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  Volume 10 |Issue 29 | July 29, 2011 |


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Mukterpur bridge – its purpose unserved. Photo: Star File

A Fabulous Rediscovery

Shah Husain Imam

I went on a seven-hour trip to Munshiganj on Shab-e-Barat holiday last Sunday. It took little over three hours from Dhaka and barely two and a half hours back home with a little more than an hour's stay in the town thrown in. The value for the peripatetic time in contrast to stiffening ligament in hours of Dhaka traffic was enormous.

Five decades ago, as a student of Munshiganj High School I lived in that famous township historically known as Bikrampur. Situated at the junction of Dhaleshwari and Lakkhya rivers, it was home to the great education icon Atish Dipankar, an equally eminent scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, philanthropist-politician Sarbatagy Chittaranjan Das and poet-politician Sarojini Naidu.

Our family sojourning for barely three months in Munshiganj, I had such indelible impressions on my mind that I felt pulled back to it as though a butterfly to a colour-suffused ornate flower-bed tucked away under the wraps of bellowing foliages.

That speck of a time had passed mellifluously as something of a sonnet to boyhood memorabilia. I felt I was on a pilgrimage of rediscovery of a place to which I owed so much for the shaping of my childhood.

Munshiganj is legendry in many ways. There is the Idraqpur Fort, a rampart made up of red stones by the side of Dhaleshwari in 1660 by Mir Jumla, a representative of the Mughal imperial army. This was to ward off piracy attacks of disparate origins.

In 1866, native policemen and nine Chinese traders engaged in a brawl in the local bazaar with the Chinese getting arrested, the tale being an allusion to trade going on between the locals and the Moghs and the Chinese. The foreign traders would bring in shegun wood, Japanese clay, cotton etcetera while they took away manufactured products, sugar, salt, tobacco and betel nuts (gleaned from Muntasir Mamun's chapter titled Competitionwalar Jagat in the book 'Koi Hai' – anybody there? -- which is a word picture of colonial times). It is in Mir Kadim near Munshiganj that big ships would anchor signifying links to Persian Gulf where Muslin from Sonargaon had been in high demand for merchandising to Europe.

Dairy products in Munshiganj have had a fabulous reputation. Sweet yogurt and Chhanar (posset) Jelabi from Chittya Gosh's shop even to this day are pure and melting to taste. One particular sweetmeat called Patkhir (creamed milk pudding neatly wrapped by banana leaves) produced somewhere in Sirajdikhan is highly popular among the Bangladeshi Diaspora.

The secret is in the grass chowed down by the cows adding an exotic taste to the milk and the products out of it. The same used to hold good about Muktagachha Monda which nowadays has a high mix of rice powder with a dulling taste on the palate. The story goes, Muktagachha zamindars took away a group of sweetmakers from Muktagachha to Calcutta. Such potted plants of makers were to soon throw up their hands in utter disgust as their magic did not work with Calcutta milk!

One can cite other instances of land-specific food and delicacies. The naturally flavoured and highly sought after Salt Marsh Lamb comes from parts of Lancashire in UK. Product of lake districts with grass tasting of salt on which the lambs feed. Then, there is the Stilton Cheese found in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire due to grass and other vegetation chowed down by the cattle there. Besides, the secret of the special High Land spring water owes it to the rain water coming through layers of Basalt rock from the Orchil hills. It takes 15 years for the rain-fall to filter through and carry all the taste of the filtering process.

Tucked away and remote, Munshiganj remains even to this day, a frustrating mismatch between its resourcefulness and the state of communication with the capital city. There are several such places in our exiguous delta which ironically are hidden gems away from the capital – thanks to extremely poor communication links to them. The foot hills of the Garo in Netrokona come readily to mind.

What with Buriganga bridge, Shitalakkha bridges I and II, and many smaller unsteady bailies, the serpentine roads lost in bends and looming tree-clad horizons are so narrow that they are a far cry from highways. The passages are so constricted that two vehicles from opposite directions cannot move past each other unless one gives way sliding on to the shoulder to let the other pass.

One missing link in the communication to and fro Munshiganj, poignantly shows up through a lack of any proper approach road to Mukterpur bridge, a China-Bangla Friendship installation, inaugurated in 2004. For want of a six-mile approach or link road, the purpose behind the bridge is yet to be practically served.

Whatever passes for a road there is practically impassable given the deplorable state it is in. The Chinese government was willing to lay the connective road but somehow LGED wanted to complete it themselves putting it into the hands of the Bridge authority. When the link road is built it would shorten the trip to Dhaka via Narayanganj by one and a half hours.

The loss to potential export earnings for the industries in Mukterpur which pay Tk 700 crore in taxes to government annually is simply appalling. Big orders placed by India for cement from the local factories hang fire due to the poor communication. The setback to import of raw materials is also daunting.

The Mukterpur bridge is simply sobbing in the rains bleating for completion.


The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

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