Monday, November 06, 2006

An Indian's view of Bangladesh : part 1

I had a chance to visit Bangladesh in the last month. What I am writing are only my personal views and opinions, not a generic one. I will write up all those in a few parts.

From my childhood I had a wish to see the country where from my father is. Also, I had a lot of questions, especially about the major differences between West Bengal and Bangladesh. I got the chance to fulfill the dream last month. Despite political problems, I had gathered sufficient view about Bangladesh and most of those are positive in my judgment.

The Initial Clearance
The journey started with a few stumbles as Bangladesh Embassy first refused to grant me the Visa till I personally meet them. It was almost impossible for me since I was at Hyderabad and somebody has to get it on behalf of me to save a valuable day. The reason was not clear to me, but after a little persuasion, we got it. Next, the GMG Airlines booked tickets for us without informing us that the flight was going via Chittagong and will take a couple of hours. We discovered it only after looking at the tickets.

The Journey to Dhaka
I, along with my wife chose to fly to Dhaka with a GMG Airlines flight. When our flight left Kolkata airport for Chittagong, I had no idea even how Bangladesh looks like from the flight. The experience with the flight was not that great except the delicious foods. The air-hostess welcomed us with "Salam Alaikum ... Allah-hu-Akbar", something that signified that I am entering a different country. The bird's eye view of the country from 1500m is of a lash green field, disconnected by muddy water rivers. You can see all possible curves of rivers in Bangladesh and all possible shapes of deltas from the sky. The place where Meghna river flows into the Bay of Bengal is so huge that it took around 10 minutes to fly pass that. After the calmest sea shore, a thin beach, and a few poor houses, we landed into Chittagong International Airport. After landing it was tough for me to believe that it is an International Airport. Our small flight of GMG Airlines having 10 passengers was the only one present in the huge area allocated to the airport. A small transit lounge with Bengali speaking guards welcomed us in the airport.

After watching the ICC Champions' Trophy match between England and Australia for about 10 minutes, we moved on to the Dhaka bound flight along with 25 odd passengers. Before landing to Dhaka, I possibly realized the first truth about Bangladesh - it is a Dhaka-centric country. Looking at the skyscrapers and the roads, Dhaka is comparable to any other international city. Dhaka is certainly comparable to, or may be even better than all four metro cities of India in terms of concrete buildings and roads. Dhaka Airport is huge, and is bigger than most (may be all) of the Indian Airports. I wish all major Indian cities will have a better second airport than this - let's hope for the best for Shamsabad(Hyderabad) Airport to come in 2007-08.

The difference between Dhaka and Chittagong is really pathetic, and asked me a question - if such is the difference between the country's first and second major cities - what can be the differences between the rich and the poor and also the urban and the rural people? Isn't a decentralized mechanism should be in place for a country that's trying to eradicate the poverty? Six different divisions with six assemblies and autonomies to the divisions to some extent might have produced less number of skyscrapers in Dhaka, but a few more in other cities. Developing a few more cities parallel to Dhaka should be critical to Bangladesh's people. Let me leave this debate to my Bangladeshi friends and proceed further.

A few days later when my parents along with my sister came to Dhaka, they came via direct flight and hence were overwhelmed by Dhaka. It seemed to me, that a hopping flight via Chittagong gave me better insights of the country and I thanked GMG Airways for that.

First Sight
The Dhaka Airport gave me an impression that it's not at all an alien land. Everything is written in Bengali and everybody is speaking in Bengali - may be in a different dialect - is really nice to watch. The day I reached, was the last Saturday before the Eid, at the time of Iftaar. There were several people having their Namaaz on the floor of the lounge - the only difference visible in an Indian eye. The lounges are big compared to the Indian Airports, where we almost have to jostle our way. The human traffic was also very low compared to Indian ones. The air-traffic in India picked up during last few years thanks to the cheap domestic airlines in India.

On the Roads
Busy roads of Dhaka were very similar to those of Indian cities. The last weekend of Eid had drawn less crowd on the roads. The roads of Dhaka are broad, but fail to take the huge crowd who come from all over Bangladesh. A few days later, during the Eid, the crowds almost vanished. It showed up, unlike Indian cities, Dhaka has much less urban-mined people. And most of the inhabitants are first or second generation urban dwellers. Having a strong tie with the village home, most of them get back to meet their kins to the village during Eid. In India the scenario is quite different. For example, during Makara Sankranti/Ugaadi, most of Telugu speaking people of Hyderabad go back to their villages but the non-Telugu people stay back to keep the traffic alive. Bangladesh, unlike India, is a homogeneous country and most of the people follow the same outfit, religion, language and most of other cultural parameters, except the deeply polarized political attitude.

The influx of villagers towards Dhaka is also something similar in India, although there has been a improved situation in South India. I remember both Nehru and Gandhi were very eager for rural development since it would allow cities to develop and stop villagers to take shelter in cities for every second reason. It seems, Bangladesh, along with India, failed to achieve it miserably. In my view, rural development is the need of an hour for Bangladesh because of the high percentage of village or semi-urban people in the country.

What's Next
Next I would write up something about the culture, tv programs and common people.

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