Dacca then and Dhaka now
Rummana Chowdhury :
My little country Bangladesh is on the forefront of many peace missions all over the world. The 175 million plus people are often the happiest people on earth. Natural calamities, over-population, poverty, low GDP, poor infrastructure, inflation, increasing cost of day-to-day living and countless hindrances to development often make us pessimistic. But nevertheless, optimism looms in the air. And against all odds we are surviving. And surviving quite well on most days.
The capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, crossed her 400 years of birth in the year 2010 and the vicious cycles of birth and death, joys and sorrows and conception and growth which have converted Dacca to Dhaka are many and multi-farious. In the year 1610, Islam Khan Chishti brought the capital of Bengal to Dhaka. In 1717 this capital was moved to Murshidabad and until 1843 all major offices were in Dhaka. In 1765 the East India Company took over Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from the Mughal emperor. In 1947 Dhaka, as the then capital of East Pakistan became booming and lively. In 1952 the students organised processions on the streets of Dhaka demanding that the State Language should be Bangla.
Heroes of this Language Movement like Salam, Rafique, Barkat, Jabbar and many others became martyrs for the Bangla language. Many mass revolutions took place on the streets of Dhaka. To suppress the Bengali people's rights and to suffocate democracy, on the 25th of March, 1971, in the deep darkness of the night, the West Pakistanis used tanks, ammunition and other weapons on the streets of Dhaka, barricading Dhaka and mercilessly killing students and leaders of this mass movement. The Freedom Fighters retaliated with the War of Independence. Like wildfire, the fight for freedom ignited all over lush green, fertile Bangladesh.
On the 16th of December, 1971 the defeated Pakistani forces surrendered to the joint forces with the Army of Freedom Fighters at the Dhaka Race Course compound. Dhaka then became the capital of Independent Bangladesh. Naturally, the charming, liveliness and importance of Dhaka started improving by leaps and bounds. Presently, the immense population of Dhaka is a pressure point over one crore 50 lakhs people, pollution, traffic jams, unplanned growth of the city, unauthorised grasping of lands, rivers and canals, bribery and corruption, injustice, fanaticism of certain leaders and groups forces a lack of proper justice towards war criminals. Corruption, political and social violence, and terrorism have plagued Dhaka city to a great extent. Even this Dhaka that I have just described is beloved and favourite city for many, the centre for the growth and enhancement of art, culture, literature and traditional and ancient customs and rituals.
Immediate requirements for the nation would be to eradicate eve-teasing and acid throwing, to unknot the concept of honour killing, to decrease criminal activities and to build up a society from its roots. The society has become demoralised to a great extent. Crimes are on the rise because of poverty on the bottom, and a lack of moral values and selfish demands and gains at the top. Or prioritising ones own selfish principles as opposite to the overall welfare of your own people and country. In other words, Bangladeshis have become more self absorbed with their own personal worlds: have become a part of this mechanical rat race which is dominating many urban countries of the world. Libraries, sports fields and cultural activities are mission in many parts of the country. 'Dacca' has become 'Dhaka', the glitz and glamour has increased, the people have grown in population, fame for the city has spread far and wide - but is it enough? Is it the optimum change? Is there still scope for improvement and enlightenment?
The legacy of the Mughals regime had left behind multiple mosques, Hosinai Dalan, the grave of Pori Bibi, Mir Jumla's Gateway, later known as Ramna Gate, Lalbagh Kella (Fort), Boro (Big) Katra, Choto (Small) Katra, the congregation for Eid Prayer: Eidgah at Shaat Mosjid locality. In a book written many ages ago by Brandley Burt, Dhaka was called Romance of an Eastern Capital. Then it was called Dacca, though now because of phonetics and pronunciation, it is called Dhaka.
Not only for central administration purposes but also for business, culture, language and literature, Dhaka was the centre point for many decades. Traders and businessmen not only came from all parts of India, but traders flowed in from Arabia, Iran, Armenia, China, Malaysia, Java, Sumatra, Portugal, France and Greece. Many mementos, unique memorabilia are still existing from hundreds of years ago even today at Armanitola French Road, English Road and the Greek graveyard at the Dhaka University Students' - Teachers' Centre. The textile industry and art of old Dhaka attracted the foreigners in huge numbers. The charm, gracefulness and exquisite uniqueness of the Dhaka Muslin material brought huge numbers of businessmen from France and England-East India Company to build their own industry to meet continuous demands from all over Europe.
