Winds of Change

Transformation of Dhaka

Dr. Akhter Hussain

1 December, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Transformation of Dhaka

Dr. Akhter Hussain

The settlements mentioned earlier were informally called ‘Paras’ or ‘Mohollas’ and the inhabitants living there for many years owe/owed a sense of belongingness to one another, though in recent years with increased economic activities and affluence this has gone through a fundamental change. The Para/Moholla concept is quite old in Dhaka. Actually, it owes its origin to the socio-cultural tradition of the older part of Dhaka city. These Paras provided the inhabitants with identities and catered to their many socio-cultutal and sport needs. Almost all Paras had their own sports clubs. Throughout the years, these clubs organised various sports events for the boys and girls. In most of the cases these institutions were of informal nature and run informally by some sport enthusiasts. But some of the Para clubs with time rose to eminence and became formal institutions. Some of these Para based sports clubs that needs to be mentioned included the Brothers’ Union, Arambagh, Shantinagar, Rayer Bazar, Badda and City Club. Farashgang and Rahmatgang are the other two from the older part of the city. These Para based clubs in course of time and are still playing in different sports like the Football Leagues of Dhaka. Other than these, there (are) were rivalries among the Paras which on many occasions led to hostile clashes among them. There were also intra Para clashes which were often resolved by the Para elders. The Para fellow feeling was such that in the face of clashes with other Para or Paras all used to get united and faced the situation in a united manner.

Only in planned areas like, Dhanmondi, Lalmatia, Banani and Gulshan most of the houses were buildings either single or double storied. In other Paras or settlements mentioned earlier there were admixture of houses like buildings, tin roofed and semi Pucca houses. These to some extent reflected the economic condition of the inhabitants. But one thing that must be mentioned here is that in the area of social bonding and cohesion economic differences did not play much significant role. All used to play and move around together and in many cases having almost free access to one another’s houses. The other important aspect that should be mentioned that in overwhelming cases young boys and girls used to go to the Para based schools both government and private irrespective of their family and economic backgrounds. The sports that were popular during those days in Paras used to be football, cricket and badminton. Here it may be mentioned that till the mid- eighties of the last century, cricket was predominantly a seasonal game, winter sport, and mostly played in urban areas. In the same way, Badminton was also played during winter especially at night. Every Para or locality used to organise these in some form or others for the inhabitants mostly for young people. Yong girls had opportunities only to play inside their school or college premises. In very rare cases, some families with girl members used to play Badminton in grounds which were within the boundary walls of their homes. In leisure time, boys used to loiter and go for ‘Adda’ with friends in places found to be convenient by them inside the Para or the locality. Local ordinary improvised tea stalls were other places best chosen for Adda. During those days the girls could not afford those luxuries of freedom enjoyed by the young boys. In the evening, on many occasions, they were seen to be with their friends gossiping and moving around on the rooftops of their houses which also attracted the appreciative gaze of the young boys and men. This was the common picture of life of people living in different localities to some extent only excepting Gulshan. Going for movies were a very favourite pastime for the city dwellers. There were a number of cinema halls around the city exhibiting different movies of different languages like English, Bangla and Urdu (Pakistani time). Watching matches particularly of Dhaka First Division football league was very popular among people of all ages and classes particularly the students. During important matches the stadium used to wore a festive look with festoons and placards and thunderous chanting and applauses of the supporters. Traffic used to be very thin with no or little chance of jam anywhere other than during the days of public meetings and other political gatherings. The scenario was like this till 1980 when the population was about 3.2 million which almost doubled to 6.6 million in 1990.

In fact, things began to change at a rapid pace from the 90’s of the last century. Democracy was restored by discarding pseudo or quasi-military autocratic rule of about one and half decade. The economy started to move at a faster rate. The export earnings, especially from garments, have increased manifold. More people were going to abroad for employments. The internal economy also became vibrant creating more jobs both in the formal and informal sectors. All these led to higher GDP growth of the country. Money or resources started to pour in, especially in Dhaka city, accelerating its further growth and development than was seen before. In fact, real change started to take place and being felt from the end of the 90’s of the last century. Dhaka started to take the shape of a mega city with huge population. Rural areas adjacent to Dhaka began to get urbanised to accommodate more people and businesses. The spectacular thing that happened is the construction and development of apartment buildings with modern facilities in all the areas or Paras. Independent houses became apartment buildings accommodating tens of thousands of families. One family house turned into 10/20 apartments. Business center and shopping malls came up in prime locations with business potential of the earlier settlement areas or Paras. This process changed the earlier demographic patterns of the localities. The earlier local fellow feelings and bonds were lost as huge number of new inhabitants poured in. The earlier planned areas like Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Banani and in recent time Uttara lost their original characters. The other areas have also experienced the same fate. Now, people coming from heterogeneous backgrounds live is the same apartment building having no relationship or little relationship with others. In many cases, they even do not know each other. Economic growth and personal affluences have ensured better living quarters for a great number of people in all the localities of Dhaka city. But it brought in unbearable traffic jam and limited the civic facilities to a great extent. The number of car owning people and families increased greatly. The landscape of the city changed beyond imagination. Water bodies and wet lands for which Dhaka was famous for were filled in to construct housing apartments and other infrastructures including shopping mall and centers. Open spaces and in many cases traditional Para based playgrounds have been lost and are being used for some other purposes. A large number of people relocated themselves in different areas from earlier ones which they thought to be better in terms of reputation and symbolizing status. The practice of sending children to local schools is no more the prime consideration of the parents. Now, everyone aspires to send them to a few handful reputed English medium schools following foreign curriculum. In the same period of time, a large number of English medium private universities have been established. They draw a large number of students coming from everywhere in spite of much higher tuition fees than those of the public universities. Now, many of the boys and girls during their student lives never had been to Bangla medium educational institutions throughout their student life.         

In the last 30 years or so the character of the city has changed all together. Now, for administrative convenience, recently, Dhaka has also been bifurcated into two, North and South City Corporations. Earlier easygoing way of city life is perhaps lost forever. Only time will say what good or bad it brought for us, the city dwellers. The concept of Paras or Mohollas along with their unique characteristics of fellow feelings, closeness and bonding are also lost and never to come back again. Now, we are to live or living with little known or unknown people and families with almost no social relationship and bonding. May be this is also the common history and fate of the other megacities of the world. (concluded)        

 

(This write up is based absolutely on the personal observations of the writer.)

The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka.

 


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