One Morning in Victoria Park | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 11, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 11, 2010


One Morning in Victoria Park

Morning Walk in Victoria Park. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

What I like best about old Dhaka are the unexpected pleasures it offers. You never know what surprise waits for you when you turn a corner.
Early one morning, I go to Victoria Park formally named Bahadur Shah Park in memory of martyrs of the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857 to see the obelisk. This obelisk was constructed in 1884 by the European friends of Nawab Ahsanullah in memory of the Nawab's son who died young. I want to take advantage of the morning's light to photograph the obelisk. I am looking forward to working in peace and quiet. In my mind's eye, I can already see the soft light filtering through the leaves of the Debdaru trees surrounding the obelisk.
But...surprise! When I enter the park, it is humming with energy. A veritable army of walkers marches to the beat of a silent drum along an oval track. Many wear T-shirts sporting emblems of walking clubs. I catch my breath at this display of vigour.
Men and women of all ages and sizes charge forward. They walk briskly and purposefully; some also stretch and swing their arms in sync, and a few break out into a run. Most are dressed conservatively. There are no shorts and many women wear elaborate burkha or chador combinations.
In the space around the obelisk, a group of young men are exercising, doing sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups and other calisthenics. Their performance resembles a well-choreographed dance. As I look through my camera's viewfinder to compose a photo, I am startled by a boisterous sound coming from my right. The laughter therapy quickly amplifies and reaches a crescendo before the dozen laughers sober up.
At another spot, a dozen men gather around their Ustad (master). He leads them through a series of exercises, stretching and flexing just about every moving part of the body starting with the fingertips and ending at the toes.
The walkers have formed several clubs. Two large ones are “Bahadur Shah Park Pratohbhromonkari Shongho” and “Bahadur Shah Park Pratohbhromonkari Shomity”, conveniently shortened to “Shongho” and “Shomity”. Walking starts right after Fajr prayers and the last walkers leave at 11pm. Some walkers have come here for three or four decades.
About nine hundred active members of Shongho and Shomity are here every day. After the walk, chairs are provided for members to relax and enjoy a short adda. The clubs also arrange social events such as musical functions. A member informs me that between eight and nine thousand people walk here daily.
As I step out of the park, I notice a Daab (green coconut) seller positioned strategically at the gate. How sweet that water must taste to the thirsty enthusiast! I suddenly remember the obelisk. I had no chance to photograph it. But that is alright, because it means a future visit to old Dhaka with the possibility of yet another surprise.

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