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     Volume 2 Issue 67 | May 04, 2008|


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The 3rd AIUB Debate Week:
Word-Power Excelled in Glory

Dr. Faheem Hasan Shahed

On a television talk show some years back, an intellectual-cum-poet's remarks struck me. Referring to the disgraceful un-parliamentary discourse of our high profile politicians, he said that the average Bangladeshi, barring some exceptions, dislikes convincing others through rational discourse when it comes to facing differing views. Somehow there is this tendency inside us to expect unquestionable agreement from others whenever we talk on any issues. And the moment we see that someone is not accepting our opinions according to our desire, most of us engage our 'intellectual might' to brand others as 'omuk' or 'tomuk'. We do not argue rationally. We do not debate.

Little wonder why democracy doesn't properly work in our country, I thought.

Well, not everyone would buy this view. Like Bidit Lal Dey. My colleague in AIUB and the Moderator of AIUB Oratory Club (AOC). Bidit argued that since time immemorial, Bangalees have been prone to debates and intellectual discourse, and they have always accepted the better views from others. He cited examples from the Middle Age as well as the British Kolkata period in favour of his argument.

Despite my not fully agreeing with Bidit, I happily accepted some of his points due to the single factor. Bidit wasn't imposing anything on me; he was debating. I knew about his past debating achievements, especially during his IBA days, but what impressed me was his maintenance of this quality even today. I felt, once you are a debater, you actually are destined toward rational thinking till the end of your life.

Inhaling the last pint of smoke before officially discarding the cigarrette outside the balcony, Bidit said, 'I agree Faheem bhai that we've been heading toward intellectual bankruptcy, but we can save ourselves by nourishing the culture of debate. And this has to start from schools on a compulsory basis.'

The 3rd AIUB Debate Week 2008, organized by the American International University-Bangladesh (AIUB) from 4 to 18 April, bore this crucial idea within: we need to train and create debaters for our society. In fact, it had a wonderful official motto to highlight: '…for the change that makes a difference.' And the slogan, taken from a famous Anjan Dutta number, would tell it all: 'Chawlo amrai, chawlo nijerai bawdlai' (Let's change ourselves right away).

The involvement of The Daily Star, Radio Today FM 89.6 and Channel-1 as media partners added greater splendour to the event.

Debate and self-enhancement
If you want to change the world, you have to start by changing yourself. Not my words; in fact this has been time and again repeated over the ages by uncountable men of merit. The Vice Chancellor of AIUB Dr. Carmen Z Lamagna rightly underscored this “change” for the younger community.

Narrating AIUB's vision of creating leaders for the Bangladeshi society, Dr. Lamagna wondered how this change would come if all weren't ready to rediscover own potentials and redefine the identities inside their personalities. In her brief eloquent speech, she stressed that a fruitful debating culture would perform this difficult act.

In his address as the Chief Guest of the finals, the Editor of The Daily Star Mr. Mahfuz Anam echoed similar sentiments and told how he himself had been shaped and reshaped by the practice of debating. Being a prolific debater of the 60's in Dhaka University, Mr. Anam definitely knows the value of debate behind his successful establishment, nationally and internationally alike, in journalistic career. He shared his personal benefits with the audience just to make them conscious about the fact: debate is NOT just a battle of some aggressive sentences; it is a spirit of rediscovering oneself intellectually.

And definitely the AIUB authority has been putting highest emphasis on promoting the debating culture not only inside the campus but also among the wider community. The overwhelming participation of school-college students in the workshop and university students in the competition, and more importantly, more than 30 neutral knowledgeable judges throughout the competition are a strong indicator of this.

The debate workshop: you acquire it, or never do it!
Personally, I have come across lots of people who are vaguely opinionated about debating. Much as it may sound queer, the general perception goes as such: Both teams get a topic, they get some time to prepare what to talk on it, they collect some relevant data, and then start point-after-point argument, almost in the SSC-HSC English essay manner. Therefore, anyone 'who can talk well' is a 'good' debater!

