The most beautiful thing I look for, when I go outside Dhaka city, is nothing but the tranquil villages as portrayed in the works of our renowned artists like Hashem Khan and in the poems of Tagore, Jashimuddin and others. In our middle class families it's still very common to listen to stories from the senior members.
Most of the time they share experiences from their past and undoubtedly all of them focus on lifestyles of rural people. The festivals they celebrated, the way they welcomed different seasons, enjoyed the harvest of different crops are portrayed in their stories.
I can share such a story which I have heard from someone who is 10 years older than me. Some rural boys used to spend their time in a big open green space in the middle of a village. All farmers used to bring their sugarcane to this particular place for making `Gurh’ (jaggery) by using local technology including an ox-driven crusher. Children loved to enjoy their time over there tasting the juice of sugarcane and oven-fresh gurh. It was like a festival for them. But at one stage, under a decision of the government, the farmers began selling all the sugarcane to the sugar mills. Since then, farmers got the means to get proper value for their agro-products. On the other hand, we have lost an occasion to create enjoyable childhood memories. It doesn’t mean that I am against the betterment of the farmers.
In fact, during the last 40 years, Bangladesh reached several milestones in economic development. Definitely, it should be appreciated. The economic growth has brought electricity to the remote locations. In most of the villages, you can see brick-built houses. Only twenty years back the scenario was not like this. Almost each and every village was connected with a river. No matter how wide the river was, boating, fishing and swimming were very common in society. Sitting inside an air-conditioned room in a metro life, we cannot even realize how a river could become a source of happiness and festivity to those people.
Dry summer days were also enjoyed with delicious fruits. People enjoyed traditional ways of praying for rains during hot summer days. Religion was not the factor in organizing such types of mass gathering. Hindus, Muslims and people from other religions used to take part in the same occasion. They cooked together, prayed together and ate together. Rainy season came as blessings to the crop fields. The idle season monsoon encouraged people to enjoy palagaan. Again, people from all backgrounds used to attend the same program without any hesitation. We had a minimum difference between people of different religions. This was because we belonged to the common culture which was indeed more powerful to integrate people from various social status than religion. In autumn, Goddess Durga came from the mount Kailash along with the sign of winter. Hindus prayed in front of the image of the Goddess and Muslims enjoyed the authentic and motley country fair. Fall was for harvesting and taking part in the common rituals of welcoming crops. Winter began with the festival of pitha (traditional cake). Apart from these seasonal celebrations, people commonly used to take part in marriage ceremonies or any other family programs of others.
A big change, however, has taken place gradually over the last 40 years, especially the last two decades. Once there were no visible demarcations for the houses in rural Bangladesh. One could easily go inside the neighbor’s house. Gradually, `development’ has enhanced the sense of privacy. For the sake of privacy, people are more self-centric which is as visible as brick walls in any village. Now most of the houses are separated from each other by brick walls.
In those days even rivers were the source of happiness. As a newly-declared lower middle income country, the build-up of the central bank’s forex reserve gives us satisfaction. We are least ashamed for killing our rivers. We did not have any plan for saving the rivers. Many young people, aged 25 to 28 years, born and brought up in Dhaka don’t even know that once rivers were the heart of our society! They have not been to any village ever or more than once, though their families were there one or two generations back. It’s our failure that we did not have a proper mechanism to enlighten them about our roots.
Despite the so-called rural development policy, people are not willing to live in the villages anymore. Lack of income opportunities is constantly forcing them to move from the villages to the towns and, on the other hand, the urban-centric policy is pulling them to the cities, especially the capital city. Gradually villages are becoming youth-less, and elder people live in the villages alone when most of their family members migrated to towns nearby or Dhaka city to change their lot.
The way we are going for development is difficult to judge whether it is the right approach or not. But definitely, we must live in hope. In any case, we have to admit that the growing economy gave any of the people a comfortable living standard. In return, it took away the simplicity of life, beauty of rural Bangladesh, happiness in the small things. It happens because our entire development drive was not holistic, not balanced. Unplanned urbanization was wrongly set as an indicator of our development, ignoring the healthy progress of our rural culture. We always tried to fulfill needs on a short-term basis, never thinking about consequences in the far future. And without concentrating on spiritual wellbeing besides the economic growth, real progress will never be achieved.
People will be wealthy but remain poor culturally unless we put serious efforts to reverse the course of unplanned massive urbanization.
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia
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