“Who do you disdain my friend?
It’s mine, it’s your sin!!” (Rabindranath)
We came to live in Dhaka in 1953 when my father was transferred here from Kushtia. He retired and eventually died in this city. While here, he, going by the advices of his friends, bought a bigha (99.33 decimal) of land in the Kalabagan area. That was in 1954.
If I remember correctly the plot had cost fifteen hundred rupees (now taka). As children we used to go for picnic on that land. Kalabagan only had a few mud huts and was full of Jackfruit trees. So it was like a village within the town, quiet and full of birds. Towards the evening it used to be the safe haven for Jackals. Their wailing could be heard from quite far. There were no roads in the first few years in that area, so we used to park our car at the Mirpur road and walk down to the land about half a kilometre away, through isles between paddy fields. Eventually, the paddy fields yielded to the demand for its natural development as a residential area. When time came to demarcate the pieces of land bought by various people, each of the occupants volunteered to surrender 2.5 kathas of land from their one bigha piece to enable a decent 20 feet road between the plots on both sides. Everyone knew that this would mean giving up 1/4th of the land bought. Yet my father and his friends gladly agreed to this arrangement, as it would be benefitting the community. They could, as it transpires now, see into the future. Our road was designed by the authority to be a blind one ending about 200 yards to the west of our plot. The 20 feet road worked beautifully for us up to our plot beyond which, to the east, the plot owners forgot the verbal promise and permitted only about an arm's length so that the rest of the lane to the main road became so narrow that even two rickshaws could barely pass each other. When we grew up we were so unhappy that one by one we sold off our share of the property and left the area.
I remember having acted in a television play years ago in which my role was one of a very rich and uneducated landlord who had amassed huge landed property in some part of Dhaka. He chose to live at the dead end of a lane on a huge plot with ponds and gardens and cowsheds, indeed a little Zamindari of his own. All properties on either side of the lane were owned by him and were rented out. He wouldn't let the lane be widened because that would mean giving away his precious property for so-called utilities and public benefit. The lane was so narrow that he had to either walk or travel by rickshaw to reach his home from the main road. He rented a garage to park his car on the main road. The man was mighty happy with such an arrangement until one fateful night he had a massive heart attack. An ambulance was called. The ambulance couldn't enter the lane and the guy died when he was hand carried by his sons to the ambulance parked on the main road. I remember the ordeal in acting in this most horrendous scene that gave me the fear of death as no other scenes ever acted by me could. It remains deeply entrenched in my memory.
As I sit by my reading table the thoughts of such an incredulous old patriarch and his clones come to mind. Why only them, isn't it our second nature, across the age, to act as we wished, dictated by our greed? Nimtoli, Begunbari or the over loaded motor launches going down with thousands of passengers every inclement season, are reminders of not only failure of those that are responsible to enforce the rule but also us, more so us, at the receiving end who want to make the most out of our greed and act without judgment.
We know that there was a time when while interviewing a potential suitor the relatives of the girl used to start with the question of what was the “additional” (upori) income of the boy. This was a done thing and the question was asked without any hesitation what so ever. Therefore our culture embodies some amount of permissiveness towards things ill gotten. There is a popular description of our various activities related to pecuniary stuff given by numbers. They are called “number one” and “number two”. The first are such deals that are transparent and honest. And the second are the ones that are doubtful or outright corrupt. Our society, of late, is seen to have opted generally for the “number two”. The idea is that if there is an easier way out why make it hard? And this most despicable practice goes on unabated regardless of the religious or ethical edicts. It has become a norm.
I had written several times in the past that, firstly, we merrily indulge in unlawful, non-transparent activities for our personal gains; however small they are and second, when these acts are reported; we turn a blind eye on them. It would not be incorrect to say that we have become a nation that seldom asks questions. Indeed we have immersed ourselves in the culture of impunity. Buses ram in to rickshaws killing the passengers on it yet if some one asks the bus driver to be cautious other passengers reprimand him by saying that they have not paid for tickets to ride on a bullock cart. Another bus crashes a girl under its wheels and we burn down the bus, beat up the driver only to find out later that the girl was engrossed in talking over her mobile phone oblivious of the traffic while crossing the road. After a similar accident on the road between Mahakhali and Gulshan-1, on the vociferous demands by the students of the area, a foot over-bridge was built to cross the road. If any of my readers is interested they could go to that area and find that the students are happily crossing the crowded thoroughfare avoiding the over bridge while a group of them is sitting on the steps of the bridge chatting. I agree that buildings that topple or are burnt down to ashes were built without valid documents by paying some bribe to the Rajuk functionary but we must also realize that the Rajuk guy who indulges in such corrupt practices has also grown up in a society that condones lawlessness and impunity. It is the sins of the society, of us that gets back at us. Therefore, the lines from the poem of Rabindranath seem so true.
What we need in this most absurd situation is a concerted movement. A movement by the right thinking people and the right thinking media who would refrain from sensationalizing such issues and try their best to instil awareness and augment a attitude and behaviour change .
(R) thedailystar.net 2010