Dhaka's Latest Facelift
AASHA MEHREEN AMIN
Dahlias in vibrant colours are blooming in the lawns of the Prime Minister's office. The VIP road is as smooth as butter as you ply them in whatever vehicle you have. The walls of each building along this road are being painted glossy --even Elen Bari Jaame Masjid. Youths are scraping off the remnants of ugly postering on walls and lampposts: one is in charge of pouring the water to soften the paper, another one scrapes it out and yet another supervises the whole procedure. One wonders about the elaborately painted ads on walls of office buildings extolling the virtues of coaching centres, herbal medicine or madarasa donations. Will they too, be part of the 60 crore taka or so facelift Dhaka is going through in honour of World Cup Cricket?
As one passes the arches of fairy lights on every lamppost on the road dividers one really wonders why this diligence in beautifying the city has not happened on its own, without some grand event like the World Cup Cricket or SAARC conference coming up? Are roads not supposed to be smooth and pliable? Are walls and lampposts supposed to be defaced by ugly paper posters that look uglier as they disintegrate only to be layered by yet another sticky poster? Are not municipal corporations supposed to collect garbage?
Mirpur is as dazzling as Cinderella's Ball, thanks to World Cup Cricket.
Photo: Anisur Rahman
The VIP road is certainly something to talk about. According to a Prothom Alo report about 22 km of road is being repaired because of the World Cup Cricket. Before we jump up and down with glee here's another bit of information the report states: Dhaka has 1,835 km of roads which means that apart from the roads that will be visible to the players, visitors and VIPs both national and international, as they zoom from hotel to Mirpur stadium and back, everything else will remain the same.
This is the way things are. While almost 13 thousand kilometres of roads are in dire need of repair with about 550 km in the 'terrible condition' category (this too from the Roads and Highways sources says the report) the government thinks we need a brand new airport that will cost crores and crores of taka.
Keeping up appearances for guests is of course part of our culture. When guests suddenly arrive as it is customary in this country and there isn't a biscuit in sight, we send the pichchi (the minor boy or girl domestic worker) to get some 'cold drinks' and other snacks that the guests will eye uneasily and pretend to eat. We also quickly stuff all the ugly rags on the clothesline, the dirty cover on the sofas, the empty chips bags lying on the floor into the nearest cupboard, under the carpet or somewhere else, anywhere they can't be seen. When the guests arrive everything looks spic and span -- as long as they stick to the living room and do not dare venture into the inner rooms, especially not the kitchen. Thus a whole evening can be spent with your guests thinking you are as neat as a button and leave with the feeling of warmth and well-being at being so pampered. Soon after they have left, everything goes back to normal, family members leave things like wet towels, smelly socks, toy cars and of course the ubiquitous wrappers all over the place; stuffed clothes come out of their claustrophobic cupboards practically screaming for air and everyone human or otherwise, heaves a sigh of pure laziness.
This is how the whole country operates. It is only when the MD of a hospital will make his rounds that the nurses will go into a frenzy, waking the poor, ailing patient from a nap to make sure the bedsheets are changed, bullying the cleaners to shove every bit of unseemly article out of sight. It is only when VIPs go out on the roads that they are empty of traffic and not a beggar is in sight. It is only when buildings collapse into dust burying scores of humans or tilt towards their neighbours that the authorities begin to talk about building codes and illegal construction.
Thus while the frenetic spring-cleaning of the city is welcome to any city dweller (except perhaps, the beggars who will be 'swept away' to some unknown destination) everyone knows that it is merely cosmetic. That the rest of the city will go back to the daily battle of pot-holed roads; encroached footpaths; and relentlessly long traffic jams to sap out all their energies. Once World Cup Cricket is over, our grand carriage will turn back into a soggy pumpkin.
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