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      Volume 12 |Issue 05| February 01, 2013 |


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One Off

So, Hatirjheel has happened!

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

So, the Hatirjheel has happened. It is the necklace around the bare, skeletal and ugly neck of my beautiful Dhaka that was. A Dhaka where I grew up amidst people, most of whom were not even known to me, as near relatives. The town was like my play ground. The para (locality) where we lived was like my home with an extended family. And each dwelling there was like a room of my home. I merrily crossed from one room to the other without the fear of being questioned or admonished. There were far fewer people. Even lesser number of vehicles. We were happy with two bus services from far flung Gandaria to downtown at Gulistan. The services were called Town 2 & 2A service. A couple of jalopies wrapped around with tin sheets, passed off as medium-sized buses, were on service on these and other routes. We usually walked up to Sadarghat and walked the remainder of the distance to Dhaka University. Taking the other bus to Ramna would have cost our tiffin allowance.

We had a bicycle at home that my elder brother used to ride to his Textile College at Tejgaon. I occasionally took the cycle out, Bhaiya permitting, for various chores or just for the pleasure of riding. Maa and my sisters used rickshaws and horse-drawn carriages to visit people and go shopping. People went to the Buckland bund by the Buriganga for their morning and evening walks. Occasionally, we took a boat ride on Buriganga. I was quite an avid swimmer and swam across the wide river several times during my college days. Ramna was a tranquil area greenery abound and people went picnicking there on holidays. Such was the good old Dhaka. Then, with the passage of time, Dhaka started swelling in terms of population and expanding in terms of area. And then, after the independence of the country, population increase started to gallop. And because of paucity of land the capital started falling all over. All other towns gradually started losing importance. We saw how the district towns that used to be hubs for various socio-cultural activities had started drying up and emaciating culturally and intellectually. Indigenous culture deserted peri-urban Bangladesh to find a hub in the capital. But the elusive capital city of ours started shifting towards hybrid and borrowed culture. We started aping.

More importantly, the capital started to burst at the seams. Yet no one but no one ever thought of the fact that this country was not a city state comprising just one city. And that if only one organ in a body gets all attention, then the rest of the body starts to decay. That is what has started happening to this dear country of ours. Every other town or village stopped moving forward, started marking time and then started on a course of perilous journey backwards. I once had the misfortune of interviewing a very eminent opinion leader of our country who contested my view that in Bangladesh decentralisation was practical. He said things like 'where are the schools and the universities, hospitals and other urban amenities that people would go and live there in those remote places'? I could not convince him of the fact that amenities went to places where people were. If our industrialists and entrepreneurs and the governments decided to give equal importance to all places then the infrastructure needed for a decent living anywhere would automatically follow. Instead, we see that we are, directly or indirectly, encouraging factories, markets, shops and ghettos to mushroom all over Dhaka making life miserable and pushing the city even further from the possibility of ever becoming planned and liveable.

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

And even in such a city the state of the art 'Hatirjheel' has happened. People in hundreds of thousands are flocking there almost 24 hours of the day. To see. To be. To soak and to marinate. Good, that. This wretched city does not have many places to unwind. The Ramna Park, Suhrawardy Udyan, Osmani Udyan, all these places have become old, unkempt and boring. We need newer places to deal with such stupendous growth of the city's population.

But I have a fear. I have a fear because I have seen many layers of cosmetics applied on this city of ours over the past 50 plus years to dwindle away sooner than one could think of. Those were mutilated by the ever rising tide of untrained population. There isn't even anyone in any of our government agencies to teach the citizens of the essentials of civic sense. So we see that the lakes of much vaunted residential districts like Baridhara or Gulshan become a repository of garbage and human excreta. The parks become colossal dustbins and newly carpeted roads are merrily excavated ostensibly for public utilities never to be patched up again.

I have a fear that the Hatirjheel awaits exactly the same fate in not too distant a future. I hope to providence that I am wrong in my conjecture!



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