An Architect's Inquiry

We can still turn Dhaka into a nice place to live in

Salauddin Ahmed

Well, another year, another Eid and with that another momentary lapse of insanity at a place called Dhaka. Yes, our Dhaka, the one we hold so dearly. She is dear to us not because she gives us a sense of belonging or a sense of place with all her soothing familiarities, but because, we make sure that she gives us the opportunity to be less than what we ought to be in the name of survival, because we make sure she gives us the opportunity to practice passionately of all that wrong doing to fulfill our greed and also because she gives us the opportunity to Not practise our lessons from Adorsho Lipi.

So, she remains honest, standing alone like that distant Tal Gach and listens to our Atripto Atta, give me more, give me more and give me more. But how often do we sincerely take the time to listen to her cry, how often do we take the time to look into her soul, her needs and her desires? It is absolutely sad to know that we, the 12 million Rajas of our Rajdhani, have managed to make Dhaka the biggest slave of our modern time. Our “rajnoitic dapot ar poishar auhongkar” have made Dhaka the most vulgar city to live in, to enjoy and to admire. On top of all that, we blame Dhaka for being the most Pocha, Nongra, Ganjamer shohor. Our intelligence is so dumbfounded that we treat Dhaka as if she is a living, breathing, two legged homo sapiens, with a brain composed of 12 billion neurons. We treat her as if it is her fault for not providing everyone of us with a 3,000 sqft apartment up by the Gulshan Lake or whatever is left of it, we blame her for not letting each of us drive a fancy Mercedes Benz on Dhaka streets, we blame her for all that Bhikaries knocking on our million taka car door at every stop light, we blame her and we blame her and we blame her.

To make Dhaka a city, not a great, nor a beautiful one, just a city with a sense of commonality, with a sense of civility, and mostly with a sense of equitability, all of her citizens have to participate with the idea of giving and not gaining. We have to believe that sun will rise tomorrow. No hopelessness can replace the hopefulness in our attitude. We have to stop running for that first place in the Guinness Book of World Record for Dhaka being a city of shopping malls and learn to question where we may have come from and where we may be heading for. We have to know our origin and how we may evolve over time. We have to live for tomorrow and not just for today. We have to learn to redefine our urban culture and our urban concept in our making of her, in our thinking of her and in our ownership of her.

A city acts as a blue print of her citizens' aspiration. Through her built in environment, she elucidates her inhabitants' understanding or misunderstanding of her very existence. Therefore, it is crucial for us to know how we as a civil society are treating our imaginative power to communicate our own social stratus and all the other invisible layers that make a society exciting and rewarding to be a part of.

We must understand that a city speaks to us in silence. In her materiality, she expresses our inner desire. She tells us more of the way we are and the way we see our world. By remaining sublime, a city gives us the sensorial understanding of our approach to life. Through her unspoken voice she reveals our cosmology and our place in it. As a city sedates us with her hidden strength, she also brings exhilarating joy and a sense of delight in us. From her emptiness, our spirit gets filled. Our faith and our ability to reach higher levels become more believable in the making of our city. In her dynamic complexities she tells the story of her dwellers. In her everyday rhythm she expresses her future sustainability.

In the most recent times, Dhaka has changed all too much and it is mostly for the worse. I am pretty sure by the time I will be done with these few lines; Dhaka will wrap herself with another layer of shameful wrong doing. It is painful to know that we the Dhakaias have made ourselves a mere number in this city. Instead of being committed citizens to her, we are committing serious crimes against her. Our connection, our aspiration, our collective dreams have been over shadowed by self righteousness. Every awaking hour, here in Dhaka, we drain our energy to solve the unsolvable puzzle. All of us are critics of Dhaka and with that comes the seamless criticism of how to fix this nearly defunct city. We are so preoccupied with this chronic habit that at the end of the day, we do not remember our own responsibility and our commitment to the society. Most of us if not all are running after that oasis without realising that there won't be any room for another kindred soul to share the joy of Achievement when we do find that garden.

So, how do we make this city a better place to live in and to sustain. Immediate remedies might not be at our hands but I sincerely believe that we have to slow down or perhaps to take a break from every little thing that each of us is doing to make this place less than what it is. It is not the Chashas or the Bostiwalas who are destroying Dhaka. If anything, they are the ones who are physically building her, knowingly they will never get to live or to own any of their labours of love.

I firmly believe that it is still possible for us to create an urban environment that is conducive to our culture and our rich heritage. The virtue of creation is not an expression of madness as we are experiencing at the moment. In our approach to renewed cultural enlightenment, we have to incorporate the balance between old and the new, between possibilities and impossibilities. We have to know our limits before we break them. I believe the blue print to build a better city, with a better environment is within us. All we have to do is to follow the plan, with utmost honesty and sincerity. The rest will remain as a legacy.

The author is an architect and critic.

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