The Liquid World

Bangladesh is turning fifty, and it’s facing a mid-life crisis

When Zygmunt Bauman wrote about liquid modernity, he envisaged fluidity as a symbol of uncertainty and vacuous horror with regards to the future. There is a country, however, that can perhaps be described as a liquid world par excellence: in Bangladesh water is omnipresent, ripping the land from beneath people’s feet and forcing them into a permanent stand off with the natural world.

A man in Dhaka summed up his life thus: “In 1944 I was born a subject of Her Majesty’s British India. Three years later, after partition, I became a citizen of East Pakistan. Today I am Bengali.” The man, a Muslim like 83% of his co-nationals, added, “There has been just one time in my life when I got drunk: I was with two friends in 1971 when my country declared independence and became Bangladesh. So excited were we that night that we drank a bottle of whiskey. But after all that time I still don’t now if it was worth it.”

This year Bangladesh turns fifty. After half a century it still suffers from the backwardness of yesteryear and its troubled past, as well as a present day that seems like it’s the past and prospects for the future that are anything but reassuring. A substantial part of the economy is based on microcredit, while climate change is having a heavy impact on the population. Rising sea levels are pushing further and further inland, transforming fields into swamps and forcing the population to abandon the countryside and move to the capital, or add to the already swollen numbers of climate refugees.

( 2008 )