Bangbandhu’s Bangladesh

After waving our Sadbhavana Cycle Yatra off from Ahmednagar Fort, our Founder and force behind the cycle ride, Dr Girish Kulkarni, and local historian and Project Coordinator of our Radio Nagar, Bushan Deshmukh, visited Bangladesh to continue making arrangements for the cycle at its final destination. Here Bushan shares their first experience and impressions of our northern neighbour...

Prior to the cycle rally, for me, Bangladesh meant Dhaka and Dhaka meant Mulmul production and my classmate in Solapur, Ravi Deshmukh. Ravi and I studied textile manufacturing together and although Ravi is now settled in Canada, he exports clothes from Bangladesh to destinations across the world and is a frequent visitor to Dhaka. When he heard of our planned rally he immediately promised to help us and was there to welcome us when Girish and I landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on 4 October 2021.

All our preconceptions of Bangladesh suffering from poverty was dispelled as passed by lush green fields, high-rise buildings and grand commercial complexes on beautiful roads. We stayed at Ravi’s flat at Retired Army Officers’ Colony in Baridhara area, an area that reminded us of the more luxurious parts of Mumbai or Pune. Like in Indian cities, terraces have been transformed into gardens, abundant with mango, coconut, banana, guava and neem trees.

Situated on the banks of Buriganga, Turag, Dhokeshwari and Sheetlakshya rivers and with many small and large lakes, Dhaka has old and new parts. Old Dhaka has hundreds of historical buildings, including Lalbagh Fort, Ahsaan Manjil and the famous 12th century Dhakeshwari Temple. The roads are narrow and, flooded with thousands of cycle rickshaws, major traffic jams can turn a short trip into an hour or two affair...

In 1608, during the Mughal era, Dhaka became the capital of Bengal, renamed as ‘Jahangirabad’ or ‘Jahangirnagar’. Many transitions followed and the importance of Dhaka diminished when the British made Calcutta their headquarters. After independence from Pakistan in 1971, a new era of development began. With huge human capital and the lowest wages in the world, many industries started in Bangladesh and it became the world leader in textile manufacturing. Readymade garments continue to be exported to many countries spanning Europe, Africa and the Americas. In the last few years Bangladesh’s GDP has been growing, reflected in the construction of many flyovers and a Metro which will start soon. Five star hotels are adding to the splendour of the city.

Our first day at Dhaka was spent with Ravi and his colleague Shahima Akhtar on the phone, arranging appointments with people and organisations that could help us. We also visited the market, purchasing an English language map of Dhaka and books on Bangladesh and the 1971 liberation war. There are hundreds of bookshops with books mainly in Bengali. Luckily, we found The Blood Telegram by Gary Bass and 1971 by Shrinath Raghvan. which helped us prepare a Snehalaya cycle rally brochure in perfect Bengali.

Next morning, Shahima took us to see the headquarters of various government departments, the Navy, Army and Air Force, cricket stadium and the Olympic Bhavan. Large hoardings with photos of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her late father – the Father of Bangladesh, Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman were everywhere. Shahima also showed us the Prime minister’s residence, hostel for MPs, and the Parliament of Bangladesh, a magnificent building in the center of the sprawling park which has become a symbol of Bangladeshi identity.

We also visited the bungalow where the architect of the Liberation of Bangladesh and former prime minister, Sheikh Mujib and his family were brutally assassinated. Now a memorial to Bangabandhu, there is a museum with the belongings of the Mujib family, including their furniture, preserved there. Marks of the bullets fired by attackers and bloodstains can be seen everywhere. We were lucky to be given a tour by the scholar Mohammad Nasrul Islam Khan, the curator of the museum. Before we left, we paid homage and placed the Cycle rally brochure near a memorial to Bangabandhu and sought his blessings.

Next, we met veteran social worker Kushi Kabir, a social thinker and art lover, at her residence

in Dhanmondi area. She could only spare 10 minutes, but before we knew it half an hour had passed in intense discussion. She painted us a colourful picture of the cultural, social and political aspects of Bangladesh through her discussion and suggested important people who could help us.

Sam Shaukat, former Governor of Rotary Club is one of the most influential people in Dhaka. Introduced by the Rotary Club in Ahmednagar and Om Motipavale, Governor of the Rotary RID No 3132, had connected us and he was kind enough to invite us for dinner and we met at his residence with his wife, Nasreen Aara, who was the secretary to the Government of Bangladesh. After calling some ministers to set up appointments for the next day we joined two of his friends at ‘Star Biryani’, the famous hotel in Dhaka. Sam told us how he never lets guests go without having ‘Kachchi Biryani’. It is delicious and I believe tastier than biryani in Hyderabad and Delhi with so m