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     Volume 4 Issue 74 | December 9, 2005 |

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Vanishing Villas of Dhanmndi

SD Khan

I go regularly for morning walks on the lake side of Dhanmondi lake. One early morning, as I was passing through Road No. 4, the pensive cooing of a dove on some tree caught my attention. It was, as it were, an echo from a not-so-distant past when these birds and a lot others used to fill the air of this place with their cacophony. Living as I do, very near to this place, ever since the late forties, I am a living witness, like many, to the gradual merciless decimation of the once verdant woodland adorned by a placid lake, snaking through the length and breadth of this 'rural' part of the city. In the fifties, it was considered the most coveted area for sequestered suburban living. Being just born out of the belly of a Colonial empire, the government of the then East Bengal (Pakistan) was still enamoured with its civil bureaucrats to pamper them with obliging privileges. So, naturally the civil servants (from the rank of DS upwards) were allotted by the government, residential plots of one bigha each in this peaceful pollution-free balmy area. The entire area was planned exclusively for residential purpose. The idea was that in each plot the owner would build a one or two-storey house on one side of his plot leaving a substantially open lawn/garden in the front. That way every house would be a detached 'villa' conforming to any modern suburban housing complex of the world. Within a decade, all the allotted plots were filled up with nice residential buildings of more or less similar looks. There was even a uniformity of shape and size among these buildings. Every house had a lovely garden in its front. Moreover, around the boundary of these houses were also large trees such as mango, jack fruit, coconut and sometimes krishnachura. The planning and design of these villas were in perfect harmony and blending with the existing flora and fauna of the whole Dhanmondi. There was no obtrusive structures whatever to mar the scenic beauty of the landscape.

The community living here comprising mostly of high government officials, the society was a decent one with no incongruous admixtures. When these first settlers of Dhanmondi R/A built their houses in the fifties and sixties, they were mostly in their mid-life. In another 25 years they all turned grey and were retired. The political scenario of the country in the meantime also changed. Bangladesh came into being in 1971. In the years that followed, drastic global economic upheavals took place with the ups and downs of the petro-dollar, the shock waves of which reached even Bangladesh. The job market in the country became hopeless and the value of its currency nose-dived drastically. People were forced to seek jobs abroad, mainly in the Middle East, which attracted the most for meeting its demands of booming development works. There was thus an exodus of skilled and semi-skilled people from Bangladesh to the ME countries for employment. As regards the higher educated young children of those retired government officers of Dhanmondi R/A, these boys and girls, finding their future bleak in the country, now turned their face to the West for higher education and subsequent employment and possible immigration, leaving their aged parents alone to their fate. With this, the fates of those lovingly built villas of Dhanmondi R/A too came into question. This was a turning point. These houses, nurtured for years with cordial care and affection, to be inherited and enjoyed by the descendants of their owners, now faced their extinction. Their elderly owners, with nobody to assist them in the upkeep and management (paying all kinds of taxes, keeping all the papers up to date etc) of these properties found themselves bedevilled with insurmountable tasks and challenges which their age was unable to cope with. What once was to them a source of pleasure, joy and hope, now became a source of problem-ridden misery. The sooner they could get rid of this torment was the better. This helpless state of the elderly person (a widow or a widower) with none of his or her offspring around for help, creates for the shark-like developers of the country, a golden opportunity to contrive to make a fortune out of the property. These cunning developers accommodate their lucrative promises to the credulity of the old owners to attract and allure them to give up their properties 'at their disposal'. It is not only the beleaguered situation of their property that prompts the landowners to give them to the builders or developers. More often than not it is the primitive passion of an avarice that goads the property owner or his descendants to wager the property for greater gains. In most cases, with the second generation of these property owners being permanently settled in various foreign countries, the only way their legal inheritors can 'enjoy' the bequeathed property is to sell them off and take away the money somehow. Some try even to 'eat the cake and have it too', by taking mixed benefits- cash cum kind.

So, what we see now of the once idyllic Dhanmondi R/A, is the net result of that unbridled greed for wealth. Innumerable majestic six-storey flats (condominiums) have now sprung up in all the places where once stood single or two-storied detached villas. Ironically, all these new buildings sport all possible 'eco-friendly' names such as" :Green Repose", "Green Park", "Green Grace" etc, all in the name of green but at the cost of greenery. These names are a mockery of the present state of this area. A few old, one or two-storey detached villas, withstanding threatening looks from the robust high-rise flats all around, are precariously counting their days to be pulled down any day by the bulldozers of the hungry developers.

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