A slightly nippy breeze flowed in over the green canopies, as she opened the window, to let in some warm winter sunlight. She smiled as the sun kissed her cheeks, before flooding into her room. Her gaze followed the line of the parrots taking off from their nests into the thick winter fog hanging over the rice fields. She could make out the silhouettes of farmers heading off to work, their straight shoulders challenging the cold. She could feel their hearts low in worry, for they not knew how their fields had stood up against the monotonous rain, which had drenched every fold of the town in the last two days. She silently sent up a small prayer of thanks, ignoring how the eastern fraction of her apartment courtyard had befallen victim to the shadow of Nilima housing. One must consider oneself blessed, to still be able to enjoy nature in this small town, where six storey apartments were the new urban trend.
A quick glimpse at the clock in the hallway showed her to be an hour early of office time. A little excitement bubbled up inside her, at the thought of managing a detour to the river edge under the banyan, before heading off to the gallery. She chose to wear the burgundy shawl, with a threadwork that depicted characters from the folk songs of Mymensingh. Today was a big day. A year into playing referee between globalization and the fading culture of Mymensingh had proved worthwhile. She did be hosting her second “folk art and craft exhibition,” with praiseworthy support from the youth of this town, promoting the inherent tribal culture of Mymensingh, rapidly being suppressed by modernization.
Starting down the red oxidized cement stairs to the “uthan”, she loved how the hog plum and pomelo trees, bent with the weight of their children, lined the western periphery of the courtyard. Their reflections dancing in motion to the respiratory bubbles reaching the surface of the pond. Following the brick laid pathway, she skipped over a puddle and two. She was wearing her flip flops today, so the pot holes ahead did not dampen her mood. The “kolayanshomity” readily forgot its promise of tending to the needs of Jamtola Masjid- by-Lane” till date, when their proposal of a multi storey mall, over the play fields next to the national academy for primary education, to house “social activities”, were promptly rejected by us residents.
She could hear Joyonto tinkle away on his bicycle, as a shabby cat purred on the sunshade of Manikbari. As water gushed into the open sewers, she looked up to catch a glimpse of Rehnuma letting the laundry out to dry. She waved to get the attention of kaka, and mounted the three-wheeler with daily ease. They crossed past a street vendor, as he heaved a basket of fresh ripe bananas onto his head, and was on foot for his daily chore. All else was quite, as her rickshaw rattled onwards through the bucolic setting of Cantonment Road. In a distance, a few ducks feasted on the micro life, amongst the decaying leaves that dappled the ditches, alongside the road.
Kaka shooed at a mother goat, which blocked their way near AMC Mosque. She had been happily munching away on the plants that demarked Nijammudin Mia’s residence apart from Ram Chondro’s. There was not a worry, as a squabble between the neighbors on this subject was never to rise, for in this small town the two religions dwelled in peace. Snug amongst the concrete built, tin shed houses encircled around small courtyards, lined with dung sticks let out to dry. Once dried, these would prove to be an efficient source of energy to the small cooking fires that light these neighborhoods, like fireflies from a distance, each morning and evening. Sparrows chirped playfully as they hopped about the bottle gourd veins that covered the eroding rooftops of these small households.
The urban fabric around her was quickly changing now, as kaka took her further into the town. The streets were beginning to be bounded more in concrete built square feet. One would get sudden surprises when crossing an empty plot dotted with sleek trees, or when one came across an old one storey house, around its courtyard of mix use. The streetscape was now decked with black rubber cables, connecting concrete electrical poles that boldly stood in front of almost every child’s window. But what took to her heart, was how each house with its personalized architecture, had verandahs, which had a story of its own to share. In contradiction, the fact of how the built characters of one house, highly influenced those adjacent to it irritated her, unless ofcourse someone took a to a different initiative and borrowed from buildings a few streets away. The thought of a hundred opportunities, that could be explored for each of these houses, capped with a water tank and its deserted rooftops, made her insides a bit more uncomfortable, causing a small sigh to escape.
They moved on, she asked kaka to stop by for a few minutes in front of Dutch Bangla Bank ATM, after crossing Nayanmonimarket place. They had managed to move comfortably through till here, as shops along the street were yet to open. In a while now, the shutters would be up, with careless shopkeepers occupying the foot paths to display commodities on sale. No valid thought of causing traffic congestion would budge temporary vendors off the driveways. The rickshaw pullers would go haywire, deaf to the droning sound of motor vehicles and their honks, cursing ever more and more as the day went by, making every town dweller in this part long for a homely quite spot in their town. She paused to look around; getting comfortable with security was a common mistake she did not tend to make.
