“The form of a city changes faster, alas, than the human heart,” wrote French poet Charles Baudelaire. The changing Dhaka city is no exception than the ‘Old Paris’ of the French poet. It is rather heartless, hapless and helpless.
The life of a stranger begins in the city with some green dreams and hopes, that, in course of time, turns yellow and then red like the traffic signals, strangling every hope of life to death.
The city changes consistently and at a regular interval. It has different names owing to its changing -- the city of dust, the city of pollution, the city of sound and so on.
The city changes from smoggy in the morning to scorching in the noon and to dusty in the evening.
The only thing remains certain here is uncertainty.
No one is here certain about anything. Commuters do not know whether they will reach the destiny on time, thanks to the routine traffic gridlocks while housewives do not have any guarantee of adequate utility services the next morning to complete their house chores.
The colours of city life change like the useless traffic lights, which have changing colours, but carry no meaning to the traffic movement.
The appearance of the city also changes so frequently and so fast. The avenues you saw in the morning which were teeming with junky buses and funky cars, may turn into an overflowing canal with boats floating along in the afternoon.
The footpaths once you saw fresh and free to move in the morning, they may turn into a marketplace or a pool of dirty garbage dumped for an indefinite period by the authorities concerned.
One who knows the city for at least one decade should have a vivid memory of two different cities. One was a bit emptier, cheaper, fresher and humane while the other is ghastlier, costlier, dirtier and unfeeling.
The graphs of everything in the city go upswing every coming year.
The population boom was the most noticeable as the population has doubled from 10.23 million in 2000 to 20 million in 2018, leaving the city nearly unliveable. Alarmingly, in the past 200 years, the population has increased 100 times.
The city also witnesses a sharp rise in dust pollution. The dust pollution in the city is almost three times higher than the permissible limit during the dry season, thanks to the thousands of brick kilns, which contributes 58 per cent dust to the atmosphere, says a study jointly conducted by the governments environment department and Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NIAR).
The level of sound pollution is double that of the permissible limit. A recent study conducted by the Department of Environment (DoE) says the sound level in many places in Dhaka is as high as 120-130dB. The study suggests that the sound level is more than enough to make a person deaf permanently.
Amid the demonstration of high and higher curves, only a few things -- a healthy life, a peaceful life and a secured life -- were seen downgrading.
“Its hell for children and senior citizens. When I see my six-year-old son falls sick at regular intervals, it makes me cry and feel helpless as I have no power to change the city overnight,” said Gias Uddin, an engineer.
The congestion has worsened over the years. Researchers say Dhakas traffic jams eat up 3.2 million business hours, posing a loss of about Tk 550b each year. The estimated loss is now 50% more than what it was in 2010, according to a study jointly conducted by the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) and Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, living costs have hit the roof, so have the struggles, thanks to unabated accommodation costs and unchecked commodity prices. According to a recent study by the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), living costs have increased by 8.44 per cent in 2017, which is two per cent more than the previous year. The study shows every essential commodity item price sees at least a 20 per cent rise in the last year.
“Only money compels me to stay here in Dhaka. If I can manage an earning source in my district town, Jashore, Ill catch the next train and go home,” said Shahed, a private sector official who has been living in the capital for a decade.
Another study says the city dwellers have to spend more money than a New Yorker to buy food. A recent study of World Food Programme (WFP) titled True Cost of a Plate of Food says when a New Yorker spends $1.20 or 0.6 per cent of their daily income for a full meal, a Dhaka city dweller has to spend $6.56.
“The price of everything is on the rise here, except the price of life,” said Kanok Mia, a resident of Dhakas Badda area.
When asked about life in the city, a dozen city dwellers of various professions tried to explain one thing to me, that the city is nothing but a money-making place. And none of them felt a minimum mental attachment with this city.
Instead, some of them said should they get the slightest chance to leave the city, they would leave it in the very next morning.
Among the global cities, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit annual global survey, capital Dhaka has been ranked the second least livable city in the world in 2018. The city moved back two notches from the consistent 4th position in 2016 and 2017.
Only the war-torn city Damascus in Syria is behind Dhaka.
“Brother, what can be more valuable than life? Life is threatened here. There is a constant exhaustion everywhere. Im just planning to leave the city,” aghast Monir Uddin told the reporter when asked about city life.
My experience of nearly 12 years draws no different conclusion than the others. When I came to Dhaka in 2007 as a young university student, city life seemed a bit slow. Opportunities were ample. Life has now become faster, but costlier and tougher.
Apart from all this, another major thing missing here is a responsible citizenship.
During my post-graduation, I had an opportunity to work under a Japanese boss, Jun Von Kitamura. The Japanese boss taught me, in practice, how to be a good citizen. It was a summer afternoon. She went with me to visit the Dhaka University campus. While we were roaming around the campus, she wanted to taste some local fruits and bought some.
We sat eating the fruits in the shade. Suddenly, I noticed her gathering the leftovers in a polythene bag which she took from the hawker while I was carelessly throwing the peels here and there. At one stage, I told her not to bother as there were dirt and trash all around us anyway. But, she refused and took all the trash back to her dormitory in Farmgate to dispose of there. Then I realised she is really a Japanese!