Dhaka Diary: Marwaris in Bangladesh get ready to celebrate Diwali

Several hundred Marwari families in Bangladesh continue to thrive in business and trade. And Diwali is an annual festival when Marwaris from across the country gather in Dhaka

Dhaka traffic (social media)
Dhaka traffic (social media)

Prakash Bhandari

Dhaka’s traffic jams

Bangladesh is an emerging economy and is growing faster than both India and Pakistan. Agriculture and export of garments have been the drivers. Dhaka, which was once the cultural and educational hub of the East is now a crowded city, where one frequently gets stranded in traffic jams. At peak hours it often takes one and a half hours to cover a four-kilometre stretch. Used Japanese cars have mushroomed and have driven out Marutis and other Indian brands that were once used by the Bangladeshis. However, Tatas, Eicher and Ashok Leyland buses and transport vehicles are still plying, but they are likely to replaced soon by Volvos and Escanias.

Traffic jams are such a big problem of the city that even the movement of the Prime Minister is restricted.

Dhaka is going for a Metro train and soon Dhaka will have the services on some routes. The National Economic Council of Bangladesh has cleared a proposal for two more metro rail projects involving Tk 93,800 crore.

Bangladesh has a medieval train system that requires transformation and the Indian Railways company IRCON is helping Bangladesh with its rail development projects. But according to an IRCON official, in a country like Bangladesh, there is a river or a pond or a lake every five kilometres. Thus building bridges over them would be necessary to make it feasible. But the cost is prohibitive.

Bangladeshi Marwaris

The 1965 Indo-Pak conflict and then the liberation war of 1971 witnessed large scale exodus of people including Marwaris and now an estimated five hundred Marwari families are said to be left in Bangladesh. Yet, in Dhaka Marwaris have set up an organisation called Bangladesh Marwari Society that runs two guesthouses and offers vegetarian Rajasthani delicacies. A large number of Indian businessmen prefer staying at the Marwari Society’s guest houses in Paltan Bazar.

Binod Sikaria, the secretary of the Society runs the show efficiently. The old guards among the Marwaris like Deoki Nandan Kejariwal and GirdharI Lal Modi are the guiding spirit of the Marwari Society that organises religious discourses which are attended by Marwaris from various parts of Bangladesh. Society has planned a big bash for the Diwali festival and about 500 persons would attend it. Girdhari Lal Modi’s Uttara Group is a leading corporate group in Bangladesh and they support such shows.

The Marwaris made their mark in business and industry in undivided Bengal. A large number of them spread in various parts of present Bangladesh opted to shift to other parts of West Bengal after the partition and the creation of East Pakistan, but many of them continued to live in Bangladesh, spread across Dhaka, Mymensingh, Khulna, Kusthia, Dinajpur, Barisal, Rajshahi and the interiors. They have thrived as traders in jute, rice, sugarcane, shipping and retailing. The Marwaris in various towns and cities of Bangladesh opened their shops in areas that are still called Marwari Pattis.

Sachin Dev Burman

People in Bangladesh are keeping the memory of the legendary music director and singer Sachin Dev Burman alive. He was born in Comilla in 1906. His father Nabadwipchandra Dev Burman belonged to the Tripura royal family but was sent to Comilla which was part of the kingdom of Tripura then. Sachin Da graduated from Comilla and then he went to first Calcutta and then Bombay in 1940 along with his wife Raj Kumari Nirmala Devi, who was a princess from Manipur.

But his visits to his native Comilla were few after he left and his ancestral house which is in a dilapidated condition suffered because of lack of care. This house after the death of his father saw the domestic help and caretakers take it over. The Bangladesh government has now decided to turn this house into a national monument as a tribute to its son. This will be among a dozen other properties that would be restored. His 114th birth anniversary was celebrated with younger singers singing his numbers and also numbers from his films like Guide, Bandini, Tere Ghar Ke Samne and Prem Pujari.

Iconic musician Sachin Dev Burman’s ancestral house in Dhaka
Iconic musician Sachin Dev Burman’s ancestral house in Dhaka

Onion’s tears

The ban on export by India of onions hit Bangladeshis hard. Prices shot up in the vegetable market and there was a lot of hue and cry over onions. So much so that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her visit to Delhi raised the issue of onion export. PM Modi promptly lifted the ban of export to Bangladesh. But yet prices of onion has not come down in Bangladesh. For Bengalis, whose staple diet is rice and fish, onion is a key ingredient for cooking fish.

According to a local trader, Kamrul Miya of Mohakhali, Bangladeshi onions are better and tastier than Indian onions. But because of low production of onion in Bangladesh, Indian onions sell more. Earlier when there was no crisis, Indian onion was fetching a price of Taka 40 to 45 ( 100 BD Taka is equivalent to Rs 84.1), but now it is selling at Taka 75 to 80. The local variety is fetching a price of Taka 85 to Taka 90. It is all because hoarders and profiteers are making big bucks out of the artificial crisis.

Jaipur Foot

The world-famous Jaipur Foot is a prosthetic made in Jaipur that has its presence in 33 countries including Bangladesh. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Ministry of External Affairs has organised a camp in Dhaka’s National Institute of Traumatology and Rehabilitation (NITOR) where 500 Bangladeshis would be given the artificial limb to enable them to walk again.

This project, run by D R Mehta headed Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) has earned the country a lot of goodwill. In fact, it was Sadia Moyeen, who comes from the royal family of Loharu’s Nawab and who is married in Dhaka, was the first to introduce the Jaipur Foot four years ago by holding a camp. Sadia, who was raised in Jaipur, is associated with the project for the sheer love of Jaipur. This time after a special fitment camp held by the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, she would be holding her camp and provide artificial limbs to 700 amputees. In three previous camps held by Moyeen Foundation, some 2290 people have benefitted.

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