Vikrampur was South and South East Asia’s leading port in the first millennium. As we are in the third millennium, the inhabitants of the region have still held the name Vikrampur to a definite geographical region of our glorious ancient capital. The port of Mawa is identified by many to be heir to Vikrampur. It is situated in Medini Mandal. According to late journalist Shafiuddin Ahmed – Medini Mandal means head of the Earth as such it could be very much the capital of the vast naval empire of the Pal dynasty spread over in South And South East Asia.
There is coastal tide upto Mawa. This means it was once on the seacoast. Then by forming chain of islands the land area of the country expanded to Barisal to the end of Kuakata. Many of the country’s great sons including one of the world’s first nuclear scientists Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was born here. Many leading families of the subcontinent could find some link with Vikrampur including that of Sarojini Naidu, a common friend of Gandhi and Jinnah. Hundreds of thousands of people who pass through Mawa has little time to ponder about it. It is now the major ferry station that connects the national capital Dhaka with Southern Bangladesh, which has a population of sixty million. Many want to name the Padma Bridge or Mawa Bridge as Sher-e-Bangla Bridge after the great son of southern Bangladesh. Many families of Barisal actually originated from Vikrampur, like Sher-e-Bangla – a Qazi of Chakhar had told me. He was also an old friend of Sarojini Naidu. Through Sarojini Naidu, Sher-e-Bangla brought Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Muslim League. Sher-e-Bangla had relations in Kartikpur. Whatever name you can give to the bridge, it might bring doom to Mawa, local residents fear. Notice has been served to the local residents for land acquisition. But where will they move to, how much compensation would they get or how would they spend the money – are important questions needing answers. An expert engineer told me the bridge is not likely to be completed before 2020 and at the earliest 2015. What will be the economy of the area by then?
Now Mawa is not only a ferry station, it is also the country’s leading inland port like Baghabari on the Jamuna. Inland Water Transport Authority has an office and Bungalow here. If Sonadia is developed as deep sea port – goods could be directly transhipped to Mawa and sent to Dhaka by land transport. At the moment a number of land and river transport companies are operating in Mawa. If the billion dollar Mawa Bridge project is facilitated a temporary boom economy could blossom but it could very much evaporate as did in the case of Jamuna Bridge, leaving people in dire poverty, a local journalist told me. But economic activity enriches a nation. It does not make it poorer. There is talk of another bridge on the Padma-Jamuna joint flow at Goalunda. They could be complementary not competitive
This could turn the whole ancient Vikrampur region the industrial hub of the country. If we study the natural history of Bangladesh, we find the present flows of Padma-Jamuna conjuncture was not there. Vikrampur was extended to present day Rajbari-Pabna-Manikganj-Tangail. The Ganges, which has turned Padma, flowed as Vagirathi to the sea in West Bengal. The Jamuna flowed as Brahmaputra towards Bhairab, which the Arabs called Bahr Al Ab. Actually the conjuncture of the mighty river systems east of Mawa looks like Bahr or sea. The question is what will happen to the river port at Mawa after the Mawa Bridge is completed. The editor of a respected daily and a beloved son of Vikrampur told me it will bring doom to Vikrampur as people would drive direct to Dhaka ignoring Vikrampur. People who are planning to build Padma Resort City, do not think so. They think it would instead bring resource boom in the area.
In Vikrampur, except Sylhet, we have the greatest number of people who are working abroad. But the expatriates from Vikrampur constitute mostly professionals. I met Rupa from New York in an art gallery. She is a Syed from Kusumpur. When she comes to Bangladesh, she stays in Dhaka, since not much is left in Kusumpur. Mr Mawla, a retired gentleman and relation of a former navy chief cater for those expatriates plans to return to the country. He said that it would be better to be a fisherman at Mawa than a millionaire in New York.
Mawa has the country’s largest fishing fleet. Fishermen are both Hindus and Muslims reflecting the traditional secular spirit of Vikrampur. Mr Shafiuddin Ahmed, whom late President Ziaur Rahman called a banyan tree of Bangladesh’s grass root journalism expired recently, according to late Shafuiddin this secular spirit gave the birth to Bangladesh. Apu, son of Mr Mawla, local correspondent of Daily Naya Diganta, says the glory of the past will not save Mawa – or Medini Mandal. He thinks the people are in dire poverty. The best thing is to make the river port of Mawa rejuvenated to withstand the closure of the ferry after the completion of the Mawa bridge. Taslima of the Kazi family of Medini Mandal who works at a bank in Dhaka thinks that if the entrepreneurs of Vikrampur invest their money in Mawa instead of New York, the face of the country would change. But the distant shore calls Kazal. He wants to fly to Cyprus to take a low paid job. Will he return as millionaire? We do not know. The ferry moves southwestward. The inland port will remain there. Apu thinks the importance is to utilise connectivity of Mawa to both eastern and Western, Northern and Southern parts of Bangladesh to bring the common prosperity of Bangladesh for its hundred and fifty million people. The boatmen are there in the confluence of Ganges and Brahmaputra – the planet’s two biggest river systems.