Interestingly, I myself have been subject to such oddity since long till I watched the first SAARC Parliamentary Debate competition on BTV long ago. That was when I started taking real enjoyment in watching debates as I learned, debating is not just speaking wonderfully. It is an art where you need to understand the parameters of the issues you are talking about, and to know when to say what.

It was thus a dire need of the situation that apart from the debate contest, AIUB Debate Week had this debate workshop for aspiring debaters from schools and colleges.

What happened in the workshop? Well, prominent debaters at the national level conducted sessions for the young talents from different schools and colleges with invaluable inputs on debating techniques. Country's debate gurus like Dr. Abdun Noor Tushar, Mr. Shamim Reza, Mr. Hasan Mahmud Babu, Mr. Tony Michael Gomez, Mr. Chowdhury Abdullah Quaseed, Mr. Zeeshan Kingshuk Haq imparted on the participants the basic tenets of debating culture from real life situations. AOC members Abdullah Ahmed Chowdhury, Mosaddek Hossain, Sanveer Hossain and Sakib bin Kamal also joined their seniors to train up the youngsters.

Bidit told me later, 'Our target was not just creating the debating awareness among the kids; we aimed at a wider aspect. I've come up from Notre Dame College debating culture to flourish as a national debater later on, and I've felt, when a debater at the university level has already earned some repute owing to his/her school-college backgrounds, he/she is hardly in a position to learn any new thing. Therefore, school and college life is the best stage to train up debaters for future.'

AOC members have felt that as well. 'We ourselves have been on the learning process and this workshop helped all of us, to put it straight,' said one of the AOC members.

The participating institutions, alphabetically, were: Dhaka Commerce College, Dhaka Residential Model College, Dhanmondi Tutorial, European Standard School, Ideal Commerce College, Maple Leaf School, Mastermind, Notre Dame College, Oxford International School, Rajuk Uttara Model College, Rifels Public School and College, Scholastica, St. Joseph's College, Sunny Dale, and Universal Tutorial.

The power-play with words
The attraction for the general students was the battle of words among thoughtful minds which took place in five stages: first round, second round, quarter final, semi final and the final.

The Bangla competition was based on the Parliamentary Format while the English one was in the World's Format. And the topics were of truly brain stirring, so to say. Examples of some of these topics are: 'Ekattur poroborti shomoye amader shongskriti jono shompriktota hariyechhe' (In the post-1971 era, our culture has lost its touch with the mass), 'Bangaleer smritibhrom-I juddho oporadhider rajneetite punorbashito korechhe' (It is Bangalee's loss of memory that has established the war criminals in politics), 'This House believes in cultural hegemony', 'This House should rewrite the rules', 'This House should identify religious hatred, not economic issues, as the root cause for conflicts' and so on.

In the Bangla debate contest, Dhaka University, IBA, Chittagong University, East West University, Stamford University, Islamic University of Technology, Jagannath University, Jahangirnagar University, Daffodil University, Eden College, and AIUB faced tough contests in four rounds (including quarter final and semi final) before AIUB-B and Stamford University met each other in the final. Eventually AIUB-B emerged champion defeating Stamford University in an exciting power-play on the topic “Priye, holi khelar din noy oddo!” (Sweetheart, this is not the time for merriment!).

The English debate contest, all through in the World's Format, witnessed equal thrill among teams from IBA, NSU, Islamic University of Technology, Jagannath University, Jahangirnagar University, East West University, Chittagong University, Stamford University and AIUB in similar four rounds (including quarter final and semi final). Ultimately the final was held between two teams from NSU as 'Government 1' & 'Government 2', and AIUB-B as 'Opposition 1' & IBA-A as 'Opposition 2'.

Topic? 'This House needs an Einstein'. Creativity at its peak, no doubt about that. NSU-A i.e. the 'Government 1' was the champion while AIUB-B, i.e. the 'Opposition 1' became the Runner up.

A newer role of the English department
Amid such exuberance of AIUB's debating culture, Dr. Charles C. Villanueva, the vibrant student-friendly Dean of Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, had his rightful assertions. Acknowledging the nourishment of debate club by the Business School faculties long back, he emphasized that it is time that oratory activities in the campus gained further momentum under the direct supervision of the English department.

