Where is the End of the Road?
I first went to Thailand in 1977. My first impression of Bangkok was of a shabby dated city full of people in tattered clothes; roads full of traffic not knowing where to go so on and so forth. Subsequently I have travelled to various parts of Thailand on work and on vacation. During my visits on every new entry to that country, I was greeted by a pleasant surprise. I remember having written in these columns that I was overwhelmed by the invasion of flyovers in Bangkok. This happened when we were going to Pattaya a couple of years ago on vacation. This time on we thought of seeing a bit more of Thailand and travelled north from Bangkok. Our journey took us to Chiangmai and on to Chiangrai, the Golden Triangle et al. We were very impressed. This is nothing new. Everybody who knows Thailand and is a frequent visitor to this country observes this change. It is understandable that the razzmatazz of Bangkok that has become characteristic to the city can floor many of us mortals by its glitter. I remember having written once about Banlue Yemjid, an old Thai peasant from the hinterland looking out at the drought-stricken land in a photograph published in the Bangkok Post about when I came here five years back. I had tried to establish a 'connect' between him and Sobhan the peasant from back home drawing a parallel between the wretched condition of both. I remember having written that though Thailand as seen in Bangkok was reminiscent of any affluent country anywhere in the world, Thailand in its villages is as miserable as any other underdeveloped third world country. I had commented that deluge of development that one can see in Bangkok did not reach in the Thai villages where the Banlues still languished in abject poverty. This comment of mine may seem like something out of a textbook on socialism but I shall keep saying this because I believe in equitable distribution of opportunities and privileges for all. These privileges belong to every one irrespective of class, creed or colour. However, we seem to have left behind us such values as being too archaic.
Coming back to my experience in Thailand this time on, getting a bit of exposure of the hinterland, I tried to asses the actual financial condition of the rural Thais. It did not seem so bad. So, the forces of trickle-down economics were working here. A part of the money generated in Bangkok did reach the villages of Thailand however insignificant that money was. I found the Thai men and women of the villages were happy. I saw them in the small bazaars, by the temple in the distant townships or in the food shops. They were merrily going about their chores smiling and greeting people keenly. They did not show signs of suffering or fatigue as is quintessential in the Bangladeshi villages. Just as we were pleasantly surprised we also tried to figure out the reason behind this. Thailand, as we all know, has had its share of political chaos, corruption and unwarranted change of governments each with diametrically opposite view of the other for a long time. In fact to the best of my knowledge, democracy has yet to get its root fortified in that country, whereas, in Bangladesh though the conditions were similar in terms of animosity of each party to the other and rampant corruption was prevalent, we have always been politically cognisant and therefore aware of democratic norms. We have always fought against the undemocratic power usurpers. Our popularly elected governments have been assuming power in succession without much problem and yet we have been groaning under economic hardship. What could be the reason behind this? Two things that stood out were, a/ the economy did not trickle down as smoothly here as it should have or as it did in Thailand. The money earned through valid business or otherwise seldom saw its way through to the country that it belonged to. Most money, especially illegal pay offs, were transferred to foreign lands because of obvious reasons of safety or security. And, b/ each government, assuming power through democratic process or usurpation, started anew in terms of all development related works. Most ongoing works are abandoned and fresh projects begun. There has never been any continuity of any sort. Whereas in Thailand any amount of abhorrence of one government about its predecessor did not result in changing ways of normal economic activities. It seems that every change in government in our country opens up an opportunity of making money, twice over, from a new or even an old project. Therefore, we mark time in the same place forever. Where is the end of the road? We will have to change this culture - the sooner the better for the nation and its people.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009