Arun Kanti Chatterjee
I had the opportunity to visit my ancestral villages now in Bangladesh recently. When I landed at Dhaka airport after catching the morning flight on 15thMarch we were already late by over two hours. Bangladesh Biman had not alerted us officially anyway as the flight had been put off reportedly owing to fog. Again surprisingly when I returned on 20th the evening flight was again delayed by 30 minutes due to the reported belated arrival of a flight from Singapore. So punctuality appeared to be not their top priority.
Further for a journey of only 30 minutes the fare appears to be much on the higher side considering the almost similar duration inland flights in our country. The airways might review the fare structure to attract more tourists, as other options by bus and train are also easily available.
In view of my late arrival in the city I could not take any trip on the day outside except visiting Grain Tech show in International Convention City Basundhara Bangladesh. Excessive participation by the Chinese companies in the show pointed clearly to the dependence of the country on China and the urgent need for Bangladesh to manufacture items like pump sets, silos for preservation of grains, two and four wheelers to name only few internally as the participating local entrepreneurs seemed to have sufficient skill and inclination to go for own products by installing machines. The government should take the required initiative as labour is cheap and infrastructure is there.
As time was short and a few places in and around Dhaka were listed in our itinerary I stirred out of the hotel the next day for a local tour. Although the city looked to be beautiful with wide roads and majestic buildings, restaurants I found much to my dismay how the traffic was stuck at every now and then. Dhaka appeared to be almost crawling with huge number of taxis, buses, two wheelers jamming the streets with police men struggling to cope with the maddening situation. The problem was aggravated by allowing the rickshaws to ply freely. There was no automatic signalling and the traffic control service was being provided only by the policemen who were found not to be very alert in allowing traffic flow in different directions smoothly. As I have learnt later flyovers are being constructed and the Government is keen on an early solution to the acute problem plaguing the citizens. I remembered the scenario in Kolkata few decades back when the government in a desperate attempt to overcome unusual jam and to ease the traffic flow had introduced one way traffic in various important streets besides introducing metro rails and constructing many flyovers. Now the problem has abated and Bangladesh government might consider such experiment in the interest of the public who are very much affected as they have often to take one and a half hours’ journey which should not normally be more than half an hour. Although I agree traffic jam is still a common problem in several other states of our country, one might easily estimate the actual alarming man-hours lost every day! Futher banning the rickshaws on main roads and building subways might bring in sufficient respite to the commuters.
Along with the problem of traffic jam the next thing that caught my eyes was exorbitant fare claimed by the taxi drivers for any journey. They charge not less than 3000/- rupees besides fuel charges for 6-8 hours which we need to travel to visit important places in and around the capital. Compared to what is prevailing in Kolkata this seemed very unfair to me. When we can travel for such duration paying around Rs.1500/- in Kolkata, I had to fork out around Rs.4000/- for the same journey there….this difference made me awestruck on the very first day though I agree it may have resulted from difference in economic situation.
The next day I took a taxi to go to Sonargaon and visited the museum which looked to be nicely maintained. The residence of Late Jyoti Basu donated to the government was found to be converted into a public library cum seminar hall. But during the midday odd hours no activity could be seen as it was closed. The place appeared to be neat and clean. However, located in a very remote corner one might wonder how much benefit the local people reap from a seemingly well laid library and seminar hall.
On 18th , I visited Bikrampur in Munsiganj mainly to trace my roots in Kanakshar and Kukutia villages. Although no trace of my forefathers’ homes could be located I had to be content seeing the places they were born and brought up. There is located Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose’s residence now converted into a museum. A College cum school and a picnic spot could be found on the big campus. But the museum showing only his photos and achievements is very shabby and not a mark of any maintenance was visible and the building appeared to be just neglected. It is unfortunate and disgraceful that the property originally owned by such an eminent scientist is allowed to remain in a poor condition. Proper maintenance of the house and widening of the approach roads will definitely brighten the prospect of the tourist visits totally. However, a teacher hinted that a survey had already been conducted by the government for a thorough renovation of the building. One hopes that the government would immediately take steps for the project to kickoff bringing immense benefit to the locality and converting the place into an attractive tourist destination.
But the most redeeming features were also found as I observed flyovers were being constructed. A big project to bring water from the padma to Dhaka was found to be underway and might be complete by 1-2 years.
I visited Dhaka University in the evening to listen to a lecture by Dr. Ghulam Murshid eminent writer and researcher on evolution and growth of Bengali Language. The hall was brimming over with students and teachers with noticeable presence of young enthusiastic journalists. The talk was very lucid and the audience listened with rapt attention. The students and even a few professors reacted by lobbying very intelligent questions much to the delight of the speaker. Every question was answered very precisely and the whole programme continued for around 2 hours in Bengali without intermingling of any other languages. The love for the mother tongue was very palpable and I, for one, would expect Kolkatans will take lessons in this regard from their counterparts in Bangladesh.
A visit to the Bangabandhu’s memorial museum on 19th in Dhanmandi was very pleasing as the guides apprised us of the political turmoil, brutal killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with a detailed description and the house provided a scope to have a glimpse on the life of the revered leader.
I also had the rare opportunity to sit through a programme in the evening in memory of the late Debabrata Biswas the legenday Rabindra sangeet singer. The hall was packed and Indian and Bangladeshi admirers of the singer spoke on the unique style of his rendition of the poet songs. I was once again enthralled by the touch of sincerity and great respect with which the programme was conducted. Another pointer to the admiration for Tagore and Debabrata Biswas in Bangladesh. That we are the same souls and share the same artistic, literary and cultural legacies was again brought home to us by the performing artists who sang songs, recited in the midst of glowing tributes to the great singer by the admirers and eminent people from both sides of the border listened with total absorbed attention.
My short visit came to an end and I told my forefathers’ motherland “Now I bid you Adieu for the present. I shall definitely come back to you soon”. Last but not the least I was welcomed by every section of the society from a rickshaw puller to a manager of the lodging place or such eminent citizens with whom I could interact during my short stay in the Bangladesh capital. I have left the country I have so much loved from my childhood with the hope that next time I return to my neighbouring country I look forward to visiting a much better and more prosperous and administered nation.
Arun Kanti Chatterjee writes from Kolkata