The field has transformed into a dazzling visual spectacle
I was born and raised in Azimpur, one of the parts of Dhaka that survived the Nawabs of antiquity, and was at the forefront of housing development projects by the government. The neighbouring Lalbagh has similarly benefited from being at the crossroads of being rooted in history, and an early step towards 20th century development.
For many families, Lalbagh, Azimpur, and the neighbouring areas have always been a haven, what with open spaces within colonies for public servants and renowned schools, and plenty of fields, and the bargains of New Market notwithstanding.
During a recent visit to my parents, who still reside in Azimpur, I was taken aback by how much things have changed since my last visit. Dhakeshwari Temple at the Azimpur end of the 20km long Mirpur Road, had overlooked Balur Maath (Sand Field), - the colloquial name for Shahid Abdul Alim Eidgah Field – a dark and dingy clearing of six acres among shabby public housing for cars, rickshaw vans, and trucks to park, for as long as I can recall.
But on this day, the field has transformed into a dazzling visual spectacle. The titular sand had given way to a vista of green, circumferenced by a circular walkway lit with bright LED lights, separate facilities for cricket and football practice, concrete benches for people – where teens sat staring at their phones, the whole field now has full Wi-Fi coverage – and old women huddled in groups, fathers teaching their sons how to ride bicycles, an idyllic scene that seemed surreal to exist in this city, kept hostage by the concrete, and dust of development.
At a corner of the field lies the Orient Sporting Club, which has been providing cricket coaching since 1978. Next to the club premises, a two-storied building houses a gym, a library, and a restaurant.
The entire facility has been brought under CCTV surveillance to ensure security, and has a 5,000-ton water reservoir underneath to meet its water demand.
Anmol, a 13-year-old local resident shared his sentiments regarding the field.
“I come here every day with my younger brother. This place was closed for almost two years. It feels good to come here,” said Anmol.
The Shahid Abdul Alim Eidgah Field fully opened to the public on Saturday. Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon formally inaugurated the field.
Md Harunur Rashid, a member of the Orient Sporting Club, said the renovation not only changed the looks, but also impacted the neighbourhood.
“This renovation has changed a lot. I can see only good transformations have taken over – local women of different ages are coming out for walks here since the opening. This is incredibly beneficial for the elderly, and the children. We see groups of friends, and whole families come out to visit regularly.”
He said a 20-member committee was formed with local residents, and chaired by the local councillor to maintain the field.
Rasulbagh Shishu Park Playground
The Rasulbag Shishu Park playground is just 20 minutes away by foot from the Shahid Abdul Alim Eidgah playground in Lalbagh. It too underwent the same metamorphosis as the aforementioned Balur Maath.
My memories of the place are of drug abusers, a persistent stay-away vibe that was shared by almost every local resident.
Ifty, a college student living nearby, said: “I used to spend all my free time up in my room. Going out and taking a walk in this field was inconceivable at the time. We still cannot go in as the construction work is still going on, but with the new changes, things are going to be so much better.”
What is behind the transformations?
Both fields were established under the Jol-Sobujer Dhaka Project by the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC).
During the inauguration of Shahid Abdul Alim Eidgah Field, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said: “The Jol-Sobujer Dhaka Project was undertaken to remove illegal establishments from Dhaka's parks and fields. This field has been renovated with international standards today, and soon more parks and fields will follow up on renovation.”
Councillor of Ward 26 Hasibur Rahman Manik, who also chairs the committee for looking after the fields, said renovating the two fields cost around Tk8 crore.
He emphasized on the impact of the fields on locals, saying: “These playgrounds also change the look of the neighbourhood. Now, people of all ages can come, and enjoy themselves here. I do believe it made the residents very happy, just ask anyone."
"For maintenance, we need around two lakh taka every month for each playground. Under the committee the maintenance will be followed. This is their asset, and all of us have to take care of it However, we are expecting the fund will come from DSCC. At the same time, some money will be raised by renting out the space to the restaurant, and gym subscriptions,” he added.
Chaos at inaugural program
Meanwhile, there was a bit of chaos in the playground during its inauguration yesterday as the lawmaker of Dhaka-7 constituency Haji Md Salim got angry to the organisers because his photos and name were not mentioned in the LED screen installed at the venue.
The lawmaker allegedly threw away the sound microphone from stage, and disconnected some electric connections.
Blaming local councilor of ward-26 Hasibur Rahman Manik, followers of local lawmaker also assaulted Manik at the venue. Both the followers of Haji Selim and Manik also chanted slogans against each other.
Later, a follower of Haji Selim announced to close the event citing the negligence in honouring the lawmaker, but it was re-announced to continue the event after Mayor Sayeed Khokon spoke to the lawmaker.
Later, police were deployed at the scene while situation got normal after the mayor came to the venue.