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   Volume 10 |Issue 06 | February 11, 2011 |


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Book Review

Chronicles of Old Dhaka

Aantaki Raisa

Dhaka Puran
Mizanur Rahman
Page 216;
Prothoma Prokashon
Price: Tk 300

In Dhaka Puran, the author Mizanur Rahman reminisces about his hometown Dhaka. It gives the reader a graphic view of Old Dhaka and its evolution. It also provides the distinction between the Dhaka of today and the past from the author's perspective. Through stories of his life with friends and families, through many facts and a few myths, he describes the history and the becoming of Dhaka as it is today.

Imagine a Dhaka city with a population of five or six lakh, imagine a Dhaka where there is no Gulshan or Banani; where the old town lies at the heart of the city, and Purana Paltan and Wari are considered the posh areas. Imagine a time where local buses are scarce; boats, carriages and rickshaws are the means of transportation. Boatmen, instead of bus conductors, scream out the names of destinations to passengers for their boats; Dholai Khal is the centre of all kinds of trades, where boats and small steamers arrive from every nook and cranny of Bangladesh to meet the needs of the city dwellers. Dhaka Puran takes you on a walk along the historic lanes of the old Dhaka.

The author does not just draw the picture of a Dhaka that barely exists today. He has also created an opportunity for the curious minds and a generation, who never had a chance to see old Dhaka, to learn some glorious and some interesting history of our capital city. The book tells the origin of the name of Dhaka, and many other names of places in and around the city which perplexes us. Take Phulbaria for example- it neither smells like flower (phul) nor has it gardens full of them. Then why was it named so? To find that out, one must read the book to delve into the complete pleasure of rediscovering something which is mundane yet intriguing as it takes one to his roots.

The author introduces a Dhaka that had lush green fields, infinite horizons where the blue sky met the greenery of the earth. While today's Dhaka struggles to provide the children with small playgrounds, the Dhaka in the author's memory had a “Paltan Maath” (Paltan field) where today's Purana and Naya Paltan and Dilkusha stand with their overcrowded populace and dense buildings. The author mourns the days when monkeys used to live with people and how those little ape cousins of ours used to roam around and disturb our daily households almost fearlessly. The effect of deforestation and the gradual extinction of the wilderness in Dhaka become clearer through the reminiscences.

To make the history lucid to the readers, the author has referred to the writings of historians and to make the history interesting he has referred to many relevant poems and folk songs. The author has traveled back to the Mughals and to the British Rule to make us understand the present better.

And it's not just the history the author reveals so articulately. With the eloquent sketch of his social life, the author describes the cultural practices and the social norms of his time. The backwardness of women's education in his time is implied through his description of his days in the Art College (today's Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka). Despite the lack of technological progress in the city, cinema culture had flourished; the author's description carries numerous cinema halls and theatres where local and foreign movies were screened for the entertainment of the masses. Television, satellite were alien conceptions and having a radio was considered luxury. As a result, religious and cultural festivals were the cardinal source of amusement and socialising. The chapters on Janmashtami and Iftaar Mela take the reader to the simple yet heartfelt celebrations of the past. While cherishing the past, the author does not forget to mention the progress of the present. His vivid description of the medieval sewerage of the old Dhaka is a satirical example of that.

Dhaka Puran is a rare and invaluable doorway to sneak into the memory lanes of the self proclaimed “ancient” author. The book is a picturesque representation of the old Dhaka, where the author has used the power of his words to fill in the gaps of shades and colours of his memories. One can hardly resist the urge to read something as revealing as this. The author Mizanur Rahman needs little introduction because with his famous literary magazine Mizanur Rahmaner Troimashik Patrika (Mizanur Rahman's Quarterly Magazine), he became one of the most distinguished literary editors of the country.



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