Development, especially in our times, is like the moon. While we see the luminous side of it, it is the dark side which remains beyond our vision. And on that dark side are laid out the many tales of sorrow and heartbreak brought on by societal progress.
The Padma Bridge is an engineering feat which does us proud, for the good reason that it now makes travel across the mighty river safe, comfortable and faster. That it will soon be a spur to development on both banks of it and beyond, through the twenty-one south-western districts it connects the nation's capital to, is a given. Additionally, the fact that we as a people have built the Padma Bridge with our own resources is truly cause for pride. We have done it!
But even as we reflect on the glories linked to the bridge, there are the little people whose big worries should make us think. In these few days since the inauguration of the bridge, there has been a precipitous fall in the earnings of eateries, fruit stalls and boatmen on the shores of the Padma. The bridge has made travel easier for all of us, but it has also pushed the little people --- individuals for whom livelihood has been associated with the Padma --- into despondency if not yet despair.
Which arouses in us all the old stories of traditional things falling by the wayside courtesy of the steamroller of progress in modern times. The old post offices which once dotted our villages, indeed every village in every country, have died out because people do not write letters anymore, do not send money orders to ageing parents and younger siblings by the old means anymore. Technology, obviously making life easier for everyone, has come in the way, indeed has pushed out all those symbols we once considered integral to our pursuit of life and happiness.
And thus it is with the men and women, thousands of them, whose lives have so far been linked, intricately and generationally at that, with the Padma River. Observe these facts, raw and undeniable, as they come to us by way of the media: at Ilias Ahmed Chowdhury Ghat in Madaripur, no fewer than 37 restaurants, 54 tea stalls and 39 fruit shops happen to be. Likewise, 11 restaurants, 29 tea stalls and seven fruit shops are located at Sattar Matbor-Mongolmajhir Ghat in Shariatpur. These establishments are now at risk of obliteration. Not many people, travelers all, can be expected to break journey across the waters by ferries and help themselves to food and drink at these traditional spots of communion and reunion.
It is once more an assertion of the truth that progress comes at a price. Here is a simple instance: where once the young read books in our towns and villages, they now play around with mobile phones, which certainly are a poor substitute for what has been left behind. WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter certainly drown us in information, but knowledge? That is an entirely different proposition altogether.
In circumstances where reading is fast receding into the past and libraries are now part of memory, especially in our rural interior, it is inappropriate to enthuse about any digital revolution. If such a revolution involves staring into the mobile screen all hours of the day and indulging in texting and liking and what not, it becomes pretty clear where development has left us all --- in a place where the imagination has been replaced by a cultivation of ignorance dressed in modernity.
Think back on the plight of the little people again. The neighbourhood shops which once answered our everyday needs have over time been evicted by supermarkets. The few small shops which remain are largely ignored by people, the natural propensity in whom now is to make a dash for the supermarkets in the neighbourhood or, driven by notions of elitism, make their way to superstores in the upscale regions of the city. Meanwhile, the small shopkeeper waits the livelong day for a few sales to be made before he can make his way back home.
And so we reflect on the dark side of the moon. With people now excitedly taking to buses across the bridge to travel to their destinations, it is those who own the launches and the speedboats who worry about their future and the future of their employees and the families of the employees. Easier modes of communication come at a cost in human terms. The 11,000 people employed on as many as 86 launches and 250 speedboats on the banks of the Padma cannot be expected to be happy, now that there will be a depletion in their earnings because there will be a decline in the number of people requiring their services.
It is a paradoxical situation, one which pushes us to the inevitability of development and yet breaks down some of the foundations of life we had thought were there for good. On the banks of the Padma are the innumerable little boys and girls doing their bit to help their families inhabiting the villages nearby. They sell items of insignificant note which nevertheless are their lifeline. There are the coolies who have for ages helped tired travellers alighting from the ferries and the boats by carrying their luggage, at a pittance. Not much of that service will be there now, for no fault of these little men struggling to make a living.
It is in such circumstances that the call for social security, for a well-thought-out strategy to ensure a decent livelihood for those at the mercy of development is called for. Our GDP is rising; people abroad give us plaudits for the strides we have made in our economy; our people now have a longer lifespan than they used to; and we reasonably eat well, without worrying about our next meal. All of that being true, it now remains for the state to ensure foolproof economic security for the population, particularly those sections of it rendered vulnerable through measures ironically linked to progress.
Industries to be set up in the south-western districts will open up newer avenues of national progress now that the Padma Bridge has finally caused a union of the two banks of the river to be brought about.
Let the truth not be ignored, though. The little people whose lives have been lived on the banks of the Padma need reassurance about their future. The Padma has been part of our folklore. And those who have lived by it, have earned their upkeep beside its waters, are those who have always peopled this folklore.
They are the little people we must not forget as we bask in the light of the moon.