Monday, October 29, 2007

Positive Changes in Dhaka

As our car winded through Airport Road on its way into Dhaka, towards my uncle’s residence, I could not help but notice – the streets were very, very clean. In normal times, the roadside would be littered with garbage, flies hovering and a strange, pungent smell drafting towards the vehicles caught in a traffic jam. Now, there was no litter. There were no tokais. There were dustbins and the garbage was in the bin, with the lid shut.

I asked my uncle about this. It seems the new caretaker government had given thorough instructions to clean up the streets and made many of the roads rickshaw-free, thus preventing them from clogging up traffic. Yes, the roads are still jammed at many places, but for some reasons it seems there’s less pollution than before.

If you read the Western media (in particular Time magazine) you would think Bangladesh was a hotbed of jamaat activists and the country was being taken over by a religious fundamentalist party, choking under Martial law and so on. As I wander through the crowded streets of Dhaka, in my eyes nothing could be further from the truth.

There are a huge number of young women on the streets, heading to work at the large number of multi-national companies that have set up office in Motijheel and Gulshan. Every alley has a computer shop, or a computer literacy program or an English language school. Everyone has a cellphone. Even our maid servant has one!

The biggest benefactor seems to be internet surfers in the country. I came prepared for bad connections, extremely poor speeds and days without the net.This little device above is a USB modem. Inside, it contains a tiny SIM card. All I had to do was install a tiny software. Once it was done, I just plugged in the USB modem. And within seconds I was online.What it does is connect to the cellphone network in Bangladesh. Thus, anywhere you have a cell reception, you have internet. From the tea gardens of Sylhet to the mountains of Chittagong, you are online. Bangladesh seems far ahead of neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bhuttan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, when it comes to the Internet. Even India cannot boast of 100% wi-fi capability, while Bangladesh can (conceding of course India’s huge size). I went shopping today and on the way in the car I was surfing! Speed is not bad (234 kbs) which is good for surfing and browsing, while downloading is not that bad.This is near Ashulia, a popular destination for couples and for picnics. It's hard to imagine a more tranquil spot, right next to some fertilizer factories (!) but Bangladesh is such, a land of contrasts. The old and new, simultaneously co-existing, often with trouble, sometimes without.For me, this contrast is symbolised perfectly by the above love sunset, near a fantastic still green lush paddy field, seen through the hazy smog from nearby factories. Even this peace is welcome, given that in a few weeks I have to return to the sub-zero temperatures of Canada and months before I see any greenery on the trees.


Rezwan said...

Thanks for the great news. Would appreciate if you also inform about the costs for using net via mobile and ofcourse the cost of the modem.

Neena said...

I hear you on bad rap from media on Bangladesh. Do show us some nice pics of Dhaka Bazaars and upscale neighborhoods and of course clean streets.

Shovon said...

Some good news you post up there.
But this is all visually appealing which isnt a bad thing per se.
However, what about the actual cost to keeping it clean? How many hawkers have been chased away from the streets without a backup system or an alternate solution in place? We complain about the mess, cheer the cleanliness then complain about the hikes in prices and availability of the jalebis since the street hawker has now been "convinced" to relocate to a now hitherto unknown place.

I have heard complaints about hikes in prices, growth of black markets etc. Dont get me wrong, seeing a Dhaka in its true glory is a breathtaking sight, but sometimes it costs the poorer much more.

mousehunter said...

Very cool...its a USB cell phone! I'm sure there are apps or hacks out there to use for cell calls too.

mezba said...

Rezwan: the USB model plus the SIM card will cost you AT THE MOST 2,500 taka. The internet charges are of two plans, the first is a flat 1,000 taka unlimited, while the other is 2 taka per kb downloaded. This last word is important, as you only pay for files, etc you download. If you were online for 3-4 hours just surfing and checking mail, and you didn't download anything, it's free.

Neena: If I do get some time I will try to fulfill your request.

Shovon: You know, I am a great believer in the toughness of the human spirit. Those rickshaws, hawkers etc who had been forced to 'relocate' will find other ways to feed themselves. Plus it's not right to propagate a wrong because it helps abate some other wrong, is it?

Prices now are high (onions are 60 taka whereas they used to be 12 taka) but that's other factors. For example, before suppliers of onions could bribe inspectors and keep their costs lower by not following regulations, now they are forced to follow cleanliness etc and other regulations, so their costs arose, and they have passed that on to the consumer.

Mousehunter: oh the software allows you to make a phone call too.

Anonymous said...

Mezba, from my PoV it would be a bit weird if the download plan (Tk. 2 per KB) didn't take into account browsing web pages and email, since those involve downloading as well (your browser downloads the data and lays it out as a nice web page, whereas a download program downloads data and saves it on your computer). I don't see how the ISP would distinguish between web pages and file downloads since both are usually HTTP transfers.

Anyway this technology seems very impressive, especially in a country like ours! If speeds are for the most part consistent then this can really be a killer application.

mezba said...

Anon: I guess they distinguish between the file extensions. Web pages are usually html and htm and images jpeg or gif, while anything else could qualify as a download. I got my information from a Grameenphone employee.

isheeta said...

So you go all the way to Bangladesh.... and you're still talking about IT.


Anywho, pics and review look awesome... sounds like they are going leaps and bounds!

mousehunter said...

anon/mezba: for an ISP to distinguish file extensions would be too expensive (taxing on the infrastucture). I what they charge you for is data transfer (bandwidth usage). Now...recently there have been some network appliances that block/throttle communication based on port and application. But from the device shown here, its all one datastream, no distinguishing. Best to keep your surfing light if you are paying kb, cuz it goes both ways, up and down.