A history of Road 32, Dhanmondi
Over a thousand years, the Ganges Delta of Bangladesh was a haven and a heaven for pirates and marauders. Bengal almost never had a son of the soil as its ruler. Neither the Palas (750-1095 AD) nor the Senas (1095-1202 AD) from Karnataka of South India were Bengalis. For a period of five and a half centuries (1202-1757) Bengal was ruled by the dynasties of Turks, Afghans, Moguls, and Persians.
The British snatched it from Nawab Sirajuddowla, the last Persian ruler, and colonized it for 190 years till 1947 when Bengal was partitioned for the first time in history. Finally, the Pakistanis ruthlessly reigned over the eastern part (now Bangladesh) for 24 years (1947-1971). They not only sucked the juice out of this orange but also devoured its peel.
A few events of recent history show how the non-Bengali rulers played with the fate of Bengal and exploited it. A foster-brother of Aurangzeb, the last of the six great Moguls, Nawab Bahadur Khan remained subedar (governor) of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa only for about a year when he expelled Charnock, the governor of English traders from Bengal. In 1689 he kept quite a number of English prisoners under custody in the Lalbagh Fort of Dhaka.
His successor Nawab Ibrahim Khan II, a Persian, lacked military initiative and set the English prisoners free. He invited Job Charnock back from Madras (now Tamil Nadu) and requested him to resume their free trade on payment of a fixed trade tax of 3,000 rupees per year.
The nawab started building a township amidst a group of three small villages, namely Kolikata, Sutanoty, and Gobindopur on the River Hooghly. This is the spot around which the modern city of Kolkata emerged. Aurangzeb sent a revenue expert, Kartaleb Khan, as dewan (finance minister) of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. His original name was Muhammad Hadi. He was the son of a poor South Indian Brahmin from whom a merchant named Haji Shah Ispahany purchased and converted him to Islam, and educated him at Ispahan in Iran.
In 1697, Aurangzeb appointed Mirza Azimush-Shan as his viceroy of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. But, they fell out with each other. In 1703, Aurangzeb sent Azimush-Shan to Patna, Bihar, and Kartaleb Khan to Muqsusabad, named after a merchant, Mukhsus Khan. But the capital still remained in Dhaka.
Why Bengal only?
Aurangzeb’s army was in arrears for nearly three years as a result of his Deccan campaign. At that stage, a regular flow of more than a crore (10,000,000) rupees every year from the revenues of Bengal from the new Dewan appeared to him as having been “heaven-sent.”
In recognition of his “meritorious service,” the emperor invested him with the title of Murshid Quli Khan and directed him to change the name of his headquarters Muqsusabad into Murshidabad. Why take money from Bengal only? Why not from other provinces of the vast Mogul Empire?
After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, Emperor Furrukhsiyar made him the governor and shifted the capital from Dhaka to Murshidabad in 1714. Only a couple of hundred years ago, the most fertile land in the world met one-third of Europe’s textile requirement. The second biggest city of Iraq, Mosul, was named after Muslin, the patent product of Dhaka, which had such value that it was kept in storage as treasure like gold and jewels throughout Europe and Central Asia.
According to Karl Marx, the British who succeeded the Persians transformed the whole character of trade in the region. From the world’s leading exporter of textiles after 1813, Bengal became an importer of textiles. As a consequence, in rapid succession by 1823 the rate of exchange which had been two pounds six per rupee sank to two pounds per rupee. But this was not all.
The population of Dhaka city decreased due to de-urbanization, as its textile industry was systematically destroyed. It dwindled from 200,000 in 1800 to 150,000 in 1824, and to 20,000 in 1838.
The birth of a nation
Is there any Bangladeshi who has not heard of Dhanmondi Road number 32 of Dhaka? This is where the birth of a nation took place. Nobody is concerned about the location. Only a few exactly know where it is.
The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman lived at that address until his last day, and created a new country called Bangladesh out of the blue. He gave us an independence and an identity for the first time in history. He made a country as well as a host of enemies who could never forget the loss of this milch cow.
The military rulers of Bangladesh changed the road number of Dhanmondi from 32 to 11A with a view to deleting history from the people’s mind. The writer approached many influential people for restoration of the original road number so that people do not forget its birthplace. But nobody had the time to attend to such petty matters. They had other priorities.
At last, when this was brought to the notice of Ambassador Mohammad Zamir, now a high-ranking member of the ruling party, he took up the matter seriously. Finally, Zamir managed to get its old number as well as glory back by persuading the authorities at the highest level. In this year when we commemorate Sheikh Mujib’s 100th birth anniversary, it is important that we accurately remember the number of that road where he lived and where he died, and where so much of this country’s history took place.
Major M Masud served in the Liberation War in Sector 2 under the command of Brigadier Khaled Musharraf. As a student at Dhaka University, he participated in the historic East Pakistan Awami League Convention at the Hotel Eden on March 19, 1966, and was present at the first public meeting at Paltan Maidan on March 20, 1966 when the “Six Points” were first publicly announced. Masud was also present at the historic Race Course meeting in Dhaka on March 7, 1971 where Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared that if Pakistan refused to accept the results of the elections then Bengalis would be compelled to travel a different road to achieve their democratic rights. In 1978, Mahmudul Masud voluntarily left the Bangladesh Army and joined the civil service of Bangladesh. He retired as an additional secretary in 2008. In 2009 to 2010, he hosted a BTV talk show on security and terrorism. He can be reached on his email at: [email protected]