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<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 127 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 17, 2003

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My Dishevelled City

Aly Zaker

Back in nineteen seventy-two, soon after the liberation of Bangladesh, all kinds of stories would make the round in a friendly get together. Inevitably these would relate to the naiveté of people trying to make a breakthrough in various fields of livelihood in a country that was just liberated. Indenting, as an adjunct to import, emerged as a very popular business then. There were a few others as well, like advertising or travel services for instance. But this story is on indenting so… In those days Indenting business had got a tail wind and almost every second person in business was involved in this trade. Now, Indenting business is closely linked with another word 'Principal'. Principals are the source of procurement of merchandise. A friend of mine on arrival from London at the old airport in Dhaka saw a lot of his old acquaintances at the airport waiting to receive someone. When asked, all of them said that they were waiting for their principals to arrive. My friend had no clue about the 'business meaning' of the word 'principal'. So he thought that perhaps many principals of colleges had been killed during the war and hence the need to import them from abroad.

I had more or less a similar experience with one of my expatriate friends in those days. He had thought, on arrival at Dhaka, that the city had borne signs of the aftermath of bombing that happened during the war. “Why so?” I asked. “You need only to look around Dhaka's skyline to find why?” He said. I realised that the confusion was created by the buildings that were under construction. Where wires and rods were sticking out like sore thumbs. It was natural, therefore, that my friend, coming from a place that had assumed the look of completeness for as long as before his birth, would find it difficult if not impossible to understand why a normal city should look the way Dhaka did. The situation still is pretty much the same.

The other day a friend of mine was lamenting over how lop sided priorities ruled over us, always and forever. He was talking about (what else but) the road dividers. In the mean time, so much has been said and written about the dividers that the lines of words could form miles of them dividing all our roads. But the fact of the matter is why do we have to see demolition work unleashed at the middle of the most important roads of Bangladesh every now and then? Isn't there anything more important to do for the city? Here's where the question of priority becomes so important.

My city is dilapidated to say the least. The roads are withering away, the drains are clogged, and the traffic lights don't work. Almost every road, even the much vaunted VIP road, is infested with muggers. But demolition, without a rhyme or reason, must go on. I have been a witness to absurd things like a road being carpeted and then dug just because the department in charge of carpeting issued the work order before the department in charge of digging. And the dug road left as it is for the weather to do its job. I am told that this is often done with a purpose, at the behest of the contractor's interest. Well so be it. Then by the same token the strong and sleek dividers could also be demolished at the behest of some one's interest, couldn't it?

I have grown up in a locality in the real old town of Dhaka. It used to be poor but peaceful little locality. That part of the city has become almost inaccessible now. But this quandary has been caused by the bottleneck created by the so-called development of the new town area through which the old town has to be approached. Much of the anguish of Dhaka has been caused by its so-called development. Parks have been done away with, water bodies filled up, multi-storied buildings mushrooming in utter disregard of infrastructural support. I don't think there is any other city in the world that had to do with so much misery in the name of development. It's about time some one realised that the city dwellers here could do with a bit of respite.

This city of ours is over four hundred years old. Any where in the world, this in itself would have merited some kind of special attention. Some parts would have been preserved, some buildings earmarked as historical sites and isolated with an adequate surrounding support. Nothing of that sort has happened here. It is talked about that there are historical sites, especially in the old town area of the city. But those sites and buildings are decaying away for want of maintenance -- the Katras, the Ruplal House, the Northbrook Hall, the Curzon Hall, the Lion Cinema (which indeed was one of the first theatres in the city), the innumerable other old mansions et al. Falling back on my favourite subject History, would it be a way ward statement if one said that we are hell bent upon tearing away from our heritage to prove how rootless we were?





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