<%-- Page Title--%> Retrospection <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 151 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 23, 2004

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Coming to Dhaka
The Early Days Recollections

M. Azizul Jalil

On August 10, 1947 (four days before the Independence of India and Pakistan), we reached Goalondo Ghat by train and then took the steamer to Narayanganj. In spite of the disruptions of the partition and ongoing civil conflicts, everything functioned in an orderly manner. The trains, steamers were on time and there were no surprises.

In Dhaka, we first stayed for a few days in one of the two original circuit houses in Ramna until we moved to a requisitioned house in Purana Paltan. Because of the paucity of accommodation in Dhaka (then a small but beautiful town) for the large number of officials coming to serve the new provincial government, the District magistrate would issue requisition orders on selected house owners ordering them to vacate in seven days. Most of them were Hindus who moved to Calcutta and other towns of West Bengal. It was cruel as some of them were living in the houses for decades and many were retired professionals or officials. Some of our relations and friends found houses in Wari and Segunbagicha which were fine residential areas previously almost entirely occupied by the hindu middle and professional classes. Before the partition, most muslims lived in the old Dhaka city on the other side of the railway line where the roads were narrow and the houses old and small.

The communal incidents in Calcutta in the winter of 1948 had its repercussions in Dhaka. Many of the middle class and professional Hindus then left for West Bengal. During that time with the encouragement of our parents, my brother and I used to keep watch against attacks on Hindu families in our immediate neighbourhood. For this, our families were threatened both by anonymous letters and in person. Some of those who asked us to desist from saving the Hindus were Bihari Muslims whose entire familes had been killed in the riots in Bihar at the time of partition. In spite of all that, in the evenings we would go with family guns in hand to escort the women and children to our house about twenty in one or two rooms for safety and returning them in daylight hours. They were tearful as their menfolk would not agree to leave home due to fear of looting by Muslims.

At our request, the Sub Divisional Officer Dhaka (Sadar) came, advised caution and sent two armed Ansars to guard our house for a few days. These families soon left by transport and guards arranged by our parents and uncles to Tejgaon Airport and then by air to Calcutta. On reaching West Bengal, some of them sent letters to us expressing their heartfelt admiration and gratitude. It was a moving and satisfying experience.

East Pakistan was part of a new country where opportunities opened up for many of the East Pakistanis. It was an exciting time for us with family members regularly going abroad for studies, training or assignment, or to West Pakistan to join the Army, Navy or the Air Force. Dhaka was a beautiful historic city and there was friendliness and pleasantness about life in this town. Despite many of us missing Calcutta life with its movies, theatres and trams and many other civic facilities, Dhaka (Ramna in particular) was a breath of fresh air in every sense of the term. Bicycle was a favourite mode of transport and we soon bought one. Dhaka, both new and old, was a small city with only a few cars and buses (I remember our car's registration number was EBD 1458). It was possible for me to move safely around in various parts of the city on my cycle. I have to this day preserved in my mind's eye the large Krisnachuras (flowering trees), the Ramna Park with its Serpentine Lake, the Lalbagh Fort and the Sath Gambuj Masjid etc. The Dhaka University Campus, the Student Halls and their gardens and yards were pleasing to the eye and mind. We used to go on family picnics, outings and bird shooting to Tejgaon and up to the Tongi Bridge (earthen bridge built by the Mughals about five hundred years ago).

Soon public-spirited government officials started to set up institutions like the Rotary Club, the Flying Club and the Engineers' Institute. We were fortunate in having the Avyagra Granthagar in Purana Paltan corner. It was a fine community library in a wooden bungalow with a large veranda; it was also a good place to meet friends. After about a year, the US Information Service took it over. The foreign books and magazines available there were of great interest to us. We soon formed a Young People's Association in Segunbagicha for various activities and games and brought out a magazine called "Dyuti". The first Governor of East Pakistan was a British ICS officer- Sir Frederick Burroughs; on a few occasions he visited us on his evening horseback- ride from the Manuk House (Dhaka Nawab's bungalow then temporarily serving as the Government House). A fine building for the Governor (later named Banga Bhaban) was constructed in this area.

Typical Dhaka jokes of the local residents for which they were quite famous enlivened our lives and made the physical and cultural changes of the partition bearable. We found that fresh food, vegetable and fish were plentifully available and at a cheaper price than Calcutta. Seeing the Calcatians in the market, the Kutti shopkeepers (old Dhaka residents who spoke in an interesting dialect with a mixture of Urdu and Bengali) used to alert each other by saying "arey, demchi babu aiche!" This was because the Calcatians would go to local markets, marvel at the low prices of Dhaka and say "Damn Cheap". Other jokes I heard was about the complaint by a tenant regarding a leaking roof. The reaction he got from the landlord was- "ja bhara den, pani porbo naki sorbot porbo?"

The new government was set up in right earnest and the administrative infrastructure was quickly established. It started to function slowly but steadily. Within five or six days of our arrival, ration cards were issued to us for essential food supplies under the prevailing rationing system. Despite individual and collective physical and financial limitations, people in every sphere of life worked hard and with great devotion, enthusiastic about the new and independent nationhood. It was a halting beginning for a unique nation, with East and West Pakistan geographically separated by a thousand miles of an unfriendly country, diverse in language, culture and ethnic origin and united only by a common religious faith. However, some of the initial enthusiasm soon started to fade away and from 1948 i.e. within only one year, Bengalis in East Pakistan started agitations against the perceived neglects and economic and cultural injustices by both the provincial and central (Muslim League) governments. The first of these was the language movement, which emphasized the differences in language, culture and ethnicity in the two parts of Pakistan.

In Calcutta, we were studying under the Calcutta University syllabus. By late 1947, from its pre-partition office in a small building in Bakshi Bazar, the Dhaka Board (which was responsible for education up to the secondary level for Dhaka city only) had quickly organised our continuing education under the Calcutta University syllabus. In November 1947, we went to school in the morning shift in the St.Gregory's school and some of our Ballygunj School teachers, along with some new ones, took our classes. Dr.Enamul Huq, a well- known Bengali linguist, was our Head Master. We were then moved for about three months to Bakshi Bazar, using on a part-time basis the building used by the Qamrunnessa Girls' High School .The Dhaka Board smoothly organised the matriculation examinations in June 1948 for about thirty-thousand students in all the schools in East Pakistan (other than Dhaka city). We took the examination, there was no leakage of question papers and the results came out on time. It was then September 1948 and time for me to go to the Dhaka College.

M. Azizul Jalil is a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank staff.



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