In the year 1765, the English East India Company took over controls from the Mughal emperors over Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and in 1829 Dhaka was converted into a special divisional office. In the province of Bengal, Dhaka became the second most important city after Kolkata/Calcutta. The municipality of Dhaka was formed in the year 1864. Previously in 1835, the Collegiate School opened followed by Dhaka College in 1841 and Dhaka Madrasha Islamic Religious School in 1874. In the 19th century, education and advancement were further enhanced by sharp journalism, language, literature, culture, drama, classical music, dances and overall spirit for development and competition. Famous Bengali newspapers published from Dhaka in the 19th Century were 'Dhaka Prakash' and 'Bandhob'. Along with Ahsan Manjil, Ruplal House was also architectural brilliance in the 19th Century Dhaka. The 'Sipahi Revolution' of 1857 saw Dacca playing a prominent role. The Anti- English revolution also was strongly observed in Dhaka. In 1905, it became the new capital for the newly created East Bengal and Assam. Ramna Park was created and beautified. Many new buildings and monuments were constructed noteworthy, including the Old High Court building used as the Lieutenant Governors' Residence, the Secretariat, Old Dhaka Medical College and Curzon Hall. In 1911 the city again lost its status as capital. In the year 1921, Dacca University was established.
Again after Independence in 1947 from the british rule, India and Pakistan separated and Dhaka again became the capital of East Pakistan. The new Secretariat, High Court, Provincial Council etc. were erected. Education, advancement and developmental infra-structures increased. But the Pakistan Government started discriminating between the East and West Pakistan and in 1948 the fight started for the State Language Movement which culminated in the loss of martyrs of the Language Revolution in 1952 and ultimately on the 16th of December 1971 Bangladesh attained her Victory after nine long months of war starting from the 26th of March 1971. And after that Dhaka once again attained her capital position. Mentionable architecture and construction in the Pakistan period led to the Central Public Library presented by the Dhaka University Library, the Institute of Dhaka Fine Arts, National Parliament Building and the Shaheed Minar on the Martyrs' Memorial.
More than four decades have elapsed after the Independence of Bangladesh. Four hundred years have elapsed after the creation of Dhaka. Where are we standing today?
Gone is the golden age. Or are we still hoping for one?
Statues of wood, stone and chinaware, wall paintings, and scriptures, etc. all depict the history of our past and present life. The influence of religion, politics, business and culture evolved and changed down through the 400 years. These can be depicted and categorised from 2010 - 1910, 1910 - 1810, 1810 - 1710 and 1710 - 1610. Down through the seasonal changes : winter, summer, spring and monsoon etc. the habitation, methods, procedures and style of living changed and rechanged down through the ages. For costumes starting from non-synched clothing to hand woven machine made clothing, the years brought hundreds of changes through the last 400 years. Lungi, Achkan, Sherwani, Panjabi, Shadurer-kameez, Amborkhana, Churidar Pyjama, Fatua, Ghagra, Orna, Pagri, Dhuti, Saree, Lehanga a Shirt, Pant Tee-shirt, Vest, Paticout, Blouse etc. have all been designed and re-designed. The Mugughals, British and French influence in clothing and culture is noteworthy. The Saree and the Dhoti in Bengali Muslim and Hindu culture have survived the times and ages and are still predominant in the 21st century. To live within one's own culture and roots with a proper balance of modernisation and multiculturalism is seen both in the East and the West. Globalisation has brought about multifarious changes too.
Down through the last 400 years, we can look at other chronological changes too to depict the time, age and history, starting from the horse to the horse and carriage and then the chariot in different shapes and sizes. Before the chariots, people used carts which were being pulled by oxen and cows. Then eventually came cars and auto rickshaws and rickshaws. Dhaka is now often called 'the city of rickshaws'. In 1815 the Baptists first appeared at schools in Dhaka. Before that only Madrashas/Islamic religious schools and religious education were prominent. In 1830 the residents of Dhaka collectively donated and formed schools. The Dhaka Medical School (College later), Jagannath School (Now University), Eden School then College etc. were all founded by individual efforts. The population increased and mass people were always relocating to this capital city. Presently in Dhaka there are 4-5 kinds of education mediums- English medium, Bengali medium, Madrashas, Girls Madrashas etc. There are presently 54-55 universities, a school room had 45 students but now 115 students. In 1972 there were 400 - 450 teachers, which has now increased to 1500 1600. The students are around 25 -30 thousand. This type of education will become a dilemma for future generations.