To her left, some young lads were chatting away over steaming cups of malai cha, on the wooden benches of the Rahims Tong, by side to Hotel Al- Shanin. An elderly man bargained with a young vegetable vendor, whose fully loaded cart gave way to the understanding that unloading of fresh stock at Teri Bazaar Ghat had been underway long since, and those that were not for Boro Bazaar were on their way around this town and to the city. The date trees ruffled in the breeze, each adorned with mud pots, collecting date juice. These would soon initiate the impish deeds in the innocent, trying to steal away the sweet drink, while elders saved them up for the rice pudding fest. To her right, a few cows were being herded past one street into another.
She took only a few minutes to step in and out through the frosted glass doors of the booth, and was on way through Zilla School Road. Established by the British Raj in 1853, this school was witness to events she had only heard in stories. It is believed to have housed the British army, during World War II and the Bangladeshi Bidrohi students, during the liberation war in 1971. Set beside a beautiful dighi, with dominant British colonial architectural style, the school is landscaped with walkways lined in lush green. An open drainage around each structure channels away rain water. Fields not played on give space to the micro ecosystems, while they eavesdrop on adolescent boys pouring out their mischievous secrets to each other.
She relieved kaka of his tedious obligation at BornomalaChottor, planning to continue through the unruffled setting of a residential area along Shema Choron Rai Road by foot. Part of this residential streetscape consisted of a cluster of small villas, which were not trampled on by urbanization yet. Having shifted to the cities, the owners of these wonderful abodes, which pulled at the heart strings of an urban resident, did not reside here anymore. The houses were mostly two to three storeys, with wooden swing windows, shaded and opening out to front courtyards dressed in flowering trees. The sweet smell from hibiscus clusters hosted to a get-together of bees. Balconies were dotted in bird houses, packed with pigeons looked after by Nuruddin kaka.
She took through Orchid Road, wanting to avoid the unsightliness and hustle bustle of tuktuks and CNG three wheelers at Ram Babu Road Mor. There a view through the jungle of insulated cables would give way to the tragic scenery of a catalogue of signage. They lined every building facade, hanging from windows and verandahs, uncaringly leaving no space for ventilation to the mechanically lit interiors. Cacophonous chaos would inhabit this road in a while, deafening the policeman, who stood on a central two foot raised plinth, and tried in vain to guide these impatient souls through safely.
The air was filled in the melodious laughter and giggles of small children, in navy blue uniforms, carrying their overloaded school bags, crossing over a dried up ditch. They cautiously balanced, as their feet sunk into the mud, groping onto the leftover bamboo, poking out from the slippery bed. This had once made a beautiful shakho.
The right adjacent road lead to Women Teachers Training College, previously named the Shashi Lodge, by name of Maharajah Sashikanta Acharya Chaudhury. This residential palace, with its lavishly ornamented buildings, is soundly secured behind an intact wrought iron gateway and a lengthy, well decorated wall. The chaperoned garden only helps one imagine the horse drawn carriages and even Rolls Royce motors that undoubtedly rolled around the once fine fountain sculpture in the approach. Lying behind the Rajbari, a two storey bath house with wooden beams and a grand staircase, had once framed the river edge in awe striking 16th century architecture, but now stands beside a walled pond shrouded in trees.
Looking almost north from Kachari Road Mor, her vision to the river edge was blocked by the road turning left to meet Abdul Mansoor Road. She crossed the park surrounding HimurAdda. Having a wonderful open space merging into a conscious river edge, this place is enjoyed by the town dwellers during many long evenings. Small concrete benches, surrounded in a play of light coming in through the foliage above, scattered along the unpaved edge, which rolled out into The Bramhaputra.
Taking a turn onto the road leading to the red brick building of the Teacher Training College for Men, she was reminded why Mymensingh was known as a “city of education.” There is an institute in almost every street of this small town. She set foot onto the road adjacent to the Circuit House Field. This 90’s architecture painted in red had now adapted to the use of an officer’s club. The field, hosting to a choice of occasions, from school sports days to national and religious festivals, leads towards the river edge, its flow only disturbed by a delightful experience of a pedestrian walk lined in knights of green canopies.
She followed the brick laid river edge road, past a flotilla of sleeping boats docked onto an eroding edge, past the man covered in a tattered shawl holding his fishing rod with admirable patience, to a long band of landscape covered in Kans grass. The white, amongst the fresh green, gleamed as they danced to the breeze in the morning sun. She smiled. Two yellow butterflies flew out of her banyan. She sat down, not minding as dew soaked into her garments. A patchwork of colored boat sails was up. The fishermen were on their way back from the morning catch.
[ The article is inspired from “Invisible cities” by Italo Calvino.” It narrates the walk of the author, impersonating the persona of a museum curator, along the alleys of her town. ]
About the Author:
Farasha Zaman is an architect graduated from BRAC University.
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