Nineteen-year-old Alauddin, who sells flowers at Shahbagh Crossing, has always a shy smile on his face. The boy, barely passed his teens, grew up in the streets of the city. His father left the family when Alauddin was a toddler, when they used to stay in the BNP-Bosti in Agargaon. Life at that time, Alauddin vaguely recalls, was hard: His rickshaw-puller father's meagre income could not feed a family of three, and the prospect of the arrival of another child into the household scared him. When it turned out to be a girl child, Alauddin's father left and would never be seen again.
Children in the biggest shanty in town learn fast to cope with the challenge that life throws at them. Alauddin soon became a carrier of hashish; he would carry bundles of them to different peddlers in the locality. Under the shadows of the tall buildings that adorn the city's forlorn landscape, where the rich sit and shed a few tears on the plights of the country, numerous Alauddins, lost and abandoned as they are, grew up to be a peddler or a petty thug.
In different rallies or political gatherings they are hired, Taka 30 per head; in the photographs that the newspapers publish of these "mass rallies", Khaleda Zia or Sheikh Hasina speaking to the toiling masses, standing tall and erect as a beacon of hope, Alauddins remain a cluster of semi-recognisable human faces.
Alauddin attended his first public rally at 10. He was fascinated to see Khaleda, donned in her characteristic white chiffon chador, ascend the stairs to walk down the dais. A month later Hasina's turn came to mesmerise Alauddin; the confusion that both the leaders have infested him with in his late childhood has grown on him. Now a voter, he is not quite sure whom to vote for; his options, more or less, are laden with different "mass rallies" he has been hired for as a child.
"I am not sure, it may be the BNP or Awami League. I do not know," Alauddin says.
Most of the first-time voters living in the margin of the society are confused and undecided. With the Election Commission playing hocus-pocus, no one knows for sure of their number; but these youths, who were born after the restoration of democracy, are going to play a decisive role in the next general elections. These voters have never tasted the bitter fruit of military dictatorship and with the advent of satellite television they are more exposed to the world than their ancestors. They must be furious at the long-running deprivation that the society is seething with, but if they will pour this anger and fury onto the ballot, is anyone's guess.
Alauddin thinks that both the major parties are guilty of apathy and incompetence, but he still does not know whom else to trust on that fateful elections day. So, every day, Alauddin stands at the edge of the crossing in the city's busy thoroughfare, cajoling prospective buyers into buying a handful of roses that he has to offer. Alauddin's story refuses to end just there. Whom first-time voters like him are going to vote for will decide both the major political parties' future. If Alauddins make a conscious decision and vote as a group, the tide will turn on both Khaleda and Hasina: If they do not, the country will have to make do with any one of them again. The latter is a sad prospect indeed.