To live or not to live in Dhaka? That is the question
It goes like this… “tumi Dhaka jachcho?????” with an incredulous expression and tone, when I mention that I plan to visit. And then, the times I state I am travelling elsewhere, the accusatory “tumi Dhaka jachchona???”
(Uff, I never get it right do I? When I ought and ought not to be visiting Dhaka, and I invariably end up offending someone or the other’s sensibilities)
And then there is the barrage of questions, “When are you moving back to Dhaka?” “Are you really going to live in Dhaka?” “Why will you move to Dhaka?” “How will you live in Dhaka?” The interrogations about my plans to resume being a (part-time) Dhakaite continue.
Ok, ok, I plead guilty to being the chief instigator of such curiosity, as I am always rather vague about future plans. But I have spent the greater part of my nearly 47 years in Dhaka, and therefore I find the whys and the hows rather puzzling.
Is it because “life is better” where I am? Better for whom and in what way? Better for how long and by how much? Or is it because of my humorous and sarcastic posts, comments, and articles about social interactions with Dhakaites? Are inferences made from what I write and say, and assumptions and conclusions drawn about what I ‘really’ mean?
Anyways, to live or not to live in Dhaka? That is the question. The Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index 2018 ranked Dhaka the second least liveable city in the world (with poor scores in healthcare and infrastructure) - a notch above Damascus in war-torn Syria. Huh? What was the most liveable city? Vienna. No thank you.
When I read this, I immediately thought of the many conversations I have had with fellow NRBs about certain limitations of living in Dhaka. Could we have spent the same amount of time discussing Vienna? Or with the same fervour?
I thought too about the various opinions that are expressed about life in Dhaka and how those sentiments would translate into reactions to this classification.
Some would be outraged; some would call this categorising rubbish and state they would rather live there than be second class citizens elsewhere; some would bemoan their helplessness at being unable to migrate to greener liveable pastures; some would feel relieved that they have managed to procure bideshi papers to leave should the need arise; some would quietly wonder whether the time had come for them to consider living elsewhere; some would be proactive about making Dhaka more liveable; and some would carry on as usual.
I believe life and liveability are subjective experiences, and therefore as relevant or as realistic as such a ranking might be, it does not reflect the nuances of the (un-)liveability of Dhaka.
Yes, the healthcare might not be the best, but there are dozens of relatives and friends who would call, visit, send food and offer to stay with me in hospital should I fall ill.
Yes, the infrastructure might be lacking, but that in no way hampers my connectivity to everyone there.
Yes, the education might not be at par with that of more developed nations, but I still have the friends I made at preschool over four decades ago and they come see me when I am there.
Yes, the culture and environment may not be A-star, but the affectionate invites and the home cooked daal, bhaat, shutki, and bhorta followed by soul-baring adda sessions are non-parallel.
Yes, there may not be continuous stability, but what would we talk about if there was?
It is ironic that what makes Dhaka less liveable to researchers of the Intelligence Unit is the sheer number of people that are living there. If it was indeed literally unliveable then the population would be in decline, na?
What makes Dhaka liveable to me is its residents, and all the love, warmth, generosity, care, and time they envelope me with.
Dhaka is Dhaka, and its liveability cannot be reduced to, or by, numbers and rankings. It is undoubtedly a challenging place to live in, but Vienna was too at a certain point in time.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.