Universal Old-New face-off and the redundancy factor

A crowded ferry departing Shimuila Shimulia Ferry Ghat in Mawa in 2021	—UNB Photo A crowded ferry departing Shimuila Shimulia Ferry Ghat in Mawa in 2021 —UNB Photo

The long-cherished Padma Bridge started functioning in its majestic look on June 25. After keeping the two vast regions of Bangladesh, especially the eastern and the south & south-western parts for centuries apart from each other, they have now emerged integrated. The nostalgically romantic people may find it highly outdated on their part to heave deep sighs looking at the two distant river banks. The two banks are not covered in haze caused by distance. Those in urgency and prompted by irresistible urge to go to the other side need just a bus ride. In less than 15 minutes he or she can meet the person they have been fancying to meet. On the other hand, people in far-flung areas in the eastern, western, southern and northern zones can now be connected with each other whenever they wish. Few could have dreamt of this connectivity even two decades ago.

But a tinge of sadness and a sense of uncertainty keep a large segment of people. They belong to sections of people engaged in ferrying people on ferry-boats, ferry-ships or motor launches. A lot of these river transports may stop plying their river routes one by one. Upon becoming bereft of their age-old profession at the Padma 'ghats', many of them might switch over to the Jamuna or Meghna ferry points. Maybe, a couple of decades later, they will be permanent settlers in different areas and climes. This is how life goes on. And it is one the universal truths. Mankind through the ages has shown their aversion towards new inventions --- be they agricultural tools, household appliances and modes of communication. It's because many people fall on hard times after society in general accepts these new forms of technology. These people find it difficult to accept the new-age technology and myriad types of machinery. It is the younger generation who finally helps their elders in accepting the new technological innovations.

After the entry of motor-launches into the Bangladesh river routes, the traditional boatmen wielding traditional country boats   became panicky. They dreaded the scenario of villagers boarding launches while on long-distance river journeys. In fact, the townspeople while on visits to their villages began using these engine-run vessels. They spontaneously welcomed the speedy launches with comfortable sitting arrangements. At times, the situation would become confrontational. Sporadic attack on running launches and when they remained docked at terminals became common incidents. A famous short story by Abu Zafar Shamsuddin has picked this distressing subject. The last scene of the story shows the boatman Situ Majhee hitting the steel-bodied launch with his wooden 'boitha'. The spectacle of passengers boarding the shining motor-launch in long queues, leaving his boat empty, drove him crazy. But it didn't take long for the 'majhee' to realise the unpalatable reality: From now on, the general villagers would start preferring the speedy launches to boats.

In many other sectors after the 18th century Industrial Revolution, manual devices have been replaced with those run on fuel oil. The human physical strength vs. automation defined the time after the Industrial Revolution. It continues till the present times of the 21st century. Coming to the communication network, the global sea routes began seeing the start of the dominance of steam powered continental ships. Almost simultaneously, railway and motorcar communication network added to the speed of travelling.  The breakthroughs that changed the way of life comprised mechanisation of almost all vital sectors, which underwent revolutionary changes one after another. The printed books eventually phased out the handwritten ones and the aeroplanes added speed to long-distance travels. In the communication world, radio signals and wireless messages eventually took the place of letters and telegrams. In half a century, the invention of telephones seemingly completed the cycle of changes in the mid-20th century.  In the next half century several other inventions dependent on electricity brought about radical changes in the day-to-day life in advanced countries.

The progression in scientific inventions represents a continuous process. We can turn to the case for online communication and internet-based marvels. Few can predict for sure what kind of amazing outlets of communication between people and nations are in store for mankind. However, the fact that lots of people will be declared redundant in different sectors upon implementation of these projects in the future world cannot be trifled with.  In a basically backward country like Bangladesh, the successful construction of a high-end bridge across a mighty river is feared to see a large number of people lose their ancestral professions. This is part of the universal rule. The hitting of a motor-launch docked at a river terminal by a 'majhee' with his 'boitha' tells it all. The episode is a minuscule representation of a global picture. This very scenario contains hundreds of similar scenes of confrontational stances adopted by the old and the new. Throughout history, the arrogant old has been invariably found to be viewing the 'new' as its enemy. According to the advocates of obscurantism, the so-called mouthpieces of modernist forces are out to snatch their livelihoods. Until the former had been made to reconcile to their nemesis, the New, and accept the stark reality, the face-off continued to rage. In the case of the Padma Bridge, a section of people have made out a faint outline of a similar picture.

 Outwardly, the invisible tussle between the two forces is true. Debates may arise over the possible future sources of earning to be picked by the people formerly dependent on the magnanimous and mighty Padma. Not less than several hundred people used to be dependent on the terminal or 'ferry ghat'-based professions of myriad types. Those professions included that of porters, snacks and pan-biri-cha hawking, running makeshift restaurants and helping novice passengers locate the right vessel etc. After the construction and opening of the grand and nationally vital bridge, freeing countless passengers of the ordeals of the ferry-travel across the river, the redundancy of the floating professionals around the 'ghats' had been a foregone conclusion. These people deserve thanks for the service they have provided to the ferry passengers for decades in a row. Proper rehabilitation of them will be viewed as a great humanistic step on the part of the relevant authorities. This is what the people of conscience expect from them.


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