12 days ago

A Close Look

The village we left and the village it is now

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Dhaka city is heating up notwithstanding the fact that it is only the third week of Falgun, the first month of the Spring known as the king of seasons. But 250-kilometre apart, a village in Barishal's Agailjhara upazila sharing its border with Kotalipara upazila is a completely different world. The Spring is what it should be there with the night and early morning temperatures still remaining chilly enough. Elderly villagers have to wear some sort of warm clothes and even use monkey caps or mufflers. Although the temperature soars a bit higher at noon, it is not irritable, least of all unbearable. It seems it is a different time zone in this small country. Nature also appears to be kind and the worry about climate change has not made its presence felt here.

Pleasant the environment is and one can feel the invigorating quality of the fresh air one breathes in. In the morning sparkling dew that gathers on leaves of trees, vegetation and particularly on the thriving paddy plants as far as one's eyes can see produces an ethereal spectacle when the tentative young rays of the sun starts brightening the green field. Well, one carpeted road bisects the village from south to north and another meets it in the middle running through the paddy field to connect it with the Dhaka-Barishal highway. The north-south road also connects it with that highway via the upazila.

On this count, it is perhaps like most other villages in Bangladesh. Communication has gone through a sea-change. There has also been quite an increase in population and people opted to leave their ancestral homesteads to build accommodations on agricultural lands a little away from the village proper. But this is not what makes the village special. Its specialty lies in the radical change of economic status and living standard.

Like the economic-growth paradox of Bangladesh, its flourishing life and livelihoods belie academic theories. What was a poor, sleepy and isolated village back in the 50's of the past century, now presents a picture of one that is affluent and vibrant. Its transformation has been, to say the least, phenomenal. There was not even a tube-well then. No one had college education let alone university education.

A village that would consider it an audacity to have a building is right now home to a dozen ---some of them two-storied. Currently, believe it or not, 10-12 buildings are either in the process of construction or planning. What is most amazing is that a handful of those buildings are well designed with interior decoration so much so that those can rival their urban counterparts. But those give an out-of-the-world impression because lush green paddy fields act as a background for them. Additionally, vegetables, fruits grown on the vacant spaces of the homestead and fish raised in the ponds supply not only what they need for consumption but also for earning a few extra bucks.

The overall impression is that the mythical self-sufficiency of the Bangalees of the past has returned here. What is remarkable is that not all are educated people who have opted for construction of buildings. Of course, here is a village that once boasted the highest number of primary teachers in the late 80's and 90's of the past century. The number is still quite high and many college teachers have joined them to trigger swelling of the rank of teachers. The majority of builders of pucca accommodations are teachers but there are even completely illiterate young men who have also lavishly spent on their buildings and, at least in one case, on a temple. Marble chips and stones have been generously used for giving the outside wall of the temple a shine and it has been decorated with small statues all around.

This sounds intriguing---how could they manage so much money? Well, villagers are highly entrepreneurial in that they defied their educational lapses to chart uncharted territories. The two brothers, for example, who have built the temple worked as artisans at a jewellery factory and are now pride possessors of their own shops. Others are engaged in fish farming and the occupation is more rewarding than cultivation of crops. The fact is, villagers could prudently diversify their means of earning and they have money enough at their disposal to raise their living standard. They lead quite a happy life and one cannot help feeling happy for them.

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