More than a University
Prathama Komal Nabi
So, it's not the most conventional residential area, neither is it filled with postmodern architectural masterpieces. And, people still give me a weird look when I tell them where I live. But unconventional as it is, the Dhaka University campus is still home to us. Who are “we”? “We'' are the DU kids. We're not here as teachers. We're not here as students. We're here by birthright; born to parents who teach at the University of Dhaka.
Growing up, I was more amused than anything else when people raised their eyebrows after hearing my address. From “so, you're telling me that you live in a University classroom” to “Wow, isn't it scary living amidst all the shooting and the “michils”?” I have heard it all. I was even asked how I managed, every morning, to make it into civilisation (i.e., Dhanmondi) out from the “war zone” a.k.a. the DU campus. But through out the years of “surviving” on campus, I have never had to duck bullets, let alone use my bulletproof vest, which remains in the closet, gathering dust. While we have had our share of the occasional procession, we are yet to face a life and death situation of being stuck in crossfire. Most rallies steer clear of the living quarters and there hasn't been any real gunfight around these places in years. So, the DU quarters aren't quite the Hellenic battlefield that people think they are.
Instead, these buildings, with their faded yellow paint are standing testaments to history being played out. Rows and rows of identical yellow buildings, with one or two white ones peeking out, surrounded by the tallest and greenest trees you'll ever see they have become the essence of what a family stands for. These structures represent more than just the academic or political facet of the University of Dhaka. They stand for something far more real. They make a statement about the people who spend most of their lives there. Growing up, getting married, becoming parents. And, as every new family moves in, it adds memories of its own to that place, so that, in the end, each family is somehow interlinked by virtue of the place that they have lived in.
From this connection, grows a sense of community and belonging that is unique to this campus. It is more than just about each apartment having its annual New Year celebrations. Or neighbours sending sweets to each other's houses every Eid. It is about spending the entire day together during Pahela Boishakh. Year in, year out. It is about being a part of each other's lives; reciprocating gestures more meaningful than the cursory nod of acknowledgement. It's about being a family, without having to be related.
Nobody is denying the fact that we have our neighbourly squabbles. Nor is anyone saying that everyone gets along perfectly fine all the time (come on, every apartment in town has its melodramatic moments). But, despite all this, almost every afternoon, you will see the boys down-stairs getting ready to play their daily cricket match, while the girls are pointing at them and laughing. Every evening, you will see this group of people sitting by the swings, laughing, arguing, and teasing each other about the smallest of things. Living here is like going to high school all over again, the only difference being in age.
And just like high school, we have our “parah” rivalries. Trying to prove how one “parah” is better than the other is a favourite past time here at DU High. The discussion of “Our parah has the best football/tennis/cricket players” usually ends with more bruised egos than trophies won in the “parah” tournament. This is of course due to the fact that both teams are equally bad. So, it becomes a matter of who can embarrass himself or herself the least, rather than winning or proving anything.
Before writing this down, yours truly went on a little survey to see what people actually think about living here.
Question: What's the best thing about growing up on campus?
Answers: “Huge playing fields”, “the fact that we never have to read the newspapers, since we get the inside scoop before it hits the stand”, “the electricity is almost always there”…and (*drum roll please*)… the GIRLS. (The person with the last answer requests complete anonymity, so sorry, that remains a secret).
Interesting answers. And while I cannot vouch for all of them, I will say that living on campus teaches me more about the world than any newspaper ever will (no offence). Nothing compares to having backstage passes to most (not all) of what goes on around here. It's not about sneaking into your father's study to go through his files. Rather, it is about being critically aware of the events that unfold around you. Behind the scenes, as we look on, we learn to not only appreciate the dynamics of this institution, but also to reflect on what the real world might look like. It's like being inside a clock seeing how the cogs move to make it work.
As for the huge playing fields, yes, I will admit, they provide a unique advantage. Unrestricted access to such gigantic pitches is rare these days. The DU kids definitely have a privilege there.
About the worst things to deal with on campus? Let's not forget about the ridiculously strict security measures set during times of political unrest. Uniformed police officers are stationed all over making sure no one enters and no one leaves. So we end up having to spend 45 minutes trying to prove our identities. Imagine the irony of having to PROVE who you are, just because you want to enter your own house. A far more serious problem, however, happens to be transport itself. Without a car or a permanent mode of transport, it's like being stranded on an island on the best of days. And on the worst of days, you're stuck in a drowning ship, with no one to take you away from there. Having to walk a mile to Nilkhet just to get a rickshaw, on a hot summer day, is not something I would care for.
But I would walk those walks a thousand times if it means that every year, on the evening of the 20th of February, I can walk down to see the Shahid Minar being decorated - when access to the rest of the world has been closed off; that any time of the day it will take me five minutes to get to the statue of Aporajeyo Bangla. Because these privileges and everything else about living here have become a part of my identity. These are the things that have come to symbolise the word “home” for me. These are things that make the University of Dhaka more than just a university.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006