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     Volume 4 Issue 38 | March 18, 2005 |

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The Lost Beauty of the

Syed Waliullah

"Should I be praising what is lost and make my remembrance dear?"
" Should I be expecting my memory to offer me its heart to the shrine of the dead past?"

(quotes are rephrased)

Questions such as these have been troubling me ever since I have seen the present state of our water front after a lapse of 30 years. Old friends still living in the neighbourhood of the river and elsewhere in the city have told and retold the story of disfiguremernt of the fascinating river. They relate how they have helplessly watched the horrific process of wilful degradation of the beautiful Buriganga and its sublime environment. The Buckland Bandh that we had taken for granted, no longer exists. It is now history, a story of the long past. This calumny was the result of lack of foresight of owners of ship yards who built their industries on the water front at their sweet will, giving the landscape a messy, unkempt look. Now, hundreds of passenger launches are anchored haphazardly all over the river that resembles a junk yard; illegal concrete structures of all kinds have been built in and around the river and many more areas of the water body are in the process of being encroached right under the very nose of the authority concerned.

All of these acts add up to the worst kind of defacement of our heritage undeterred and at the detriment of our sensibility. The seed of this calamitous perpetration was sown by the first post-British regime. They permitted setting up a retail market for household accessories by blocking off one third of the Coronation Park. After the Liberation War, the rest of the park was gobbled up in no time, thus the grabbing of public along with private properties around the country began in full swing. Is it the naivety or the ineptness of the concerned that brought the water front to such rot?

The water front once so endearing to Dhakaiyas (not Dhakaits) now turned into a source of frustration and toothless anger. How can one forget the exceptionally beautiful and delightfully enchanting view of the river front with its embellished and elegant palaces, the Coronation Park and red-bricked Northbrook Hall along the well-cared after neat river front and the view of the mile-long Buckland Bandh with hundreds of electric bulbs twinkling all along the water front in the quietness of the dark night?

The river bank on one side of the asphalt walk way and the two-yard wide green strip on the other side, stretching all along the mile-long Bandh was a cherished venue for hundreds of morning walkers. The asphalt walkway laced with trimmed grass exuded a lustre of its own with beautifully designed wrought iron-framed wooden benches placed at regular distances. Incidentally all those walkers had their respective offices, residences and institutions, within a distance of less than a mile, except the Dhaka Intermediate College and the University of Dhaka. They were from teaching, legal, judiciary, administrative, trade and commerce professions. This community of walkers made this exercise of theirs' integral to their daily routine. We the young people of the time, however, religiously avoided older generation's hours at the Bandh and favoured afternoons extending into evenings at the location for our kind of enjoyment that included walking, visiting the adjacent gym, whiling away our evenings, until street lights were on, on benches in the company of friends with the accompaniment of roasted peanuts and chanachur. As a part of conducting a guided tour of the city for our family visitors of near and far off places we always started with the river front and a boat trip. We seldom missed a chance to tell our guests, how glorious was our water front. We learnt swimming in the river and there we had our regular weekend swimming spree. A few of us, the truants of the Moslem High and near by Collegiate schools, spent a couple of hours on a boat trip whenever we could.

The city administration of the time did not permit any power-driven commercial vessel, except the ones carrying jute for bailing at Narayanganj, to ply on the river. This would have disturbed the calmness, serenity and excellent symbiotic relationship between natural surroundings and adjacent palaces, such as the Nawab bari (Ahsan Manzil), Ruplal House, Lal Kuthi, Raghunath House and the North Brook Hall to the north and the Lalbagh Fort to the west and expanse of crop fields on the other side of the river. There were, however, a few small size official motor launches lying anchored in front of the Ahsan Manzil, notwithstanding the presence of small, medium and large country boats and the occasional appearance of a couple of large and medium sized handsomely built, colourful wooden house boats. Locally called Bojra and Panshi respectively, with ornate front and side windows, they belonged to rural- based Zamindars and rich people.

There was and still is operating, a steamer station, known as Badamtoli Ghat, at the west end of the Bandh where from smaller paddle boat Lepcha and the like plied between Dhaka and Jagannathgunj ghat on the eastern bank of the river Jamuna. The boat had a stopover at Manikganj and served every other day using the Dholeswari river-route to cater to Northern districts. Presently the river service has been withdrawn as the river bed is silted and time-saving highways became operational.

The relaxed ambience of the whole place was created by zoning off the commercial, cotton and jute industrial infrastructures and the inland river port at Narayanganj, ten miles away to the east. Dhaka and Narayanganj were called the twin cities. Unlike the present day larger paddle boats, Rockets, namely Ghazi, Ostrich, Kiwi and a couple of others, used to ply from Narayanganj, carrying both passengers and cargo to and from Goalondo ghat to the south-west districts. Others went to Khulna to the south taking the Barisal route. Commuters travelling between Dhaka and Narayanganj had three options for travelling between Dhaka and Narayanganj--by all season road, the Buriganga or the Eastern Bengal Railway.

Pleasure seekers have always loved a couple of hours in a river excursion on country boats. There are marked differences between the river cruise of the past and the present. In the bygone days the river water was clean and clear, considered to be safe for drinking and swimming. Upper and middle-class Hindu and Muslim families alike, took advantage of the summer season for a boat trip in the privacy of moonlit nights. Such outings had an added attraction of picnicking on the boat with freshly caught fish from fishermen still at work. Now the water is stinky, filthy and bluish, making it a most unworthy place for a river cruise. The river is now an unsafe place also because the mastaans of the capital are on the prowl. In spite of the threatening environment young people of today, find the river cruise romantically alluring.

It is sad but true that the magical, balmy evenings around Buriganga are gone forever.

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