What if the children of Dhaka are given a day to do whatever they long to? What if they are given enough space to spread their arms and play? What if they are given the chance to break free from the confines of home for a day?
They would do exactly what they did on a free Manik Mia Avenue yesterday morning.
Taking turns to ride a bicycle, Subarna and her little brother Safwan were having a quarrel when brought to Manik Mia Avenue, one side of which was kept shut to traffic for three hours from 8:00am as part of a car-free city event.
Seventh grader Subarna had already rode a few times and was attempting to ride once more, but second grader Safwan would not allow it. He demanded that it was his turn. Eventually their mother, Razia Sultana, intervened before the girl gave in.
“Growing up in the city, our children usually don't see open space. The roads are always filled with traffic. It's a nice initiative; it gives the kids a space to breathe,” said Razia, a retired government officer.
Car-free Dhaka is a monthly event of Dhaka Transport Co-ordination Authority to discourage use of cars. It takes place on the first Friday of the month.
People from different corners of the city came to spend time in front of the National Parliament. Different types of outdoor playsets including seesaws, slides, badminton gears were kept over a 200-metre stretch of the road.
The children were playing badminton, football, basketball and more. The whole place was abuzz with their joyful chatter. Not only children but parents too enjoyed the morning. Some even started taking part.
“Usually, on holidays, I sleep in. But seeing this event on social media I brought my family here,” said Mohsin Reza, who was playing badminton with his wife. Their two sons were also playing by their side.
“It feels wonderful to spend time with family this way. I want to come back again,” said mother of the boys, Rubaiyat. The family lives in Shyamoli.
There was a part of the road where a wide blue mat was spread, allowing children to draw pictures. There was no award, but the children were deeply immersed in their artworks with free colour pencils and papers given to them.
“I like to draw and I have made friends here. I will play with them after finishing the drawing,” said six-year-old Bonni Shikha, talking between the strokes she was making to create her artwork. She came with her mother Hasina Begum, a lawyer, from Farmgate.
The road was also decorated with colourful banners carrying different slogans to encourage the use of bicycles, zebra crossing, and compliance with traffic rules.
National women's basketball team player Ashreen Mridha was there with her team to promote women's sports. She was campaigning for her newly founded group "Deshiballers". They were also teaching children the basics of the game.
“We don't have much open space in the city to play, especially for the girls. Besides security remains a major concern. The Car Free Street Dhaka event at least gave us a picture of how a city should look like for girls,” said Ashreen.
Although a part of the north side of the road was blocked, the rest was open to traffic. Yesterday being a holiday, there was no jam in the morning.
“We diverted the vehicles to one side of the road so that the event can be held without any interruption,” said Traffic Inspector of Mohammadpur Zone Biswajit Roy, who believes that using fewer cars will also improve the city's environment.