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     Volume 8 Issue 73 | June 12, 2009 |

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Everywhere you look there are apartment
blocks sprouting like mushrooms.

Straight Talk

The Changing Face of

Nadia Kabir Barb

There is always a huge amount of satisfaction when I receive the confirmation of my flight to Dhaka. From the minute the notification arrives into my email inbox, I begin to feel the usual excitement and anticipation building up and I am not alone in this. My children have an informal countdown which continues up until the day before we are scheduled to depart.

The other day I was discussing our upcoming trip to Bangladesh with some friends and we all found ourselves reminiscing about the Dhaka we knew and grew up in which is a far cry from the burgeoning metropolis we return to these days. Even my husband whose first trip to Dhaka was in 1990, remarked that he found the city almost unrecognisable. Apart from the physical changes, such as the Dhaka skyline now dotted with countless multi-storied buildings, the most striking difference is the pace of life. With our entry into the modernised and commercialised world, I feel we have lost a bit of the charm Dhaka used to hold. The advantages of an ever expanding and developing metropolis are numerous, and I have no desire to write an exposé of the pros and cons of urban living, so you will have to read this article as the nostalgic ramblings of someone who misses the Dhaka they grew up in.

Arriving in Zia International Airport is very different from the times when we used to fly into the Old Airport in Kurmitola. It was small and relatively basic but had a real sense of intimacy. I have so many memories of descending upon the airport with my aunts, uncles and cousins to receive someone or be received. The departure area used to be filled with tearful family members saying their farewells. Travelling these days is becoming such a commonplace event, that we no longer feel the need to go to the airport to greet people or see them off. To be honest, it is understandable especially with the traffic being the way it is these days, and with people's hectic lifestyles. Just getting to the airport is in itself an achievement. Although I have to admit that when I arrive at the airport in Dhaka, I strain my eyes to catch a glimpse of my mother waiting for us on the other side of the glass and it is a wonderful feeling. Call me selfish!

The amount of cars on the streets now a days is staggering and despite our efforts to improve the urban infrastructure, we just do not seem to be able to keep up with the ever-increasing numbers of automobiles and public transport that congest the streets. In fact it is almost impossible to recall a time when you could actually get from one place to another in less than thirty minutes. I am sure for those under the age of twenty, living in Dhaka at the moment, the thought of driving across town in about twenty minutes sounds like an urban myth! These days people living in Gulshan do not seem to want to venture beyond the boundaries of Gulshan 1 and 2 to other parts of the city, citing traffic as the reason. This appears to be the case with people living in Dhanmondi, Uttara, Maghbazar etc. With each area having its fair share of shopping arcades, restaurants, banks and hospitals, the need to venture outside one's own neighbourhood or 'para' is decreasing. When we were kids, we were constantly visiting or being visited by our relatives or family friends who were living in other parts of Dhaka and due to the fact there were few traffic jams, it was never really a hardship. My cousins and I even used to hop in the car and check out the new airport being built or go to Uttara for a drive! Ah --- the simple pleasures in life...

My husband was musing over his first night in Dhaka and remembered being woken up in the morning bright and early with the sound of crows cawing and someone shouting “Murgi” outside his window. It was definitely a novel experience and he seems to recollect this with fondness and amusement. I have often told my daughters about the 'ferriwalas' who used to come by trying to tempt us with their rainbow coloured assortment of glass bangles but have been disappointed not to have seen one near our house for years.

Dhaka is becoming an urban jungle and everywhere you look there are apartment blocks sprouting like mushrooms. Or every other property is a school or bank. There are fewer and fewer houses especially with gardens in the city. And those who have decided to desist from jumping on the property development bandwagon and remain in houses, find themselves sandwiched between blocks of apartments five or six stories high. Not only that but the multi-storied flats are so close to each other there is a lack of privacy. These days you do not even need a telephone to talk to your neighbours as all you have to do is open the window and shout! What is also sad is that this means children growing up in these flats do not have any outside access for recreational purposes. No gardens, no playgrounds. When we were kids we used to run amok, chasing each other in the garden or climb trees, grazing our knees and scraping our elbows, which is part of growing up. But sadly the newer improved Dhaka does not appear to allow for this.

I am sure that I am remembering Dhaka with rose tinted glasses and in all probability found many things frustrating and would have been delighted to know how advanced life would become within a couple of decades. I am not saying that the Dhaka we grew up in was a better place or even that it was a better time, all I am saying is that it was very different...


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