Char Alexander: where the wind blows

Bangladesh has been dubbed as the darling child of the nature for her abundance of natural beauties. Char Alexander is such a place located on the confluence of two mighty rivers and the Bay of Bengal. This place could be a heaven to explore for those who love solitude and natural beauty. Saqueb Sartaz Khan recently visited there and shares his experience.

 River Meghna as seen from Char Alexande

River Meghna as seen from Char Alexande

For some rather fortunate or yet unfortunate reasons, some people tend to suffer from a condition called ‘saudade’, a term derived from the Portugese folk culture, basically meaning ‘a deep emotional state of yearning for people or things’. On the contrary, some people seem to experience ‘wanderlust’, whereby they seem to be drawn towards ‘the art of wandering’.  It is not a mere choice for these individuals to overlook such needs, but rather a core issue that they must meet and address to achieve ordinary levels of ‘functionality’. These people are the seekers.

Char Alexander, an island in the Ramgati upazila of Lakshmipur, Noakhali, provides such dysfunctional individuals with the innate content that they so religiously seek.  However, the name, unique as it is, came to me as a matter of intrigue. Before heading to Char Alexander, all I knew about the place was that it is the meeting point of two rivers and the sea; Padma, Meghna and the Bay of Bengal. That bit was enough to reel me in like a fishing hook.

On the 27th of April, my friend Shahidullah and I embarked on the journey on a Friday afternoon. We got up on a Himachal Express bus en route Lakshmipur starting at 4 pm. We reached at Ramgati around 9 in the evening. From there we pooled a local human hauler with three other people heading towards Char Alexander. We got down in front of Abdur Rob Govt. College. The college was named after Rob, who was the first person to hoist the flag of Bangladesh on 2 March 1971 at the historic location of Bottala in University of Dhaka Campus. From there we headed off to the waters. It was a mere five-minute walk. What I saw next blew my mind.
Across a dam, quite like that in Patenga, lay the vast waters, calm in its essence. It was a moonlit night and my friend I laid on the dam looking up on an opening of a few million stars – all shiny, all visible. For the first time in my life I was not able to identify the ‘Orion’s Belt’ constellation. There were just too many. The water was salty.

 River Meghna as seen from Char Alexande

A fisherman about to dry himself after bath.

Now, because my friend’s grandfather was the former headmaster of the Ramgati B.B.K Pilot High School and Imam, I have had the privilege to roam around at just about any hour without any fear of loss. Regardless, I would have to say that the small village, hardly the size of Bashundhara Residential Area is safer than most places in Dhaka.
On the night of the 30th, my friend and I came across a key young political activist who was a direct descendant of Abdur Rashid Tarkabagish, the man presiding over the first session of Jatiya Sangsad. He told us about the unique origins of the island and its name. It was named after a British lord named George Alexander.
According to Paul Cartledge in Alexander the Great: The hunt for a new past (2005), he claimed as Alexander the Great reached south-east part of India, (now Noakhali, Bangladesh) in July of 327 B.C.E, he landed on the island, and noticed the fertility of land and the versatility of the local people. Thus the island was named after him. After the Chairman Ghat dam was formed and sustaining, many people came from close by regions to live here, mostly fishermen.

The village in my opinion is blessed. This, I found to be because of the diversity of the people living there, that too in harmony. We were living in ward 8, Patwari Bari. There, just beside our house, was a mosque.  To its left, across a pond was a Brahmin devotee’s house. In front of his house was a profound banyan tree, wrapped in two sarees. The devotee has married the tree.  Kirtan or songs of devotion for god seemed to fill the air as well as our ears. The Kirtan-ghar was a few doors down.

On the night of shab-e-barat, I came across two men wearing just white dhutis submerged in a pond with fire burning on a thin saucer that they kept on the palm of their hands. I could not however decipher what ritual that was.
As for the peace and tolerance of people, I noticed that the primary school of Patwari Bari was headed by a Hindu lady alongside three other Muslim lady teachers. This is an example of how religion does not play a ‘vital’ role in shaping their relationships.

The village is also known as Shikhkhagram (education village); this is due to the prevalent high literacy rate and influence on the people from the earliest days of Bangladesh. Added to this, the extravagant nature existent there gave rise to a unique, diverse and rich cultural society. Every now and then, one would come across kids singing as they’re headed to their daily life.

I remember talking to a few fishermen on my almost religious trips down to the river. They seemed to be rather angry at the government for the campaign against Hilsha fish, which constricted them from fishing at all hours of the day. The town’s economy is mostly determined by the supply of fish. A huge portion of the population living there comprise of fishermen from other regions coming here to earn some money and on their way back they would visit the marketplace at the bus-stand and buy things of their necessities.
I cannot possibly put all of the delights into words that Char Alexander has to offer, however I would suggest anyone looking for some mental peace and solitude to visit this beauty of a place even with a window of two-night time. It is only about six hours away from Dhaka and waiting to be explored!

Saqueb Sartaz Khan is a lost soul.


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