All's Not Over Yet!
I have seen this city for the last five decades. Grew up in it, saw it go through tribulations, cried in its misery, rocked in its glee and marinated in its juice, hot, cold, friendly warm and frightening, day in and day out. Today when people say and I also realize that this city that I love is not well and that it is suffering from a debilitating malady, it really pains me, though I know that much of what is said about Dhaka of today is not far from the truth. We have seen over the years this favourite city of mine undergoing changes from a safe, beautiful and green city to a very uncertain, ugly and almost colourless megalopolis. But the word megalopolis is probably not quite defensible for the most ill planned overgrown & bloated Dhaka of today. Dhaka has, since decolonization from the British, been at the mercy of whoever wanted to do whatever to it. Therefore, we see such monstrosity as the Azimpur colony, Motijheel colony, Officer's quarters in the Eskaton area spurted up with minimal sense of design or colour. More hilarious was the additions and alterations made to the secretariat buildings, the Dhaka University science buildings, the Court House buildings, and the General post office buildings etc. The interesting thing was that the original part of the buildings remained as they were made, of red bricks, wearing colonial look, the addition to them were in a totally different design, painted in a horrible looking yellow. The French windows down stairs became smaller upstairs. The doors became shorter. This trend was followed all over the eastern wing of Pakistan and was not limited to Dhaka only. No respect to aesthetics or architecture was shown. My father used to say jokingly that the Pakistanis had to prove that they were different and added, smilingly, stupidly different. Sure it was necessary that additional space had to be created. And in that case it was only natural that the additions were of matching the old design. And the new buildings should have been designed by the professionals.
Well, if this was the first act of defilement the second was even more gruesome. After Bangladesh came in to being, the fabulous trees in my most beautiful city had to make way for stone jungles. The Gulmohar trees on the avenue leading from the Shahbagh area to what is known as the Bangla motors now were chopped off, supposedly, for security reasons after the first martial law in Bangladesh was imposed. Gradually the age of high rises took over and the nouveau riche property mughals had a field day. Their eyes glittered at the sight of any vacant plot of land or water body within the city. They wanted to fill it all in with repulsive looking buildings. No thought to fundamental infrastructure of basic amenities like water supply or sewerage was given. They came with tall promises of providing various amenities and ones the gullible public yielded to their 'possession greed', washed their hands off any responsibility. With Dhaka becoming the capital almost unitary in nature in terms of being at the centre of all kinds of activities population swelled. Dingy slums started mushrooming everywhere. Law and order situation worsened. Population grew by geometrical progression and prices of water, electricity, essential commodities and transportation became dearer. My city literally became unliveable. Every day, we are confronted with news of 'what is not' rather than what is. But they said, that is human nature...to 'pine for what is not...' rather than 'what is'. But then the redeeming point is that our media, particularly the print media is aware and fighting for Dhaka's cause. Kudos to them.
I for one am not one who is a pessimist under any circumstances. I have great faith in the resilience of Dhaka. It can take a lot. And I have great faith in our youth who can make things happen. It is true that at various times the older generation have tried to set such precedence as to set off a rot, knowingly or unknowingly that should have demolished the right spirit in our future generation. They were able to spoil some of the youth at a given point of history. But soon afterwards as good sense, education and enlightenment had started to inspire the youth and blow away their frustration, they saw the light of hope and made a turn around. I was thinking of all these while riding my bicycle through the roads and lanes of Dhaka last weekend. I saw the Krishnachura, Jarul, Shonalu and various other wild flowers in full bloom to complement the spirit of summer. All on a sudden piercing through the heat, a few rain drops fell on my head. I pleasantly remembered the last night I was listening to Raag Bageshree in a recital by the eminent Indian Vocalist Rashid Khan, in a fully packed house. Everyone appreciated the music and applauded his magical masterly. At the dead of the same night when I was returning through the Minto Road in the green infested good old Ramna, I stopped by and could distinctly breathe in the wild fragrance of flowers known and unknown and was filled with celestial delight. Just about a month back I was a witness to the great vocal presentation of Indian Classical Music by Pandit Jasraj and was immersed in it. When the Pandit ended his rendering through a 'tehai' and said 'Jai Ho' in his characteristic manner, I could hear a commotion towards the back of the hall that sounded like a slogan and saw about 20 young listeners marching towards the dais chanting the slogan 'Jai Ho'. They came to the Pandit, offered their respects to him and went away in chorus of 'Jai ho'. I realised that Dhaka was not over yet. Whatever mischief my generation or the generation immediately after mine may have indulged in would definitely be reversed and we will recover the Dhaka of the old days. The Dhaka, where the city streets were clean and safe. The Dhaka that was green abound. The Dhaka that was rich for its cultural activities, culinary art and hospitality. Our youth of today will make it happen and they will find in some of us such comrades who would never let them down. Dhaka would definitely rebound to its old glory.