The area demarcation of Dhaka had started from the shoulder of the Dhak or Dhol or Drams. Subedar Islam Khan had ordered that as far as the sound of the Dhak goes the landmark of Dhaka as jurisdiction will be etched. Today's Dhaka boasts the Ahsan Manjil, Lalbagh Fort, Botanical Gardens, Dhaka Museum, Dhaka Zoo, Bahadur Shah Park, the new Martyrs' Memorial and the banks of the Buriganga and Turag rivers.
The map of Dhaka has changed and changed again. Mosques and minarets have broken down, so has the St. Thomas Church at Chhoto Katra, bridges and old structures have deteriorated to some extent but newer structures have been constructed. The cemetery has almost been destroyed but on the other hand the Mitford Hospital had had a facelift on both the inside and outside. Healthcare and medicare has slowly advanced and so has culture, language, education rates, standard of living and the overall infrastructme of not only Dhaka but all of Bangladesh.
If we look at other sectors like weavers, goldsmiths, advancement of cinemas from black and white to coloured as well as movies to walkie-talkies, the origin and development of dramas, specific and unique foods of Dhaka intermixed with French, English and Mughals , Greek and Portuguese cuisine who had come for business and sometimes permanent settlement, sports like kite making and fighting, cockfights and football or soccer became very well established and known not to overlook Latimkhela. Chronological expansion of music, musical instruments, dancers and songs developed. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore once again became popular, poetry had reached remarkable heights and so too has art reached unthinkable advancements. A city rich in language, culture, art, literature, poetry and history, Dhaka is a popular and unique city to be dealt with.
Jewelry and ornaments worn by men and women also emphasise the history and tradition of Dhaka. Ancient goldsmiths used gold, silver, copper, brass, wood mixed metals and shakha to make and remake ornaments like Monikundal, Chakra kundal, Chakra Bali (for ears), Ratnahar Pushpahar, Sheeta har, Muktahar, Shatan Rhar (mainly necklaces). For the hands : Angad, taga, keur, bala, bauti, kankan, hastapadda etc. For the waist : mekhola and kingkini and ornaments for the feet were kharu, Torah and baakmol. Many time spans have been depicted by all these jewelries of various ages. Today Kolkata goldsmiths are the best in the world as evaluated by many. Their workmanship is the most expensive in countries like Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Singapore, North America and Europe.
In Dhaka, in the year 1898 in the Sadarghat and Patuatuli area in Crown Theater the First Bayoscope (Cinema) was screened. In Dhaka Prakash (Newspaper) of 1898, 24th April the description of this Bayoscope was published as 'Cinematograph' or 'live scenes'.
The people of Dhaka love to eat. Initially the Mughals, then the Armenians, Greek, Portuguese, French and British peoples came to Dhaka for business and the local food went through countless changes. The Mughals imported polau, korma, biriany, kabab, kofta, morobba and moglai paratha. The Portuguase brought in pineapples, round potatoes, sofeda, aata, nona and cashew nuts. They are assumed to have brought in the chilly pepper and tobacco, bread and biscuits. The English also brought in breads, biscuits chun, cutlet, patties etc. The present Muslim population of Dhaka more or less follow the Moglai food. The Chicken Polao of old Dhaka is very renowned along with Bundia polao, Tehari and Kababs. Kababs are either sheek kabab or shuti kabab of old Dhaka. Each and every bread has a history in Dhaka, such as tandoori bread, chapatti , Baghdadi, nanpao, sharbati, rumabi, etc. Not to forget sweets, like jilapi, chamcham or shonpapri. Besides this, the sweet curd or doi was very popular in old Dhaka. Vendors would go from door to door selling freshly churned butter, ghol and matha. Today in modern Dhaka we do not see them anymore.
