhanbagh. Two medical stores I found open there with some customers.
Taking a left turn to Russell Square, I met another police van. Yards ahead, Madol restaurant seemed open even today. When the car reached Bashundhara City Shopping Mall, it was unbelievably 9:40am. Is it for real? From the other side of the Buriganga, from the outskirts of the city, I had reached the Saarc Fountain, in almost the heart of the metropolis, in just 10 minutes!
A regular commute beating the traffic on the Karwanbazar-Sonargaon route to Banglamotor usually takes at least 40 minutes.
Today was different as no signal stopped us, my chauffeur safely crossed Banglamotor intersection in seconds. Going past Rupayan Trade Centre, we came to the Red Crescent Hospital road after taking a left turn.
In that lane, there was a vegetable vendor and some grocery stores were open. However, all wore a deserted look.
Without any exhausting feeling of jam, noise pollution, or appeals from beggars, I reached Eskaton Garden SWID Building at 9:43am.
We had covered 13 kilometers in just 13 minutes when the average traffic speed in Dhaka in daytime is four kilometers per hour. The usual commute from my home to my office takes from one to one and a-half-hours during regular times.
But these are not regular times.