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The conquest of Jatrabari parks

  • Published at 01:18 am December 30th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:24 am December 30th, 2017
The conquest of Jatrabari parks
Dust, vehicles honking, and vendors engulfing the footpath, are what keep Jatrabari Chowrasta alive round-the-clock. One of the busiest intersections in the city, it is a popular hub for hawkers to pursue business, and for rickshaw-pullers to catch passengers. They occupy almost half an entire road beneath the Jatrabari Flyover. The road was once a part of Jatrabari Park and the only place in the area where someone could go for walks and children could play. Now, the park has become a small patch of land, clogged with water, waste, and sand. The lone open park of Jatrabari-Sayedabad area has a worn iron boundary, two entrances without gates, a public toilet, and an office of the Jatrabari chapter of Awami League’s Dhaka South unit. At night, it transforms into parking space for hundreds of vans, food carts, wooden counters and many others. Every morning, these things are hauled out to the street to sell food, fruits, mobile phone recharge cards and various other things outside the park.
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“In the dry season, we play cricket in a corner,” said Saad Mohammad, an eighth grader. He often visits the park with six other friends for a “short pitch” cricket match. “The rule is not to hit the ball hard as it goes straight into street over the boundary. It is quite a risk,” he said. Saad’s other friends never join them as their parents strongly disapprove of it. “That is a dirty place. There is no grass, only mud, bricks, nails, and wire scattered haphazardly on the ground. People could get hurt,” said Rakib, another teenager. An elderly man was seen repairing a rickshaw van in a corner, with some six food carts and other vans waiting their turn to be worked upon. A hawker was shouting for customers inside the park. A group of three youths were chatting nearby.
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“There was knee-deep water here even a few weeks back. No one could come here,” said Misbar Rahman, a former student of Jagannath University, who was born and raised in the neighborhood. He saw some playing equipment like rocking cradles and slides which are now unusable. “Sometimes the police will drive out all the hawkers and not let them back in for weeks. All of their carts, vans are then left in the park, leaving no space, not even for a walk,” he said. Locals said, the Uttor Jatrabari Park, beside the Shaheed Zia Girl’s School and College, was once a pond which was filled up in the 80’s. There was greenery which have also vanished. Sometimes, the bare open space is used for programs and local gatherings. “Where are people supposed to go for a walk then?” Rowshon Ara, a mother of two kids, asked. She remembered visiting Wonderland Park at Swamibagh in Sayedabad with her family earlier this year. “That is the place kids love to go,” she said.
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Around 3pm on a Monday afternoon, Wonderland Park was surprisingly empty. None of the electrical rides were moving. A number of couples seemed to have settled down to cuddle. Park cashier Rafiqul Islam said they used to sell an average of 50-60 tickets per day, which has now gone down to almost zero. “Children have exams ahead. They will come in numbers in December and January. Business in other months is dull except the weekends,” he said. The park has six rides for adults and 14 for children. “Not all of the rides are functional. We have around-the-year maintenance,” he added. The entry fee is Tk50 for adults and Tk30 for children. “It is often difficult to pay the 30-member staff with such poor turnover.” The population of Jatrabari area is 450,000 according to a 2011 population census. The area has more than 16,000 senior citizens. The Dhupkhola Playground in Gendaria, however, sees a huge number of visitors almost every day especially young people from adjacent areas gathering in groups to play cricket and football. Groups of elderly people can also be seen taking their morning and evening walks and doing exercise.
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The Dhupkhola Playground is divided into three parts. One of the parts belongs to the East End Club; one part belongs to the Jagannath University, which has a physical education centre there; the rest is for the general public. Now, almost all the ground is used by the general public. The field was used to store construction material for the Mayor Mohammad Hanif Flyover since 2010. The surface became rough, the grass vanished due to construction rubble. The condition of the public field could not be any worse. During a recent visit, a number of parked rickshaws, human haulers, and microbuses were seen in the playground without a gate. There were three shops and several offices inside the playground. The gallery also appeared to be in need of dire maintenance. “If the rubble was removed and the potholes filled up, this could be a pretty decent place,” said Moniruzzaman, a local resident. Locals also alleged that after sunset, shady people flock to the park, discouraging general people from even considering a visit.
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