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Rem600Samayeen Cooper, a 14-year-old whiz kid from Boston, Massachusetts, was trembling with a great sense of anticipation! This was his maiden visit to the country of his grandparents, from his mother’s side.

His stratospheric air shuttle began approaching Trishal International Airport near Mymensingh, the capital of Bangladesh, a tiny South Asian nation with 211 million people. Seated next to Samayeen was his mother, Aisha Kashem-Cooper, a 36-year-old professor of urban anthropology who was born in Maryland of Bangladeshi parents.

The mother promised her son that one day she would take him to the country where his grandparents had once spent their youth. Professor Kashem-Cooper was particularly proud that Samayeen was one of the five American students who had designed the most creative lunar habitats for their school’s science project earlier this year. The US President Nancy Garcia had invited these talented students to the White House last month. So, for mother and son, this was a trip of extended celebration!

Samayeen gawked through the window and examined the fleeting geography below, as the aerial behemoth with 931 passengers slowly descended toward its landing dock. The pilot announced in baritone: “We will be touching down in 16 minutes.”

“Mom, what is that vast ruinous area south of the capital?” Samayeen asked, puzzled.

“That used to be the capital of the country. It was called Dhaka. No historian could say definitively why it perished and why it was never rehabilitated.”

“So, it’s something like the ancient cities of Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and Mehrgarh, which disappeared suddenly from history?”

“Yes, perhaps like those cities of Indus Valley in the 3rd millennium B.C. There are many plausible theories of Dhaka’s mysterious fall, some of which I have actually studied.”

“Like what?” Samayeen sounded impatient as he surveyed the desolate landscape of the former capital from the window of his air shuttle.

“First, the city used to have a unique hydrography; it was surrounded by four rivers. The most important river was in the south. It was called Buriganga and was Dhaka’s Indus or Nile. By the time the city’s population reached 32 million, sometime around 2025, there was a bloody revolution. Everybody was at each other’s throat to grab a piece of urban land. The city was so unhygienic and congested that everybody, rich and poor, became neurotic and paranoid. Politics was totally corrupt and nothing moved an inch without bribes. The ruling oligarchy had no control over sprouting industries that poured poisonous waste into the rivers — although they were barely rivers. They were more like drains to flush out the city’s filth and immorality.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of people in a city of that size! Weren’t there any environmental laws?”

“Sure there were, but no one cared about laws. All of the rivers were filled up illegally. What remained of Buriganga, Turag, Dhaleswari, and Shitolokhya were channels of death. One theory of Dhaka’s demise focused on these rivers of hell, suggesting that a massive plague broke out, killing nearly the entire population of the capital.”

“Something like the Black Death in medieval Europe in the 14th century, the plague that killed more than half of Europe’s population?” Samayeen asked, appalled.

“Yes, something like that. But there is another intriguing theory that it was the social breakdown that actually killed the city. The moral decay in society began much earlier than 2025, though. For decades, streets were completely lawless. Greed and selfishness drove the life of the city. Everybody wanted personal cars in the name of social mobility. Nobody wanted to ride on public buses or trains, even though a number of elevated expressways had been built at a great cost. People thought it wasn’t prestigious to use the public transportation. Wild drivers, without operating licenses, ruled the roads!”

“Where were the police? The political leaders? The government?”

“They were all there, but everybody had his or her own interests. And, laws existed in theory, but they were trashed, right and left. I’ll give you one example. When I was researching early-twenty-first century Dhaka for my Master’s degree, I found a rather strange example from 2011. A well-known filmmaker and a media personality were killed in a road accident. After that tragedy, the city…in fact, the whole country…witnessed civic protests against kleptomaniac ministers who were supposed to be guardians of the country’s best interests. But guess what! While people writhed in pain, one minister even insisted on doling out licenses to drivers who had not even taken driving tests. Can you imagine that in any civilised country?”

“I guess not. Mom, you know so much about a country so far away from you. By the way, that minister sounds crazy! What was his name?”

