Namira Hossain finds out how a boatman in Dhaka has survived in the city with his family over the past 35 years, with a smile on his face
Moving through our densely-populated capital, we find much to complain and whine about and we forget how to be grateful. Constantly bombarded by over information on celebrity gossip and news of wars, political strife and natural disasters, we curse our busy, stressful lives on social media while barely looking up from our smartphone screens during conversations with our loved ones. Then we wonder why our lives seem to be lacking any kind of peace and contentment.
Simple. Because as a race, us humans seem to have developed some form of global amnesia that has led us to believe that the pursuit of happiness lies in consumerism. We have forgotten our roots. Here in Bangladesh, our identity crises seems particularly dire – religious fanaticism that has crossed over to intolerance juxtaposed against a power and money hungry society that seems to have modelled itself somewhere between the Stepfords and the Ambanis. We are supposed to be Matir Manush, and yet somehow we have turned into monsters that don’t even bat an eyelid when a young woman gets stripped naked during one of the biggest festivals of the year.
‘It is very peaceful here, I never have any problems or issues. I come everyday, get on my boat, and wait for people to come. It’s simple. If I work, I get money – sometimes Tk 100 a day, sometimes Tk 50 a day. Why would I complain?’ Meet Zafarullah. He is a 55-year-old boatman, who works on Gulshan Lake, having moved to the capital from Patuakhali 35 years ago.
‘I came here, thinking I would get work as a rickshaw-puller. But then I started doing this, and last year I managed to save up enough money to buy myself a small piece of land in the village – it took a very long time, but I did it and I am very happy,’ says Zafar. Zafar works on the lake by Gulshan 1, ferrying passengers from one side to the other as well as people who come to his boat for some peace just to enjoy the sultry evenings on the water. ‘Mostly people want to get to the other side and this is the fastest way, beating the traffic. Sometimes they just come to enjoy the weather and see the sights. I don’t mind. Whatever keeps me and my family from going hungry,’ he shares.
Rowing his boat has provided Zafar with a steady income, however it still has its’ ups and downs. He says, ‘Some days you make more money, some days you make no money. I do not keep my head down on the days that I don’t have any passengers. That is life. What can you do?’ Of course, in such a trade the whims of the weather must be accounted for. ‘During the recent Nor’Westers, water rose up in our house. Everything was flooded. But as we do not have much, not much was ruined, thankfully. We are all alive by the grace of God,’ he says thoughtfully.
Even though the whole face of the city has changed, with new highways being constructed and skyscrapers going up everywhere, not much has changed for 35 years at Gulshan Lake. ‘Nowadays, people don’t want to row boats. They go to classrooms and learn many new things,’ he says.
Surely there is something to be taken away from the simple words of this man. He has perfected the art of acceptance and gratitude, something we could all sorely use to our benefits. He also has a son who also works at a shop and provides the family with money and two girls who are both studying in school each for about Tk 400 per month. When asked about his aspirations for his family, he says simply, ‘I just want them to be happy and have peace in their lives there is nothing more I could ask for.’
Rediscovering Bangladesh through ‘Offroad Bangladesh’
Bangladesh is a land of diversity and freshness. Being a 3000 years old civilisation, the country has over 700 unique wildlife species, more than 100 dialects, cuisine with a fusion of over 50 origins, enormous waterway and wet lands which are just a few of its attractions. Astonishingly, even after possessing uncountable sights for wanderers, Bangladesh is not always the first travel destination for global tourists.
With this in mind, around mid-2013, Offroad Bangladesh (ORB) initiated the first online crowd source based platform with an objective to establish Bangladesh as a prime tourist destination worldwide and to assist people with the biggest bucket of information about Bangladesh.
The ORB team considers it as the perfect web portal for anyone from anywhere in the world, willing to know about the travel and tourism of Bangladesh and get updated about the recent activities. Different kinds of places, culture, festivals, history, archaeology, wildlife, rivers, Religious structures, lifestyle- in a nutshell, the portal is like a window to Bangladesh.
One of the key features of the portal is that anyone can add or rectify any information related to travel and tourism of Bangladesh. It is a virtual community where users or travelers can also spontaneously share their travel related experience and thoughts with everyone.
To achieve this ultimate goal, Offroad Bangladesh has also opened the nonprofit organisation ‘Offroad Bangladesh Club’. The ORB club arranged a seminar at EMK Center, Dhaka on ‘Bangladesh Tourism by private initiatives’. Speakers at the seminar pointed out that Bangladesh lacks positive branding which acts as a major hurdle for the development of the tourism sector in the country.
Visit ORB: www.offroadbangladesh.com