'As the Dean I strongly feel that it is in the interest of AIUB community that English department must become the focal ground of creative and aesthetic modes of expressions comprising activities like Oration, Proclamation, Dramatic Monologues, Extemporaneous Speaking, Drama etc. I already have some unique plans to implement with the active support of all English faculties which will enhance our debating culture to a much more superior standard,' he said. 'See, what else does ARTS stand for other than aesthetics, creativity and culture?'

The final ceremony
Father Bakul S. Rozario CSC, Vice Principal & Debating Club Coordinator of Notre Dame College; Mr. Shamim Reza, ex-debater and now Faculty of DU's Mass Communication & Journalism department; and Dr. Abdun Noor Tushar, debater and media personality, were among the dignitaries whose presence brightened the award-giving ceremony.

After the winner and runner-up teams received their crests, AIUB authority honored Father Bakul with a 'Special Acclamatory Award' for his relentless, outstanding contribution in the arena of College-level debate.

AOC's Mosaddek Hossain was given the 'Best Debater' award while AOC's Md. Rafiul Islam Rafel received the 'Award for Excellence'. AIUB's former national level debater Md. Farhaduzzaman was presented a 'Special Appreciation Award' for being the role model for today's debaters.

In the end, Vice Chancellor Dr. Carmen Z Lamagna heartily thanked the authorities of the schools and colleges for sending their promising debaters for the debate workshop. She expressed her gratitude not only to the faculties, officers and AOC members for their efforts, but also to all the national-level debate personalities and the media partners for their unique support.

Dr. Lamagna did not forget to add an interesting fact. This was indeed a rarity that the losing teams were seen accepting the verdicts without any sort of nagging or dissatisfaction. Right competition in the right spirit, everyone felt.

Warriors behind the curtain
It had to be a joint collaborative exertion of a good number of people working from the background without whom, nothing would have been possible.

Mr. Hasanul A Hasan, Founder & Vice President of HR & Treasury, generously continued his role as the chief patron behind the whole affair. Mrs. Nadia Anwar, Founder & Vice President of Student Affairs, supervised and monitored every proceeding and kept motivating the AOC members till the end.

Mr. Manzur H Khan, Coordinator of Student Affairs, was the person who singlehandedly managed the stage and interior decorations. Mr. Rasidul Islam Pallab, administrative executive, a former national debater, and an intimate associate of AOC, handled the complicacies of the event with professional ease. Mr. Ziarat Hossain Khan, faculty of BBA, smilingly underwent the toil of typing, proofreading and designing “Synthesis '08”, the cute-looking brochure of the event.

However, especially noteworthy should be the unconditional labour of AOC boys and girls including Mosaddek, Mamun, Rafel, Himel, Sanveer, Sakib, Joney, Sajid, Ratul, Nancy, Muzahid, Akram, Nurhan, Naila, Fahmida and Suzana. Their love, passion and dedication toward debate have been commendable to the extreme.

Dr. Abdun Noor Tushar and Mr. Shamim Reza, two celebrated debating personalities, extended their cordial support all the time.

'teerhara ei dheu-er shagor pari debo re'
The ceremony was not to be complete without brief lively concert by AIUB Performing Arts Club (APAC) members. As they started with the awesome number 'Teerhara ei dheu-er shagor pari debo re', the crowd was already at its feet, ecstatically singing in chorus. An ideal song to begin with, Bidit Lal Dey whispered into my ears. He felt, it symbolized the potential of AIUB debaters to inch towards societal leadership crushing all obstacles that would come on the way. After all, it's better to initiate the “changes” with the power of words, with reasoning capability.I recalled William Drummond's saying, 'He who will not reason is a bigot, he who cannot reason is a fool, and he who dares not reason is a slave.'

Aah…! Who wants to be a slave? Surely one day all Bangladeshis will REASON, I prayed silently.

The writer is a faculty of English department in AIUB

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