“His name was Shajahan Khan, a senseless, self-interested person. He had the same name of a Mughal emperor who had built the Taj Mahal. One Shahjahan built a mausoleum for love, and the other sent in an army of demolition men on the street!”

“But why didn’t the head of the government sack that strange minister?”

“I don’t have a clue as to why the prime minister didn’t take any action. Not only did she not sack that minister, but she also chastised the people for complaining too much!” Professor Kashem-Cooper told her son with a tone of exasperation.

“But wasn’t the political system of the country democratic? Where was the opposition?”

“Yes, there was one. But two days after that tragic road accident, the opposition leader celebrated her birthday with a 67-pound cake, commemorating the number of years she had redeemed this world! It was a time of heartless, Dickensian excess. The city became the epitome of a twisted world of immorality.”

“But, mom, I don’t understand! How could all of this destroy a city?”

“Some social theorists speculated that all facets of life were so caught up in a vortex of downward spiral that the city was burnt down in the wake of a violent mass uprising. It was a Bastille gone completely awry! A rotting environment pushed the city to its precipitous fall, not unlike the tower of Babel. A kind of Kiyamat!

“Mom, I am sad to hear this. What an ominous beginning! How is the country now, in 2044?”

“Well, the population is extremely large, and the country lost about 15% of its southern landmass because the sea level rose. But now, Bangladesh is doing fairly well as a middle-income country. It was a remarkable turnaround.”

“How did that happen, mom? Sounds like utopia to me!”

“Sometime after the collapse of Dhaka, people finally came to their senses and followed a path of restraint and discipline. Two existing, bitterly feuding political parties went bankrupt ideologically! A new crop of sincere political leaders with a global vision and knowledge emerged under the banner of multiple political parties. These leaders didn’t feel entitled like those before them. Even when they disagreed with each other, they treated each other with civility and respect. They planned for the future with new technologies in mind and developed an economy that benefited everybody, not just a few. Unlike before, they didn’t take pride in a 7% annual growth rate, while the poor suffered and the environment rotted.”

“Mom, Mymensingh looks very nice from above. Why did they choose it to be the new capital?

“The area comprises the old alluvium of the Gangetic delta. The area is above flood level, somewhat centrally located, and not too far away from the lost capital of Dhaka. Besides, having the ghost of Dhaka around was helpful. Dhaka’s ruins served as a constant reminder to the new leaders of the pitfalls of reckless politics, greed, and selfishness.”

“Aha! Now I understand! The new leaders of the country were really smart to keep the lost city nearby, as a reminder of a wrongful past!”

Samayeen didn’t even notice that the jumbo air shuttle had quietly docked at the terminal. It had taken a full 3 hours and 44 minutes to fly from Boston to Mymensingh! He was exhausted and wished that someday soon this journey would take less than an hour!

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Adnan Morshed is associate professor of architecture, architectural history and theory, and sustainable urbanism at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC.

32 Responses to “Dhaka 2044”

  1. Tashmeem

    That’s a very good story.. really an eye opener.. Thank you Professor Adnan!!

  2. Ar.Zakera Matin

    Adnan Bhai,
    Really liked reading it. As if I was watching a movie.

    Zakera
    BUET
    Batch 89

  3. mustapha saha niwaz ali

    Adnan,
    A good piece of writing, wish the future was as rosy and futuristic as you paint 2044. We however need to watch out for that Kyamat that lurks in our present future in 2011.

    Niwaz

  4. Tanvir

    This brilliant piece of writing, fact and fiction combined, should be published in all the dailies (Bengali & English) in Bangladesh.

    Please send a copy to Joy and Putul so that they can put some sense in their mother’s brain. They seem to have done well with ‘Digital Bangladesh’ and ‘Autism’. Why can’t they influence their near and dear ones to think sense?

    Let us not wait till 2044. Let us do what we can instead of remaining as 16 million worthless victims.

  5. Md Nazmus Shakib

    Really an eye opener. But like always we will hear what the writer has to say, then perhaps discuss this issue in some late night talk shows and then go to sleep and forget about it the next morning.

