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Dhaka’s dazzling decadence

  • Published at 11:00 pm March 1st, 2020
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Photo: Bigstock

Does Papia’s arrest speak of a decline in our morals?

The story of Papia -- a master swindler who had been living in astonishing opulence -- has become the topic de jour.

With her arrest, another side of the city’s seedy splendour has come out in the open. In one way, the rise of the woman in question is a rags to riches story, though her path towards affluence was laced with things which may stretch the definition of ethics.

But then, the question is: How important are values and ethics in current society? This is not to say that people like Papia are the rule and not the exception, but the fact that she managed to lead a life of comfort and debauchery for so long indicates that immorality does not appear incongruous anymore. 

There are certain amendments needed to our mentality. 

The origin of money

Back in the 70s and 80s, there were less than 1,000 people with Tk1 crore in the bank accounts, and those who were rich could actually show the basis of their social standing. Most had either inherited the money, while others had made it through legitimate commerce. So people actually knew the antecedents of rich people.

The scene changed in the last decade, with many new faces with staggering wealth suddenly appearing at the city’s high-end spots, flaunting money, sporting looks of invincibility.

So, we should not be surprised that Papia had a personal penthouse in a five-star hotel in Dhaka. Maybe many others like her also have such privilege. And if such people have a political identity then questions never arise.

This is so entrenched that even teenagers are eager to earn a political label. That would not have been a problem if they had actually used it to carry out some positive change but unfortunately, most use that identity for personal gain. As Oscar Wilde said: One can pity the poor, but one cannot possibly admire them.

Many of the arrests made recently stunned us because of the amount of cash that was recovered, and that they had risen from humble grounds to the pinnacle of wealth in 10 years and their rise was mostly linked to some shady operation. 

Of course, avidly believing in the saying that money has to be made at all costs, they may never admit that their money making engagements were illegitimate. Do the yaba traders ever feel that they are causing irreparable harm through their trade? The lure of the profit and the enticement of easy money is such that the moral side is simply carved out. 

An easy way to the top

As I said earlier, among all of us there is a hidden desire for Aladdin’s lamp. The irrepressible urge to become rich within a short time is a disease affecting all social layers. This is why casinos are operated, tenders are manipulated and, at the bottom of the pyramid of “quick money schemes,” people gave and give money to brokers and risk their lives at high seas to go overseas. Think about that.

This tendency to get to the top as fast as possible permeates to all levels, affecting even legitimate work environments. In the past, I found it surprising when young people -- fresh out of university, without proper experience -- would come up to me and ask how they would be able to get into a well known multi-national.

Their desire was to get the best job fast and not work their way through to finally earn a place at a renowned organization. And this applies for both boys and girls. Somehow, they have developed this notion that by some way or the other, they have to get into a top notch institute swiftly. Sadly, it never occurs to them that they may not have adequate experience and the skills as yet. 

Reportedly, Papia used to take huge amounts of money from people in her village in Narsingdi with promises of jobs, using her political position and connections. In addition, she exploited naïve women from the villages, pushing them into the upper-class escort business. 

The current campaign by law enforcement is certainly commendable because it shatters the almost unassailable belief that once there is enough money no one has the audacity to ask any questions.

On a different note, after the regular raids at casinos and at homes that yielded stacks of booze, even normal card playing at approved clubs saw a massive decline. So, with the busting of a swindler at a plush hotel, the suites kept by many other hotels in the city will also be given up. 

It’s safe to speculate that Papia’s strength came from her links and since she lived an indulgent life, it’s natural that people in powerful posts also got favours from her. If such a list is revealed then the real patrons of Papia may be exposed.

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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