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19 October, 2020 06:13:29 PM
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What makes Dhaka a city

The city like the rural areas has its own culture. The urban space offers a different experience for different people. All experiences are expressed through their narratives. Individual narratives are important to get people’s ideas or sense about Dhaka
Niger Sultana
What makes Dhaka a city

What makes a city a city? Folklore tries to explain the idea of the city from the understanding of ordinary people. Rather than a geographical entity, it looks at the city as a cultural unit. Human interaction shapes the answer to what is a city. A city is its people.  B. A Botkin answered the question of what is a city that a city is “we” - you and I and everybody else. The people who live in the city, or do not live all have some idea of what is a city. A city can be understood through folk - say, memory, festival, food way, costume, and more things people do, believe, and practice. The Botkin idea of the city is applied to understand what Dhaka is. Dhaka is its people.

The city like the rural areas has its own culture. The urban space offers a different experience for different people. All experiences are expressed through their narratives. Individual narratives are important to get people’s ideas or sense about Dhaka. Dhaka as a city can be seen from two major issues: a) the emergence of technology b) the cultural contact that influences the habitat and culture of its people. The new invention first is been available in Dhaka than any other parts of the country.  So technologically people of Dhaka city are more advanced. This advancement constructs cultural differences between people who live in Dhaka city, and who does not. The second idea the cultural contact is more indirect in Dhaka in comparison to rural settings. The rural is comprised of close-kin at least people know each other. The indirect cultural contact creates the culture of anonymity in Dhaka. The next-door neighbour is unknown, the co-passenger sitting on the bus is unknown, the customer is unknown, and the buyer is unknown. Even though having the anonymous identity entire folk are dependent on one another. Anonymity is one of the distinct cultures of Dhaka. People travel to Dhaka for living. People start to adopt a new mode of life in the city. People live in Dhaka deal with city culture and the culture they used to practice in their hometown. The encounter between city and village culture produces a completely new culture. People cannot forget the village completely and again they have to adapt new habits of the city. 

Dhaka in personal narratives

Every person through their stories, narratives, experience shapes the idea about Dhaka. Who lives in Dhaka and who does not all have something to say about Dhaka. All those constitute the sense of Dhaka as a city. I have interviewed some people to understand the personal narratives of people about Dhaka. Their narratives direct attention to the struggle of everyday urban life. Most of the narrative represents a negative idea about Dhaka for who started living in Dhaka from other parts of the country. A conversation between the informant and this writer is given:

Writer: What’s about your feelings about Dhaka?

Informant: It is not easy to say the feelings; conceptually Dhaka is an overpopulated place where resources are limited. So it creates conflict.

Writer: I want to hear your sense of Dhaka, not the theoretical ideas. Would you mind sharing that?

Informant: I don’t like Dhaka. The people have a typical mindset here. Even I have a relative living in Dhaka for years, and during my childhood when I visited their place I did not enjoy it. I have cousins and uncle from Dhaka and also from the village. I do not know why I always liked my uncle from the village than the city one. I am indeed living in Dhaka since 2001 so I am also a city person. But still, I do not like Dhaka.

Does Dhaka represent the solidarity of the city dwellers and when?

Throughout the year Dhaka has special occasions of celebration. It can be the celebration of Pahela Baishakh, Pahela Falgun, Valentine’s Day, food festival, winter festival, concert, etc. Festivals represent a complex look of Dhaka. City festivals accompany changes in social status for individuals and groups. The city festival represents the solidarity image of Dhaka. The city bridges its people through various cultural festivals. People engage in the celebration and thus being anonymous they express an image of similarity. The city people are all part of the festival.  Arnold Van Gennep’s idea of rites of passage shares three basic phases:  a) a symbolic separation from normality b) an in-between stage, in which social norms and hierarchies are cast off and people embrace a community spirit c) a ceremonial confirmation of the new state of affairs. Festivals create a transformative experience for people. It marks a change as special, by stepping outside ordinary life. Dhaka through its festival allows the community to strengthen its bonds and reaffirm its support for the broader existing social system that exactly what is said in rites of passage idea. Dhaka as a city shapes a new form of rites of passage that is different from the so-called traditional/ rural community festival.

The urban palate

“I was talking to one of my friends. He was born in Dhaka. We were talking about eating fruits. I said I preferred eating fruits with salt and he said he preferred fruit salad with yogurt, honey, nuts, salt, and white or black pepper.” 

There is a difference between the rural food way and city food way. For years, studies on food way have preferentially looked at rural contexts. As the world’s population has shifted to cities, there is a change in the ancestral way of living. In reality, a well-established historiographical tradition has amply ascertained that cities are the place where food traditions have consolidated and settled. Dhaka as the city has formed its unique food way culture. Dhaka, the metropolis pass through cultural procedures that allow its citizen to communicate with the knowledge of the city. One of the oldest cities in Bangladesh, Dhaka represents a rich and diversified food culture. It has its traditional food that is available in the food lane of old Dhaka city. There are variations of cuisines that are spread throughout the streets of Puran Dhaka. Hajir Biriyani, Nanna Mia's Morogpolao, Bismillah Kabab, Borobaper Boro Pola are some of the popular and oldest dishes of Dhaka. Along with the old cuisine of old Dhaka every street of Dhaka offers restaurants, cuisine, cafe.  Restaurants have become a part of city culture that people whenever get a chance to hangout they visit restaurants. The credit of the history of restaurant culture goes to France, from where now most of the world’s city name resonance with famous restaurants. KFC, Boomers, Nando’s, Pizza Hut, Star Kabab, etc. represent the dining culture of Dhaka. People congregate at restaurants and celebrate their lives. Restaurants vouch of so many experiences of city people, for instance, friendship, love, breakup, celebration, etc. So restaurants in Dhaka are not only places for eating rather they represent many other cultural phenomena of Dhaka.

It differs from person to person how they perceive Dhaka. Dhaka is for some people a place of best living, whereas it is just for the necessity of living. A wide range of cultural ideas all together shapes the notion of Dhaka. People’s own experience, stories, memories, festivals, food way, costumes, popular culture all together make the idea of what is Dhaka.

 

The writer is Asst. Professor, Dept. of Folklore, Kazi Nazrul Islam University, Trishal, Mymensingh.

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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