Photographs: Zahedul i. khan
Text: Nader Rahman
Step into any DVD store in Dhaka and ask what documentaries they have and one will be bombarded by the same names over and over again, Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine, Loose Change and My Architect: A Son's Story. The last one is the one which turns heads, it is not high profile, it is not explosive and it does not make George W. Bush look like a monkey on speed. It is the story of Louis I Kahn, his love, life and legacy made by his illegitimate son. For most Bangladeshis he is just another name, a faceless name who designed our stunning parliament. The building was first designed in 1962; after the orders to construct it were give out by the Martial Law Administration of Pakistan in 1959. As it so turned out the immense piece of modern art was finally completed in early 1982, one decade late. Designed by an American, planned in Pakistan and completed in Bangladesh the Shangshad Bhaban is an international symbol or our national pride. It is spiritual heart of our country; and now our long misused parliament has mellowed into one of the few open spaces the people of the capital can enjoy.
The enormous piece of art has become a refuge for many people suffocated by the density of Dhaka. Manik Mia Avenue adds to the overall ambience of the area with its wide open roads split down the middle by green trees.
The other side of the road is another case altogether, opposite the parliament lies the ghost house of the jute research institute, the golden fibre with a house of its own, if nothing else. Overlooking our politicians, beside the ghost house are blocks of low income flats, they add a sense of reality to the setting, as their hopes, dreams and aspirations are guided by the people across the road.
Around the building there is always a buzz, people walking, talking, eating and taking in the sight of our greatest sculpture. But the closer one gets the more visible the cracks become. Lines of people peddle their wares to the waves of people wading the shores of our democracy. They squat with their backs to the building that they believe got them where they are, on the street. People mill around, with cameras in hand, trying to squeeze the behemoth into the same frame as themselves smiling from ear to ear. The area is a hotbed for beggars, as the chatpoti and phuchka wallas keep driving them away, trying to give their customers some piece of mind. As one group of beggars draws a vendor away from his cart, some others cheekily try and grab some food behind his back, it is the old two card trick, in front of a house that always wins.
On Fridays there are lines of garish yellow and red plastic tables and chairs, they are only offset by the bright colours people wear to the place, to celebrate their day out. Out of the corner of ones eye, drying clothes can be spotted, an interesting place indeed. Young couples come to cuddle as the sun sets and in the twilight lovers lock hands in the most democratic of unions. Behind the massive complex lies the grave of Ziaur Rahman, with idyllic gardens and a spirited ambience it is the place to be for the more active kind. In between the grave and the parliament is a veritable no man's land, currently, housing the grave dwellers wife and her long time nemesis. The Shangshad Bhaban is the beating heart of the city, with our current political situation one might be tempted to say it is recovering after a long ailment. Here's to that.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008