In Retrospect Dhakaiyyas : Losing Their Traditions

August 22, 2008

Syed Maqsud Jamil

The Daily Star Aug 26 2005


………… A city is known by its heritage. For instance, Kolkata is known for its cosmopolitan character, New York is a melting pot, London is multi-racial and Paris is quintessentially French. Dhaka today is a spreading city of 13 million people. And the heritage of Dhaka comprises the Dhakaiyyas. Sadly though, the number of original inhabitants of Dhaka or the Dhakaiyyas is shrinking. The Dhakaiyyas are fast blending into the uni-culture of a growing megacity. They are finding their lifestyle, dialect, ceremonies and cultural practices outmoded and encumbering in the vastness of this uniculture. The Dhakaiyyas are adjusting to the changes and Dhaka is shedding a rich part of its heritage. ………..


The Dhakaiyyas spoke two languages, a local dialect of Bangla and a kind of Urdu far from being Urdu. Those speaking Bangla jestingly called the Urdu speaking ones as ‘Bazairas’ or the outsiders. On the other hand the Urdu speaking ones called the Bangla speaking Dhakaiyyas ‘Kuttis’, possibly referring to their past role as farmhands in threshing the paddies. But with the general exception of the Nawab family the language of education and written communication for the Dhakaiyyas was all along Bangla both for the Bazairas and the Kuttis. Unfortunately, those speaking a local dialect of Urdu fell into an awkward state of being identified with the Biharis or Non-Bengalis after the birth of Bangladesh. It was socially a compromising situation for them. And they as a matter of convenience made every effort in staying clear of this stigma by abandoning Urdu and using Bangla as the language of the house. Now they speak this language casually and in reliving the camaraderie of the past.


In the Nawab family and in the households speaking the local dialect of Urdu one can recall the mirthful range of chorus songs deriding the entire set of members of the bridegroom’s family starting from the father-in-law to the youngest sister-in-law. Thus the ladies of the bride’s family welcomed them at the ‘Mehendi’ or ‘Mangni’ (engagement) ceremonies. It endowed the marriage ceremony with a festive liveliness. I wonder whether the remnants of the Nawab family are carrying on the custom, I believe not. Ceremonies used to bring out the best part of the playfulness of the Dhakaiyyas. In case of the Nawabs and the ‘Sukhbases’ (those leading a life of ease) it displayed an infectious warmth and great love for life…………….


The most valuable resource of a society or community is its people. By that measure Dhaka has suffered a loss of a kind with the Dhakaiyyas losing most of their customs and culture. In spite of it they are a special class of people when it comes to the heritage of Dhaka. They deserve our regard for their adaptability in adjusting to the changes and demands of time. For me and for many of my kind who lived the time cannot but feel a bit of nostalgia for those days. We know how lively and invigorating the ways of the Dhakaiyyas were because we spent a blissful time of our lives in their midst. It is natural that the Dhakaiyyas and Dhaka are treasures in our fondest recollections. They just cannot fade away. Any recollection of Dhaka will have Dhakaiyyas in the spotlight.


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