  6. Abu Munshi Khalekuddin

    There is a reason for everything including why Dhaka is the way it is (as someone I know put it) — it’s the largest open air prison. To put it bluntly — people are fed poison through the diet that they intake, to darken skin tone, to give it an oily skin, to play with the physical body appearance and the like. Maybe that’s from where the westerners coined the phrase ‘you dirty Indian’ i.e. we stink!

    Let’s look at Bangkok, only an hour and a half away by air….there is no comparison. Thus the author’s story makes for a good fantasy, reality is something else.

  7. Mohammed Yousuf Biswas

    Interesting backdrop for the story, but most importantly I find it significant because it attempts to and in my opinion quite successfully puts a human face on the looming and inevitable tragedy, skilfully weaving between facts and fiction.

    The scale and magnitude of the problem is such that individual and isolated efforts in the field may not be so effective and instead may warrant for a comprehensive policy implementation with regulatory enforcements by the government.

    In view of the continuing disregard and disinterest by the government and city administrators towards the dire scientific predictions and warnings of experts, it is perhaps more important now to try raise awareness of the people who can then be the force for changing the political will to act on it.

    The people of the arts and intellect should manifest their feelings in all forms of expression and the media should be relentless in following up on them until the government and city administrators pay attention and address the needs and concerns of today and of future generations.

    This story in my opinion significantly contributes to the cause.

  8. Inan

    Fortunately, most predictions fail as history shows us.

    Don’t worry everything will perish one day! Peace is a mental state, not political, scientific, geographical or historical.

  9. Sardar Masud Karim

    The problem with us people is not that we don’t know what awaits us in 2044 if we decide not to take care of the scary condition that continues to exist in Dhaka, it’s that there are too few people who are willing to challenge the present system and those who are in charge.

  10. Saif Haque

    The blame game has to end. We all have to do our bit and it is still possible to work out a better future for Dhaka and all other cities of Bangladesh.

    Instead of abandoning Dhaka, we must own it and work out in a concerted manner to make it a liveable city.

  11. Murad

    Dear Mr. Adnan, a thought provoking article. I only wish that the people in the say of things read this to come to their senses and amend their ways sooner than later.

    Well done. Regards.

  12. rupen

    If our leaders like Hasina and Khaleda continue to carry on with their dirty politics, Bangladesh will still remain in the gutter even if it is the year 2044.

  13. Emon

    Dear Adnan, thanks for your well-written article. It actually breaks my heart and puts me in tears to think of the fate of Dhaka, the city where I was born and brought up.

    Not only the politicians but all of us, the city dwellers, are collectively responsible for the horrible Dhaka that has become. I think we all brutally beating, raping and slowly but surely killing our Dhaka city.

  14. PB

    Well written!

    PS: Just curious but is Prof. Cooper somehow related to Sheldon Lee Cooper? 😛

  15. Sultan

    Very interesting and practical forecast on unplanned urban growth, and the price to pay for disregard of law. I hope that the ruling and opposition elites will view this writing with some sense of urgency and take steps to stop vindictive politics and practice the oath of office of doing “good” for the country and the nation!

    Thanks, Dr. Morshed, for presenting such an article with reference to tragic death of Tareque/Mishuk! I also believe in the promise of a better future — Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are examples of successful densely populated urban city-states that enjoy high quality of life. Regards.

  16. Arshad Mahmud

    Dear Adnan,
    Very interesting piece. Having known the top politicians for decades, I don’t think they’ll read your article.

    Brilliant story-telling with the doomsday scenario. But must thank you for the heart lifting future scenario. Hope our future generation will find your encouraging portrayal come true. That said, I also think we should also blame ourselves for not doing our part to fix the situation.

  17. sujaul

    Thanks. It’s another chilling reminder of the ominous future of our collective failure to look at things from a collective perspective.

    We must act.

