The differences that distances make
Life in Dhaka is drastically different from other parts of the country
Though published in 1960, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird transcends time and tradition in the way it brings to the fore the difference of life and leisure in a small country town compared to the bustling city life.
If anything, that difference has expanded since the book was written. A change in names and location and the same can be true of Bangladesh, especially the difference between Dhaka and the other major cities.
In her election campaign of 2008, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised to look after Chittagong as her own. Belatedly, the signs of improvement are obviously clear. Unfortunately, no other major politicians have looked at development of the other major cities in the same vein.
Khulna is an example of a one-time industrial zone that has been allowed to wither away.
The exception is Mongla port, which has risen in importance now that a government to government agreement has been reached on its use alongside Chittagong by India. Connectivity improvements are in place, and once the Padma Bridge is commissioned, Mongla port’s importance will increase manifold.
Few personages have followed the example set by Harper Lee in identifying the difference in lifestyles of cities such as Khulna compared with the capital city. Attitude, philosophy, and mind-set are significantly different.
Those that flock to Dhaka to seek a better life suffer the lack of character that today’s Dhaka offers, and flee back to Khulna at the first chance offered.
Till materialism won over spiritualism, Dhaka had its own character that is in a way fiercely protected in the old part of the city. A combination of veneration, humility, and respect for values still prevails even if in a semblance that has all but vanished from the expanded new city area.
The United States has suffered the same fate, with the fast-paced cities trampling on the values that were once revered — being it in greeting the neighbours or doffing the hat in the presence of a lady. This was beautifully portrayed by Harper Lee as she wrote her novel from the confines of her little country house surrounded by nature.
The cities, whether in the US or Bangladesh, have developed concrete monstrosities, in the name of what is called development, thereby ensuring that man’s connection with nature is increasingly severed. Along with it, there has been the inevitable change in manners and mannerisms. Part of this is due to the heavy migration to the cities.
The invariable potpourri of migrant populations and the harshness of city life have a lot to do with it as well. In Italy, there are several small towns and villages that are today half empty and occupied only by senior citizens, as the young generation seek the city lights.
To a certain degree, mannerisms in places such as Khulna are still in line with tradition — be it in behaviour or respect. But migration is on the rise, with fewer job opportunities and the absence of a conscious, well-thought-out industrialization policy.
Budget after budget is presented to the parliament, with incentives for such industrialization, but the investment is hard to come by.
Whatever investment is happening is in the fisheries sector, it has changed the fortunes of many. That in turn has eaten in to the arable land for farming, even as Khulna is not known for multiple cropping. If the migration issue could be addressed, Khulna and other cities would be able to hold on to and retain the quintessential essence of individuality.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.