Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shock & Awe Talk: Welcome to my neighborhood and the ‘worlds longest Cricket Bat’!

  • I am talking about Mirpur folks, a place I have lived since 1968 and had it not been for the World Cup Cricket 2011, it wouldn’t even have found itself on the National map – forget the Global Map that fate has placed it today. It nonetheless fills me with pride to see hundreds upon thousands of people ‘from Dhaka’ thronging in every evening to my neighborhood to witness firsthand the ‘beautification’ that has come our way.
  • Mirpur always boasted quite a few world class facilities even before the WCC dawned. From the National Indoor Stadium (the only one of its kind in the country which remains in dire neglect), to the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium where most of the matches will be played, and on to the worlds Flora and Fauna map - the Zoological and Botanical Garden, sanctuaries to hundreds upon thousands of migratory birds, Mirpur surely is a mixed marvel.
  • Between Section 1 and 10, there are many beautiful high rise buildings owned by national and international NGO’s and the Government, with the prestigious Bangladesh-German Technical Institute still considered one of the finest in the country. That aside – between Section 10 and 12 – in the long line of shops on both sides of the road, one can see a proliferation of trendy fashion houses, haute couture chains, fast food franchises, restaurants, Banks and several posh super markets etc.
  • On the 5 kms stretch of road from the Meteorological Office in Agargaon to the Section 10 roundabout, are world class furniture shops – where some of the best wood ware in the country are produced and sold. East of the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium is the Jamdani Palli (village) – a 1 square kilometers area where the dying saree tradition is kept alive by craftsmen and sold both retail and wholesale to ladies ‘from Dhaka’. If that’s not enough – the mouth-watering Bihari kebab stores found everywhere in Mirpur, has a steady gourmet clientele round the year.
  • Mirpur’s history dates back to the Mughal era; with the earliest inhabitants apparently Shonaton Zamindars and add with it families and disciples of the Sufi Saint Shah Ali Baghdadi who died in 1480 – its beleaguered existence makes it an unenviable time warp story that stood neglected – and probably still is.
  • In the early fifties, the Pakistan Government allocated the area for Bihari refugees affected by communal riots in India before partition in 1947. Over years it gained a reputation as a non-Bengali area, but that changed by mid sixties when the Late Zahurul Islam founded the Pallabi Residential Area (between Section 11.5 and Section 12) – the first commercially built real estate enterprise in the then East Pakistan.
  • For Bengalis who were ‘brave enough’ to risk living in a Bihari dominated area, the catch really was property price. The ready made house on 5 kathas of land that our family moved into was purchased for Rupees 60,000! With Rupees 5,000 as a ‘down payment’ we could take ‘immediate possession’- and that was the least of the catch. Paying installment of Rupees 750 per month – the house became ‘our own’ in 1978! Ours by the way was a tenement of the middle order – some houses were priced even as low as Rupees 25,000.
  • There were problems. Mirpur had an ill-earned dacoity reputation and if ever our relatives or friends bucked up courage to visit us – they would leave before dusk. The other was believe it or not – wildlife! Even after the liberation of the country, it wasn’t unusual to see packs of fierce looking Jackals go about screaming ‘hooka hoowa’ – as also Civets which many thought were Tigers. In those politically incorrect times – weekends would see loads of shotgun wielding ‘shikaris’ out hunting ‘kosher’ Hare and wild ducks!
  • The much trumpeted Bengali-Bihari bhai-bhai edifice crumbled during events of 1971 forcing our family to move out of Mirpur and we did not return until early 1973. Brutality of an unimaginable magnitude was unleashed by Bihari’s in collaboration with the Pakistan Army and the disappearance of filmmaker Zaheer Raihan after the end of the War weighed heavily on the National psyche, but things were set to change.
  • The biggest of changes came in 1985 when the connecting road between Agargaon and Section 10 roundabout was built, cutting commuting time to less than half to rest of Dhaka and increasing its population manifold. Previously there was only one road to Mirpur and back - via Bangla College, Darus Salam, Mohammadpur and onwards. However even in the worst of times, Mirpur boasted a reliable public transport system. One could get to Motijheel through the circuitous route in about 45 minutes. Today its any ones guess how long it may take you to reach there. Be mentally prepared for up to 2 hours of traffic hold-up from Dhaka to get you across 20 kms to the games.
  • Mirpur has the highest population density in Dhaka, together with a large number of Garments factories that have cropped up over the years, with its shantytowns making it the city’s worst ‘crime zone’ and imperative to have two police stations, Mirpur and Pallabi to handle affairs.
  • Inexcusable is the fact that Mirpur as of today has no automatic traffic signal, no Zebra crossings, no traffic policemen (if you see one – he is really there to collect baksheesh) and to think of it, as an area it was far better planned and executed way before Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara or Uttara were even conceived. The only residential area that predates Mirpur is Azimpur and Dhanmondi.
  • That being the case – the cosmetic ‘beautification’ campaign for WCC means there are no hawkers on pavements, no rickshaws blocking your path, also all the residents living in and around the Stadium - on pain of being arrested – have been compelled to apply fresh coat of paints to their houses, shops and businesses etc. If you visit Mirpur at night to see the ‘illumination’ tamasha, the place looks more like a massive wedding ceremony in progress …….nothing more to it.
  • Parting Shot: Has anybody chanced upon the 110 feet ‘longest cricket bat in the world’‘installation art’? I saw its construction – and it is no more than a few boards hashed up over a ‘cricket bat like frame’ where I see idiots in thousands queuing up to post graffiti’s! near the Radisson Hotel adjacent to the monstrosities passing off as
  • Is that really a ‘cricket bat’ – and why is it that we still have to harbor this ‘one of its kinds in the world’ parochial complex at every given opportunity? WCC or no WCC – a hoax is a hoax and the sooner we put a stop to it – the better – else we will be ‘caught off the back foot’– and it’s not just the Tigers, but us as a NATION that stands to become a laughing stock i.e. if we are not one already.
  • While we showcase Mirpur and Bangladesh to the world, the exercise is no more than a subtle effort to sweep the dust under our carpets disabling our ‘honored guest’ to see the filth that we otherwise live with, and are accustomed to.
  • In any case a very warm welcome to Mirpur and I hope against hope that it stays this way in the days to come. Sticky Wickets?

New Age XTRA - Print Version, 25th February 2011

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