The Monster Lives On…
Aasha Mehreen Amin
It is World Cup Football season, a time when everyone -- even pseudo football fans -- get caught up in the fever of vehemently supporting one team or the other. Households will come to a virtual standstill, its members gravitating towards that room where a TV screen will keep them glued, the silence frequently broken by thunderous shouts of 'Goal!' resonating through thin walls.
In Nimtoli and Begunbari there will be pockets of eerie silence.
The neighbourhoods where once close-knit families lived, in houses lined back to back, are barren and charred with unspeakable grief. The survivors will remain for a very long time, zombie-like, unable to comprehend the reality of most of their family being wiped out by a single stroke of a monster called Negligence.
Dhaka is paying the price of decades of state neglect and private greed. Why six-storied buildings have been allowed to be constructed without RAJUK approval and even basic piling work done, why flammable chemicals are kept in residential buildings, why there are no spaces between houses and why lanes are so narrow that rescue operations become excruciatingly slow -- these are basic questions no one wants to answer.
Even as we wait for the next tragedy to descend upon us -- the ingredients, after all, are still there -- the authorities concerned cannot find a way to contain this huge monster they have helped to create. Instead, everyone points the finger at someone else -- it's the illegal house builders' fault, it's RAJUK's, it's the city corporation's, it's the government's, it's the cook's, it's the landlord storing chemicals in the ground floor.
In any case what can be done in the immediate future? Dhaka is rupturing at the seams as more and more people pour in, adding to the burden of trying to cater to around 13 million people. Experts predict Dhaka's population in 20 years will reach two crore! In Old Dhaka the number of persons per acre is now 350 to 400 as opposed to 250 per acre, the recommended population density according to RAJUK's Detail Area Plan. Basic utilities for the city dweller -- water, gas, electricity are collapsing under the pressure of too many people in too little space. The roads cannot take any more abuse from the thousands of extra vehicles bulldozing them every second of the day. And buildings, weighed down by poor, illegal construction, are tilting dangerously, threatening to kill more people.
How much tragedy can a city take? Images continue to haunt, of charred humans -- perhaps it was a mother holding a child, maybe a housewife, a daughter, son, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparent or an in-law -- it's hard to tell in this massive funeral pyre.
And then there are the survivors.
They have survived instant death but must live with eternal agony -- even when the physical pain dies down. Some will succumb to their injuries concluding the tragic drama of multiple deaths in the same family.
But even as we struggle to put behind the horror of it all, somewhere in Dhaka city a menacing crack is forming in a badly built building with a shaky foundation. Somewhere in the city a flame will turn into a fiery inferno, consuming the ill-fated and leaving others in perpetual burning.
Somewhere in this city, the monster called Negligence is very much alive -- and kicking.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010