How can one be proud of one of the least liveable cities in the world?
I have written about this on this platform before. You might know about this if you are a regular here: I have a long struggle with my relationship with my motherland. There is a love and hate relationship between us. Sometimes, I feel that I hate her, but other times, I understand that I love her so much that when I am away from her, my life is not the same.
So when the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Dhaka as the fourth-least liveable city, I was reminded of my troubled relationship with my birthplace-Dhaka. I was thinking about it for the last couple of days. Recently I discovered that I feel good when I share my disturbing thoughts.
Let me first explain a bit about my complex relationship with the city. Like most other Dhaka dwellers, I cannot be proud of it. How can someone be proud of the fourth-least liveable city in the world? Self-loathing, though not very common, is a mental condition some people may experience. However, when I see that most people here do not share my feelings (they are proud instead), I suffer from self-doubt.
The dominant narratives about Dhaka are fascinating. Some believe it will soon transform into a city like Dubai while some believe it is the Paris of the East; some think it is the Los Angeles of the East, and some are a bit more realistic and do not bother to go to Europe or Central Asia but remain in Southeast Asia. To them, Dhaka is the new Kuala Lumpur or Singapore city.
So, when I hear these narratives, I experience self-doubt. Am I normal? Why can’t I be proud of Dhaka like all others? I spend hours after hours thinking about it: How can I be proud of my birthplace?
I have tried many things to make myself proud of this city. Of course, the first is patriotic literature and music. I thought poems, novels, and songs that talk about the love of the motherland might cure me. For a few days, I recited poetry every day. One of them is: Abar Ashibo fire ei dhansiritir tire ei Banglai, written by the great Jibanananda Das. Another is: Emon deshti Kothao khuje pabe nako tumi written by Dwijendralal Ray.
But, they just caused more problems. For example, after a few days, I had questions: Why should someone want to return to a city which is not livable? And I do not have any answers. Moreover, when I recited the second poem for four days, I thought: Yes, this city is unique in the sense that you will never find one as mismanaged as it is. So, instead of curing me, it deteriorates my Dhaka-loathing.
While reading about Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt, I felt that he rediscovered his love for the motherland after he departed from here to England. I thought if I had been away from Dhaka city, I would have been cured of the Dhaka-loathing and would start feeling proud of this city like all others. That was one of the reasons why I left the country in 2018. The moment I crossed the immigration at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, I was reciting Madhusudan’s poem:
Forget me not, O Mother,
Should I fail to return
To thy hallowed bosom.
Make not the lotus of thy memory
Void of its nectar Madhu.
I understood in my recent visit to Dhaka that exposure to other cities has developed a comparison mentality in me, and it has increased my Dhaka-loathing. From the airport to my home, I compared the metropolitan services of my city and other cities I have visited in the last three years. And the comparison has convinced me that Dhaka has a long way to go to be a liveable city.
What relieves me is my realization that my Dhaka-loathing is not going away any time soon; I have to live with it. And I have stopped trying to be proud of the fourth-least liveable city. I understand now that hating the worst waste management system, dirty roads, and inhumane transportation system is not a mental condition.
If we, the Dhaka dwellers, had thought about its problems with a passion similar to how we show passion and pride in the city, we probably wouldn’t be on the least liveable list in the first place.
Mushfique Wadud is a journalist currently pursuing his PhD in journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States.