If we talk about sports in Dhaka then mentionable are the cockfights, elephant fights, (limited to the king's and affluent zamindars), hunters, professional bulbuli birds fights until the beginning of the 20th century, Bou kotha kow birds singing, mountain mynah fights, ox fights, popular to people of the lower levels. Sheep fighting was limited within the Muslim community only. This was popular in the beginning of the 19th century. People in Dhaka in the olden times loved also to keep pigeons as pets. Making kites and kite fighting was a sport popular within the old Dhakaites. This ancient game still exists in old Dhaka starting from the period of the Sepoy Mutiny, or soldiers' revolution. In 1858 the first cricket match was played at the Race Course fields. Football games are untraceable in Dhaka as to its first origin. Boat racing and puppet shows were also there in old Dhaka but are gradually becoming extinct.
A thousand years old charjyapad is the history of ancient Bengali songs, poetry and prose. Today we are celebrating Tagore, Nazrul, Sarat Chandra, Jashimuddin and Lalon Shah in many ways. Jahangir Nagar University celebrated its 11th anniversary and the Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka is always remembering and commemorating special occasions, people and events and various forms of art and culture inclusive of jatras, dances, dramas and exhibitions.
The mystic poet Fakir Lalon Shah of Kustia died at the age of 116 years, but he has left behind a legacy of unforgettable music, philosophy and mysticism. The spiritual beauty of his songs and music has led to the translation of his work in many languages of the world. Every year, Bauls from all over Bangladesh come to his Akhrabari to be near to their master, emperor or leader. The festival is held for 3 days and many kinds of Baul or spiritual songs are presented by numerous groups and people. Lalon so truly said, "arshinogor is besides my home the neighbour lives there/I have not even seen him for a day who lives in my house"
(to be continued)
Inside the cage is an unknown bird how does he come and go? The world consists of how many ways when the call comes the unknown birds in the cage will fly away. This World is a fake prison. No one belongs to the other. Everything is false is false".
We discover Lalon Shah more and more with each passing day.
It was the age of Calligraphy then. It is the finest form of art even now. The gap is of 400 years. The dreams of 400 years ago has turned to reality now.
The shadows of grey and white have now been converted to black and darker black. There are no holes in the net of the present for the minutes being to squeeze out.
Dhaka is very dear to us. It is an immobile statue standing between life and death. Our long age, our culture, our costumes evolved through hundreds of years. Such progressions have gilded Dhaka with permanent glory and pride. Etched are the lines of poetry. Then you see the starting point of prose. Which will predominate? The poetry and prose of the past have created a fairy tale of the present. Dhaka is our roots. Dhaka will be there for our future generations. And for the generations to come.
Our National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam in the East and the eminent singer Bob Dylon in the West had a common bond : Rebellion. One wrote the other song but both of them stood up against injustice, oppression, inequality, imprisonment, racism, fanaticism, casteism etc. and various such subjects which divided and created mountains between humans, societies and countries in their day-to-day living. Nazrul Islam wrote : ''You lived for so long, Now once put your life on the line. The same hands you use for only prayers with weapons let once those shine. " On the other hand, Bob Dylon wrote : "You who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears'; Take the rag away from your face now ain't the time for your tears." Kazi Nazrul Islam's poem Bidrohi was one of our basics, which gave us strength to revolt against the British regime in India. Its beauty, rhythm and blood-curdling inspiration will forever be our strength: "I grind all to pieces .... I trample under my feet all bonds, rules and disciplines .... I am destruction, I am grave-yard, I am the end, the end of night."
Dhaka has survived more than 400 years. She has many centuries more to come to survive, protest, fight and achieve her best. Today's 'Dhaka' with her highrise apartments and offices, festivals and celebrations of 21st February, Pohela Falgun, Pohela Boishakh, 26th March, Valentines Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Victory Day, Bengali and English New years, Eid, Puja, Christmas and Buddha Purnima etc. are all part of the glitz and glamour of a new city whose roots and foundation go back 400 years of mental, physical, intellectual and conscious, unconscious human and mechanical efforts. Millions of trials and efforts, accepting and discarding, adopting and re-adopting are the basic tenants of this new city. Globalisation, technical development of Science and discoveries and the psychological spirit all together have created this magical city. Bangladeshis are immigrating outside but the internal magnetic charm is often bringing them back to their motherland. Dhaka was, is, and will always reserve a very special position in each and every Bangladeshi's heart. I salute Dhaka.