Mark the date and time for this was a watershed. It is the exact moment when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pushed a button and inaugurated the Padma Bridge, one of the largest bridges in South Asia, and a symbol of the nation’s pride.
And then the nation roared in approval.
Even if one had not left the capital on this day, it would still be hard to not know that celebration was in the air. By 6am, numerous processions had already begun in small groups.
At Postogola, hundreds of people could be seen walking towards the much-awaited bridge some 40 kilometres away, braving the heat and paying little heed to the distance. Fuelled by passion, they vowed to reach the bridge, vehicle passes be damned.
“I don’t know how far I can go, but I will try. This is our bridge. It is our dream,” Aziz Mollah, a businessman from the capital’s Old Dhaka said.
He was not the only one with elation shining on his face.
Aminul Islam, a businessman, said he was here to be a part of the history.
Meanwhile, Sheuly Begum, 33, a homemaker, along with a few other local women, had come to see the inauguration ceremony. “We came because such a huge event is happening in our area. We are enjoying ourselves. Tomorrow, we hope to get closer to the Padma Bridge.”
Among the many notable faces at the event was famous actor and road safety activist Ilias Kanchon. “This is much more than a dream. Something really big has happened,” he said.
In Madaripur’s Shibchar upazila, the same fervent passion was exuded by thousands who had gathered at a rally to be addressed by the Prime Minister.
“I did not go to work today so that I could join this rally. Because you know that she [Sheikh Hasina] has constructed the Padma Bridge for us,” said Alam Kazi, a farmer.
She had, but one did not have to travel all the way to Padma Bridge to understand how far Bangladesh had come.
On the way to the mega infrastructure from the capital, the development dream journey started at the Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga expressway.
On Saturday, this expressway, officially known as Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Highway, was also decked out with festoons, banners and large posters.
The gleaming 55-kilometre expressway looked like it had been given a fresh coat of paint for what was also its big day. It was also largely empty, mirages forming on the asphalt, as most vehicles without a pass had been restricted from travelling on it.
The emptiness reinforced its expanse. Travelling further and more revelry was being revealed.
Trucks with party activists blared music and declared Padma Bridge a victory for the country.
And then in sight it came: the magnificent, imposing structure which conquered the last unconquered mighty river of the country.
It was here: a dream dreamt and then delivered.
The celebrations were not restricted to the ground. Overhead, a total of 31 aircraft and helicopters of the Bangladesh Air Force put up a spectacular show, performing aerobatics, conjuring rainbows over the Padma with colourful smoke passes and flying the national flag.
Eighty red and green boats dotted the Padma River, waiting to welcome the PM.
Engaged in research in Shariatpur, she said, “I met a young girl in Damudya who regularly represents her college in national football tournaments hosted in Dhaka, and the bridge means that she may attend an event in the capital and come back home in time for dinner. But what she and her family don’t realise is that due to the bridge, that national tournament could just as well be hosted in her union.”
After PM Hasina became the first person to both pay the bridge toll and then cruise down its road, thousands others tried to follow on foot.
They progressed, undeterred by any rules. This was their Golden Gate Bridge. And like its counterpart in San Francisco had become a symbol of the power and progress of the United State, the Padma Bridge is considered a similar symbol for Bangladesh.
Sorry, Kissinger. Yo