Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Tragedy of Old Dhaka

Finding joy in everyday’s life the ordinary residences of old Dhaka are trying to find their entertainment in their own culture from the Mughal period to present time. This entertainment was surprisingly increased in British period, when the Nawab families were here. Nawab family was very rich and they spend rich life in Old Dhaka.The Nawabs were famous for their love for entertainment and pageantry. For the benefit of the city dwellers they used to organized special events.
Lady Jeanette Van Tassel
One such initiative of Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah was in 1892, Jeanette Van Tassel, a daredevil balloonist was flown in from America. This lady was on a contract of Tk.10, 000/- for the show. Unfortunately, the exhibition ended on a tragic note.
From the newspaper reports of that period and memoirs of Ghaniur Raja, son of illustrious Zamindar and mystical poet Hason Raja of Sunamganj, Sylhet, who was present on the occasion, we learn that the exhibition generated a good deal of enthusiasm among citizens. The area around Ahsan Manzil and Buriganga riverbank was filled with utmost capacity to witness the rare spectacle. People flocked in from all directions, many got into boats in the middle of the river. The Nawab himself, his family members and local and foreign dignitaries witnessed the event from Ahsan Manzil compound.
They would witness the daredevil act of a young American beauty, Jeanette Van Tassel in her late twenties flying by balloon. Tassel had flown by balloon many times before in different countries of the world. She was asked to fly from south of river to north and land on top of Ahsan Manzil.
The Ballon in front of Ahsan Manzil
On 16 March 1892, at 6.20 PM, she started her ascent from the other side of the river. Lot of kerosene and wood burnt to inflate the balloon, and soon it looked like a big tent. The balloon would then cut loose from its moorings. The direction of the wind upset her plan to land on the roof of Ahsan Manzil. The balloon rose in the sky swept by a strong current of air and flew passed over Ahsan Manzil. Smoke was visible and Tassel was seen hung perilously. After floating high, tragedy struck on her way down. To the shock of the onlookers, her balloon got enmeshed in a tree at Ramna 2-3 miles away. The police rushed in to rescue. It was reported, that police insisted her to get down holding on to the bamboo pole they placed. The bamboo broke in the middle and Tassel fell on the ground severely injured. She died a couple of days later in a hospital.
The Christian Cemetry at Narinda, Old Dhaka

She had been married only days ago and her husband, along with many members of Dhaka elite, was present at the spot when a bamboo that was given to her for descending from the treetop, snapped and she crash-landed with grievous injury. It is alleged that her misfortune was the result of police apathy.
As the first instance of flight by Balloon in the East Bengal the following tragedy, the incident created a great commotion at the time and some contemporary newspapers (e.g. the Bengal Gazetteer) gave coverage to it. But in later years the event was completely forgotten. Her grave exists uncared at the Christian cemetery at Narinda, Dhaka.

No comments:

Post a Comment