  18. sujit

    This is a very disturbing picture that the writer has anticipated. I myself believe that there will be a catastrophe like may be an earthquake, about a million people will die and several millions of people will be physically affected.

    Before such incident actually occurs, the political parties need to come to their senses, start behaving democratically and take action.

  19. Fuad

    Adnan Morshed wrote an interesting piece. I guess he is of Bangladeshi origin, if so, what has he done or plans to do with his relevant education, etc. to save Dhaka?

    We are all good advisors or thinkers at the end of the day.

    • sujaul

      You are entitled to your opinion! I find your remark quite challenging. I do not know why you are assuming that the author does not have work plans.

      By the way, people-friendly urbanism is a rare phenomenon indeed in the world: very few cities are built properly without the collective efforts of its conscientious citizens. In an orphaned, problem-ridden city like ours, the first step is understanding the problem which in turn is a phenomenon which can only start to gain traction when observant minds articulate their ideas in the media.

  20. Robi Sikder

    This is a nice piece of warning to all those irresponsible political leaders.

    Bravo. Nice work!

  21. Prince

    The author wrote a very genuine and practical piece. Thank you.

    I also think that we need to get rid of our worthless politicians. Everyone claims that Dhaka is a mega city because of its booming population, not because it has facilities that mega cities should have.

    No matter what we need to prosper and become a leading nation in South Asia. And for that to happen we need to turn our capital city into an actual mega city, control the population, upgrade infrastructure throughout the country and stabilise the political condition apart from many other things.

    • Ali

      Yes, I fully agree with you. Good article, nicely written — a hidden message in the form of a WARNING for our beloved Dhaka and albeit the country.

      What are we going to do with such a LARGE population? Any plans? This small piece of landmass CANNOT take any more! No wonder we are at the bottom rung, globally, of almost any comparisons made so far. In fact our quality of life is deteriorating by the day.

      Is there any honest soul ready to serve the motherland, please raise your hand! Please remember, you should not be allowed to serve more than two terms, no matter how good you are. Legislation should be made for others with CAPABILITY to get a chance to serve. The future is HERE, and we must start today!

  22. Anwar Iqbal

    Dear Adnan,
    What a wonderful portrayal of our future! With our careless disregard to the environment combined with the government sponsored lawlessness, the “self destruct” button has been pushed several years ago.

    Majority of the Bangladeshis have designed and constructed the welcoming ceremony of the ultimate doom. Some of us are merely helpless, innocent bystanders. But, be assured, the future generation would not forgive us for our own spinelessness. The presentation of the doomsday scenario may come as disappointing to many, but isn’t it the absolute truth!

    Nevertheless, the hint of a possible survival through a new breed of sensitive leaders is encouraging and priceless. Thanks for making it entertaining by interjecting characters like Professor Cooper and her brilliant son with a Bangladesh connection. (I loved the idea of a future where we can travel from USA to our motherland in three and a half hour)

  23. Dipu

    Intriguing indeed! A balanced dose of sarcasm and optimism, but the people who need to understand this, do they ever read these pieces or have any clue of the situation?

    Perhaps the “… new crop of sincere political leaders with a global vision and knowledge” will be inspired and be ‘emerged under the banner of multiple political parties’ sooner and the historians would not have to research so hard why a vibrant city if 15milion perished…

  24. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    A journey to the future indeed while keeping the feet are on the ‘ground’!

    Wonderful reading material, Dr. Adnan. Can’t agree more on the Decay and GREED that have pervaded us all.

    The characters are very well drawn and depicted to make the story of the Coopers so lively and ‘realistic’.

    We are too thick-skinned to pay any attention, learn and take any meaningful measure. So, alas, it is again one more write-up to be discarded to the recycle bin by our lawmakers!

    No sycophants can leave early, no matter what the reason is. The number of them cannot be reduced.

    Seems like some degree of satire can finally come handy.

  25. Tasnuva

    Initially I thought, I would be able to write something to praise the topic, writing skill, about the reality and many more… instead, I got scared!! It’s so realistic…

    Thanks for sharing.

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