Two mayors, Don Quixote and the windmills
One of the insipid ironies of Dhaka City is that double mayors haven't solved a single problem. The obfuscated nation's bifurcated capital remains, to borrow a phrase from T.S. Eliot, a patient "etherised upon a table." The dismal mathematics of two mayors in one city invokes the epiphany of persistent doubt if anything is ever going to change. Between its two city corporations, this city is like an invalid on two crutches.
Not to question the intentions of the mayors, because they are doing the best they can. One mayor risked a siege in the hands of unruly transport workers last November when he tried to vacate a truck stand in Tejgaon. Another faced the wrath of hawkers in Gulistan last week when his men, despite having pistol-wielding Chhattra League activists amongst them, failed in their eviction attempt. The veins of vested interests run so deep in this country that good intentions are as futile as digging a tunnel with bare hands.
Meanwhile, the mayors got promoted to the rank and status of Cabinet ministers last June. That month the government also empowered the city corporations to coordinate the utility services in the city. If a man's worth is no greater than his ambition, a man's power is no greater than his position. Our city fathers are now immensely more powerful than before. The city may not have seen much improvement, the stars of its mayors nonetheless soared.
That explains how high-rise buildings became possible with the invention of the elevator. And going up without climbing steps forever weakened the link between hard work and success. While the mayors have taken the elevator, this city is stumbling on the stairs. In all fairness, the mayors have been in office for roughly one year and a half. Sympathisers argue it's too early to judge them. Sceptics are convinced that morning shows the day.
So far, a pernicious truck stand sitting like a block in an artery of this city has been removed. Thousands of CCTV cameras have been installed to protect certain neighbourhoods. Some commercial structures have been demolished in some residential areas. A footpath here and a street there have been mended. Garbage bins are hoisted on sidewalks. One mayor even got his name inscribed on each bin as if people are supposed to thank him personally every time they throw their trash!
But this city needs more than a few cosmetic touchups. We still have the sidewalks infested with hawkers. Traffic jams sit tight in the roads. Water-logging and drainage problems are stagnant. Garbage disposal is a crisis. Crimes are still rampant. Roads are chaotic, neighbourhoods are pathetic, and our homes are still yearning for safety. What has happened to date is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
We don't expect our mayors to be magicians. They can't make all our problems disappear with a sleight of hand. It's understood their jobs are easier said than done. There are so many strings to pull, so many buttons to push, so many minds to marry. We are grateful they are there to haul our burden for us.
Then again, how long should it take for them to get a grip on their jobs? We see them in meetings, workshops, seminars, and media interviews. I am told they also work late into the night. Yet, two mayors are less visible than one when splitting an atom should have released more energy. Many of us miss the mayors like those miserable children, who go to bed wishing their absentee fathers will show up in the morning.
Don Quixote in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's masterpiece devises a way out of his hopeless condition. He realises that even though one may not always be able to control what happens to one, one can control how one perceives it. He called a windmill a giant and a tavern prostitute a chaste woman, because he believed that perception is everything. The way we choose to see the world is how it shall be.
We know our mayors aren't always in control, but what we don't know is how they perceive things and where they are going with this city. This city needs to cut down on pollution. Drinking water needs more than chemical treatment. The constipated traffic must be loosened. People should feel at home in their homes again.
Until now the mayors have been an uneasy wedge driven between Don Quixote and the windmills, appearing to be carpet knights who are cluelessly negotiating chivalry with chimera. Where does it leave this city? The answer depends on which of the two stretches your imagination. Is it that you have two mayors? Or, is it that you have a modern city? It's another irony that we are losing sight of the forest (city) for the trees (mayors).
The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.