Even fifteen to twenty years back, the small town environs stood for serenity and lack of chaos and violence. Those places were free from the many vices plaguing a large city. The self-centred life of the average middle-class urban residents eventually turned strange to this environment. On being attracted by features that highlighted the virtues of solitude, a small number of people began migrating to the upazila towns in those days. Initially they faced the problem of adapting to the small-town way of life, its different social mores and manners. At times, its conservatism and the compulsive tilt towards idyllist resignation seemed stifling to many. But as days went by, they found themselves being fit in with the new way of life. They discovered the ways to freedom of enjoying life in whichever way they chose.
Thus these self-exiled people's lives began in 'alien pockets' in their own land. After the dawn of the 21st century, many people in the big cities like Dhaka and Chattogram, began thinking of migration to smaller towns. By that time they had been well briefed about the tension-free way of life in those places. With Dhaka becoming filled with hazards of different kind, educated men and women had only one option before them --- leaving this 'nightmarish dungeon' as early as possible. Thanks to Dhaka's increasing population density, with millions filling it to the brim in a reverse migration from villages, the new gap thus created went largely unnoticed. It was because the gaps got filled in no time. Upon reaching their small-town destinations, the first experience the big city-weary people had was heaving a sigh of relief. Initially, it felt like a grand taste of freedom.
After attaining the status of a provincial capital, Dhaka used to offer its residents this freedom throughout the 1940s and the `50s. In those days, Dhaka was recognised as one of the clean and healthy cities in the sub-continent. With few industries and a small population, the scourge of air pollution remained a weird and absurd phenomenon.
But times keep changing. Happier phases are replaced with the dreary ones. This was what had happened to the seclusion-loving people who had left the 'unlivable capital' a couple of decades ago. To the great woes of the small-town peace seekers, the days waiting for them in 2022 and beyond are presumed to be filled with a feeling of deja vu. Many have started finding themselves in the same old urban squalor which they left behind in the metropolises, especially Dhaka. The district, and the smaller sub-district towns are now dotted with all the eyesores long common in Dhaka. These include traffic gridlocks, mushrooming concrete structures, squeezing open spaces, footpath encroachment, mugging and women harassment and lots of other vices. A tranquil district town, which was widely known for its noise-averse general people, now appears to competing with large mega-cities.
High-rise office buildings, shopping malls and condominiums all over the town, not to speak of the roads filled with private cars and minibuses, comprise the common spectacles in these towns. The local dialect-mixed urban Bangla shot from every direction keeps hitting the eardrum. Like in Dhaka the people display a reluctance to wear anti-corona masks and going by health protocols. With schools and colleges shut to prevent the ongoing pandemic, the teenage and post-adolescent youths are seen filling the playgrounds, or loitering aimlessly. The upazila towns offer the similar pictures, but on a smaller scale. In spite of their turning semi-busy urban centres and later becoming bustling ones, the upazila towns have lately started being preferred by many. Hearing about the same old urban scourges besetting the district towns, lots of Dhaka-fatigued people nowadays find it wise to migrate straight to a remote upazila headquarters. Many of them are retired high and mid-rank government officials and private enterprise employees. They also include former urban school and college teachers. Thanks to an unexplainable bond with a venue they left decades ago, it is the visuals of those places that occasionally flash across their mind. But it is too late to think of going back. After being compelled to leave the metropolitan Dhaka, and becoming disillusioned with the fast growing district and divisional towns, they gladly settle for the small obscure towns. They can realise then that these are the places they have dreamt of for making their last destinations. It is a normal scenario in the highly developed countries. The case for Bangladesh emerges by default, though.
Today's Bangladesh could be best defined by its fast digitisation. A small town may not have the basic technical and industrial backings, but it is invariably self-sufficient when it comes to communication with any part of the country or the world. As a result, the newly arrived people may have to undergo many difficulties due to insufficient infrastructural support in everyday life; but this lacking is compensated by wide internet coverage. Thanks to their ability to use smart-phones, laptops, PCs etc, they never feel isolated from the national mainstream, as well as global happenings. The serenity and the trouble- and trauma-free life appears before them as a gift. After decades of being amid squalid urban realities, the small-city life provides them with a time for pure rest. Unfortunately, this kind of leisurely life eludes many, who have to remain stuck up in the capital. They may not have any special fascination for this unwieldy city. But they have to remain tied up to it just to eke out an honest living. The bondage of many reaches such a point of inescapability that freedom visits them through death.
The upazila-centred peace and the time for relaxation and reflections have also lately been showing signs of vulnerability. Tensions of various kinds, not widely known before, have started popping their heads up. Thanks to this menace and some other vices backed by the locally known criminals now keep the leisure-seeking people on edge. A few of them begin being pricked by repentance for their decision to leave the mega-city of Dhaka. In the metropolitan city, there are hundreds of places where one can find shelter from unwarranted dangers. But it is also true, the small towns also return to the normal after the bouts of violence. At the same time, once unrest starts in a large city, it's hard to see it calm down anytime soon. Like a conflagration, it just keeps devouring the distinctively safe areas. It can be defined by the phrase of 'domino effect'. Fortunately, after the phases of vendetta and both personal and collective hostilities are over, peace returns inevitably. People dreaming of a quiet life after spending lives in nonstop work have to make sacrifices intermittently.
Moreover, one has to keep in mind that it is corona period. A world sweeping pandemic has been playing havoc with people for the last two years. In these dreary times the sudden onslaught of large and small scarcities, and finally poverty, makes people testy and mercurial. In order to enjoy the post-retirement days after decades-long struggle, an honest person can lay his or her claim to this phase devoid of all kinds of detractions. It cannot be denied that rest at the end of a busy career provides the space for meditative reflections. Citizens shouldn't be deprived of these golden times, which fly faster than all earthly and mundane comforts.