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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 129 | July 26 , 2009|


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Chronicles of a College Student:
The Glass Bottle

Tanzima Rouf Chowdhury

I have five mosquito bites randomly dispersed on me including one right on my lifeline: a palmist could probably misinterpret it as a foreboding event but I know that this “red doom” is just an itchy little bump that tells me I have arrived in Bangladesh (in addition to my hair which is a scary mass of frizz). I am here to spend my vacation with my grandparents and even though, I am willfully and happily here, I must admit (very shamefully) that there was one thing that I was not excited about: my lack of freedom. (I hate to admit it because it makes me seem like a wailing, spoiled Westernized brat, which is the type of person that I dislike and try especially hard not to be. But I can't help myselfI really, really do like my freedom.)

This freedom is a horrible addiction once you get introduced to it. After that, any time you find yourself in even two degrees of restraint, your lungs begin to collapse, the reality of suffocation sets in and you start to beat against the glass bottle you find you have been put into. It is frightening to be able to see this spacious world outside where the oxygen to sustain you swirls around, mockingly, as you die at a leisurely pace, sealed in your glass bottle, poisoned by your own air.

Perhaps my description is dramatic but those who have hungered for freedom understand the glass bottle.

The itchy bump on my palm takes awhile to become small, dark and hard. Instead of feeling the normal hatred for the nasty brute that did this to me, I consider that maybe the bump is a message from the Higher Powers through Nature. When the mosquito bit on my lifeline, it knew before I did, that my survival in Bangladesh this summer would be a struggle. The “red doom” meant that my grandparents would cast an overprotective mantra on me and trap me like a genie in a glass bottle. I couldn't go out whenever, wherever, and with whomever because they were afraid I would get hijacked since that is what Bengalis do in their free time to people from abroad. I admit, as I cringe in embarrassment, that they even provided a baby-sitter in the form of my grandma's cousin, Bela Nanu. Of course, I adore Bela Nanu but imagine taking this petite, 4' 9” elderly lady everywhere as my bodyguard. It did occur to me (very, very briefly) that I could possibly feed her some sleeping medicine and then, as soon as she would pass out, I could race to my liberation. But that's not my style. Besides, what if my plan goes askew and she, God forbid, passes out forever? Then, I'll be wearing a white sari like a proper female convict and my glass bottle will be a permanent encasement of stone blocks and rods of steel. From that point on, I can only imagine what freedom used to be like.

Leaving this morbid topic aside and continuing with my baby-sitter dilemma, I had to take Bela Nanu everywhere from the shopping center, to my cousin's house, and even to my internship interview. In the latter, new thresholds to my awkwardness were set when my first interviewer discreetly asked who she was, why she was accompanying me, and before I could explain, dear Bela Nanu, forgive her heart, told him that she was my chaperone. I felt very similar to a chimp on a leash. He offered us coffee, she drank hers, I wanted to die but instead answered more questions, we went home, and two weeks later I got my internship notice. Other than my humiliation, everything went well.

But sick of being baby-sat, I thought to myself, the glass bottle is glass. If I strike it hard, it should crack. So I had a bit of a tiff with my grandparents and even then, I hated myself for arguing with them and seeming like that wailing, spoiled Westernized brat. In my anger, I went to the only place I could think of in Chittagong that could make me happy in this time of distress: Lucy's Beauty Parlour. Once again, Bela Nanu accompanied me, but I was too tired and frustrated to rebel some more. Feeling guilty about the confrontation with my grandparents, I decided to punish myself by inflicting pain through waxing. When I had enough, I took pity on me and decided to treat myself to a rejuvenating face pack. As the ladies around me pulled, slathered and massaged, I searched for a way out of the glass bottle without breaking it into shards.

With the smell of sandalwood emanating from my face, I reminisced of the time I had met freedom.

Freedom and I first got acquainted when I left home for college. Although I instantly loved her, I understood why my parents had previously regulated how much of her I was able to see.

She is one of those friends that you have to monitor and with her you need to call your other friend, responsibility. While Freedom likes to test limits, responsibility reminds us of the consequences. Both are complementary because with only freedom, it can be pure madness and with only responsibility, it can be sheer depression.

In other words, the solution to the glass bottle in my particular case required some old-fashioned time and patience. I needed to make my grandparents realize that I was also responsible and the best and only way I could do it was by showing them I was a responsible, mature young lady and not a nagging, rebellious child. Although I left Lucy's with Bela Nanu tagging along at my side reminding me of my shackles, I also left feeling smooth, serene, and smart.

For a while, I forgot fighting for freedom and opted to start enjoying my time instead. I chilled with my grandparents: watching TV, shopping, eating out and in, visiting people, seeing places, and just moseying around. Eventually, I saw Bela Nanu as my sidekick instead of my chaperone. I am not ashamed but a little surprised to admit that I was, and still am, loving my time with my g-rents. However, one blessed humid afternoon, I went out by myself, all alone, (well the driver took me, but it was just me solo without B.N.). I needed (but really wanted) to buy a purse, nothing special and the g-rents let me go with only two conditions: to call them at times and to turn the switch on my brain and common sense on high. Of course, it's not the same kind of freedom I get at college in America where I can run out for pizza or ice cream at one a.m. with friends after a late night study session, or spend a whole night out in the park in the rain philosophizing, or lamenting, about my life. Still, I am very grateful and content with what I am given. So like every other Bengali I know, I'll blame this difference on the government.

Once the right point in time came along, I just happened to look up and miraculously find that the glass bottle has a cap that can be opened. No breakage necessary, simply learn how to unscrew it. I realize that some people have caps that are more tightly screwed, while others barely have a cap on their bottle, but in all cases, you will have to figure out the best way your cap unscrews, take an initiative, and wait for the right time. Just don't forget about responsibility, otherwise that cap might be stuck on tighter than before.

But this experience with my g-rents has made me realize how blessed I am to have people in my life who ask me where I am going, what I am going to do, and when I am going to get back. It's nice and comforting to know that your life means something to someone else.

Before I end this tale, I would like to thank Lucy's for being there. Just like Buddha found enlightenment under the fig tree, I found my enlightenment under the tube lights of Lucy's Beauty Parlour (with all this free publicity, Lucy's should hire me as their spokesperson or better yet, give me some free services. Just a suggestion…)

(The writer is a student of Economics and Religious Studies, University of Virginia)


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