It would have taken you just a 30-minute rickshaw-ride, and by that I mean the cycle rickshaws in Dhaka, to fathom exactly how gloomy Gulshan was on Eid on Thursday.
Gulshan, the area where a majority of Dhaka’s upper-middle class residents generally gather for any festival, was nearly empty and the vibrant spirit that one witnesses during Eid was clearly missing.
An outlet of Gloria Jeans, a coffee chain, in Dhaka where people had to wait for hours to merely get on the waiting list last Eid, was nearly empty on Thursday night. The waiters, who were busy rambling instructions through their walkie-talkies last Eid, didn’t seem to have much to do this year.
The café had beefed up its security personnel as well with gunmen waiting near the entrance of the restaurant. Like a number of other eateries in the region, Gloria Jeans is generally open till 2 am. After the terrorist attack in Gulshan last week though, they close early.
Situated around 200 metres from Gloria Jeans, along the Gulshan 2 avenue, is the Butlers Chocolate Café. A restaurant that’s quite famous for its pizzas and its array of chocolates, Butlers too barely witnessed customers.
The place gets so crowded on most evenings that it often creates mini traffic jams in the Gulshan 2 avenue. It’s not uncommon for the restaurant’s parking arena to overflow. Yesterday on Eid though, they had decided to close the smoking section of the restaurant, situated within the complex.
Even the enthusiastic youngsters, who defied the general sentiment of distress and arrived at the restaurant to enjoy the evening, seemed cautious. “Dost! I am not going home alone today. Let’s not take any chances. You better drop me,” said one Punjabi suit-clad teenager to his friend while entering the restaurant.
It won’t be an understatement to say that this was in fact the trend followed by a majority in Gulshan on Eid. People preferred staying indoors this time and that’s undoubtedly a major shift from the general tradition.
It’s important to understand that compared to some of the other regions, Dhaka’s nightlife is a bit different. The major attraction here is the restaurants. During Ramzan, it’s very common to witness packed restaurants during sehree. Thousands of people keep flocking into the eateries until three am. Prior to the attacks in Gulshan, for instance, you would have had to make advanced bookings at certain places even if you wanted to eat there past midnight. And the scenario is generally the same on festivals.
“This Eid we thought it would be better to meet up at my friends place. It’s easier that way. I understand that we shouldn’t be scared and that we need to get back on track. But as of now, no one wants to take unnecessary tension,” said a 24-year-old resident of Gulshan, who preferred to stay anonymous.
Some of them are also concerned about the security arrangements at certain restaurants.
“Two days after the attack in Gulshan, my friends and I decided to meet up at a well-known café in Banani. We put our bags through the metal detectors and followed the due process and didn’t face any problems.
“It was only once I entered the restaurant that I recalled having a pair of scissors in my bag. That just made me nervous. I called the authorities and they later apologised for it and said that while the machine did detect it, there was no one there to observe the belongings,” said a 25-year-old resident from Banani.
The owners of a number of restaurants expected the change in trend this Eid after the attacks. Many of them hope, not just for the sake of their sales, that the vibrancy returns soon.
“On the night of the attack on 1 July, we had received reservations for around 300 people for sehree (12.30 to 3.30 am). We obviously had to cancel all of them. But our loss obviously was nothing in comparison to many families,” said an owner of a restaurant in Gulshan 1.
Security has been beefed up in Gulshan and elsewhere in Dhaka ever since the terror attacks. Several roads in Gulshan have been blocked and the frequency of inspections has increased.
However, at the moment, it’s obvious that it will take a lot more than just an increase in security personnel to bring back the thriving nights in Gulshan.
The author is a staff-reporter for The Daily Star, a national English daily based in Dhaka, Bangladesh