Bangla Maths

It never fails to amaze me how different cultures deal with maths. There are various different techniques across the world for mathematical calculation but none that I know more about, or find more interesting, than Bangladeshi maths.

Firstly, a Bangladeshi can count up to 20 on one hand -really, I jest not. This is actually a really useful tool as well as being a mild amusement to show us bideshis at dinner parties.

Then there is the interesting number system that has a couple of numbers that look like ours – 1 and 2 are similar – but two numbers which look exactly the same, aren’t. The Bangla 8 is actually our 4 and the Bangla 9 is actually our 7. This leads to countless misunderstandings, of course, though the Bangladeshis never seem confused. It doesn’t help us bideshis that both the Bangla and the English number system are used in Bangladesh. You can tell the difference if you look carefully, but at a glance be careful if your train journey depends on getting it right!

Then there is the ‘Inflationary Economics’ that plagues us all here. This is where you hire a rickshaw wallah to take you to the market, a 15 minute cycle ride and costing about 20 – 25 taka, but when you ask the price he want 100 taka. Even when they know you and know you know the correct price you are lucky if you can beat the price down to 30.

This isn’t helped by the city dwelling bideshis who haven’t a clue about Bangla culture nor, half the time, have any language. There, the incompetence of the foreigner coupled with the need of the Rickshaw wallah to make every taka he can results in unbelievable events. I know one guy who used to pay 500 taka for a short journey that should cost just 20 taka because, coming from a western city he could not conceive of a ‘taxi’ journey costing less than a fiver (which is about 500 taka). He made some wallahs very happy for a while until someone pointed out his error.

But beating them all, it would seem, is the government who, whilst wanting to encourage its people to visit museums and ancient sites for as cheap a price as possible, consider the bideshi worth fleecing for 900% more. Wherever you go it is written in bold writing on the boards, from the National museum in Dhaka to Masthanghar in Bogra, bideshis pay x10 the price. Actually, this kind of maths I can cope with. Like the wallah who told us once that they would charge us more because we had come out of an exclusive club in Dhaka and could clearly afford it (it was just our humble British club and hardly the Ritz), there is an honesty there that appeals to me. I know I can pay the taka and, really, I want to pay the taka. But it is the dishonesty and cheating  I dislike which is prevalent throughout Bangladesh and the people themselves hate it and want it gone just as much as those of us who are guests in the country. A noticeboard telling me to pay more or not come in at all is at least honest about its intentions as is the rickshaw wallah who is poor and needs to get as much as he can and will tell you that upfront.

But the most irritating form of maths in Bangladesh is spatial.

In other words, the number of people you can comfortably fit into a space is very, very different to what I am used to in the UK. As I write, my family and I (4 of us) are in a cabin built for 6. We have just been joined by another family of 4 who assure us they are just ‘due jon’, just 2 people. So here we are, 8 squashed into a cabin for 6 on a hot summer day with the father looking over my shoulder at what I am writing. I hope he is enjoying it. In a way I am making him a little bit famous.

Still, I am on holiday and I am not going to get stressed out about it. Except the train was nearly 3 hours late, is notoriously slow and when we get off at Dhaka we could have to face getting our entire luggage into a taxi.

The maths of the taxi drivers, however, would take an entire degree to understand. I’m not even going to try that one.

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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11 Responses to Bangla Maths

  1. Ronald Tudu says:

    Bangla 4 (৪) is actually the english number 8 but bangla 9(৯)isnt actually the english number 7.

    Liked by 1 person

    • D K Powell says:

      No Ronald bhai you misunderstood.

      What looks like 8 in Bangla is actually 4 and what LOOKS like 9 in Bangla is actually 7! Which is true – your shat looks like a 9 to English people just as your char looks like 8.

      I didn’t say ‘the Bangla for 9’, I said the ‘Bangla 9’ referring to the shape of a 9 in the Bangla system.

      Sorry for the confusion 🙂


  2. Pingback: 30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 21 – The Last Things To Go | kenthinksaloud

  3. Tamara Zaman says:

    Hahahaha…. I LOVE this post!! So true!! The way you depicted what any one of us “shodeshis” reluctantly takes for granted makes this an entertaining read!

    The latest form of inflation I have come across here is fares correlated with the weather. A unbearably sultry summer day will have you digging into your wallet for extra – either out of a sense of empathy, or simply because you have no say in the matter; but more recently, with the wet spells, rickshaw pullers are charging us exorbitant amounts (up to 4x the regular fare) just because the alleys are flooded!


    • I know what you mean Tamara! I actually have a lot of sympathy for the Rickshaw wallahs and will write a blog about one of them who is my friend before long. When it rains I have to remind myself that that if I was the wallah and someone one wanted me to go out in the rain and get soaked, I’d tell them to get lost! We kind of expect that they will go out for a pittance in all weathers.

      That said, too many of them try it on and ask ridiculous prices for the most trivial reasons. I guess human nature is to be greedy and the Rickshaw wallah is no different to the politician who just ‘has to have’ the limousine and the penthouse suite and the finest clothes or he ‘can’t possibly’ do his job. Any different to the wallah who wants four times the price because its raining?


      • Tamara Zaman says:

        Point taken 🙂 And when it’s about Tk10-20, it really shouldn’t be made an issue out of. It’s just the feeling of being cheated that I can’t come to terms with! I like how you draw parallels with politicians- you’re absolutely right about human nature. Even then, I don’t suppose the majority of the population would mind corrupt politicians either, as long as they did their job to some degree and didn’t steal from the public so blatantly!


        • ooh now there’s a contentious statement to make Tamara! I think the Brits hate corruption amongst politicians so much and so hypocritically that they love to see even the very best politician have his corruption exposed and career destroyed no matter how trivial the corruption. On the other hand, characters like Jeffrey Archer can lie, cheat and destroy others but somehow become ‘beloved’ to the general public meaning they come back again and again and again. I’m not sure if Bangladesh people work the same way – I really. really hope not!


  4. Gordon says:

    intrigued by the counting to 20 on one hand. that means 80 if you use both feet at once….lol……paying extra voluntarily is not usual in UK but schoolchildren often say keep the change on my bus. Must be someone elses money…(mum and dad’s I expect ),


    • Actually I think the whole ‘keep the change’ thing is an overthrow from victorian and therefore ‘British Raj’ times so it may well be that the kids say that, ultimately, because in the Asian subcontinent it is quite normal.

      As for the counting to 80 – no, up to 40 is possible but the whole ‘opposable thumbs’ thing stops the feet being used! I’ll explain when I see you next Gordon!


  5. Ruth Subash says:

    Well this sounds the same as India. 3 people are supposed to fit in an auto but have been in with about 6 at times. You often see autos filled with school children or entire families on motorbikes. I am sure it will not be long before Suresh has his first motorbike journey.

    There always seems to many more people on the train than there should be. once I was going from Hyderabad to Delhi, about 30 hours on the train. There should be 6 people in the area 3 on each seat but there was more like 10. A man even refused to move off my bed at night!


    • Yes I think there is often little difference between India and Bangladesh in cultural terms. Some, of course, but much of life is the same in both countries. We regularly see 4,5 or even 6 on a motorbike (with baby on the handle bars wearing – get this – a plastic bag as a crash helmet). And I might add a great picture to this blog of a Bangla train during Eid time. Amazing how many people you can fit on a train if you try!


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