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     Volume 5 Issue 113 | September 22, 2006|

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Special Feature

The Better Half of Dhaka University

Prathama Komal Nabi

Mamu, ek plate. Dui cup. Keys rattle in pockets; faded 2 taka notes come out. Conversation resumes, quickly turning into a heated argument about the upcoming elections, while in the background, enthusiastic voices sing along to the harmonium, as rehearsals continue for the next cultural programme of the Dhaka University Music Academy. Welcome to a typical afternoon at the TSC, the heart of the University of Dhaka.

Spread over more than 3.70 acres, the TSC (Teacher Student Centre) of the University of Dhaka has evolved from a simple recreational centre into the cultural nucleus of not only the University itself but of the nation as a whole. Nowadays, besides the usual Ramna hangout, Pahela Baishakh also means scores of people heading towards the TSC, spending the afternoon there, listening to “Baul” songs or eating “pitha” from the vendors lining the street. And only half of these people are the students of the University of Dhaka. The culture and traditions of this country have become so integrated with the TSC itself, that “property rights” can no longer be limited to the Dhaka University students. The TSC now belongs to everyone.

An eclectic fusion of culture, diversity and free thought, this place is the heart that beats in tune to the soul of the Bengali culture. Each beat keeps alive all these ideals and imbues a similar spirit in all those that it comes in touch with. It is the very objective of 'connecting people' that gave birth to the concept of a teacher student centre back in 1961. At the time, the Dhaka University authority realised the institution's need for a permanent structure, outside the classroom, where the teachers and the students would be crossing the boundaries of every day class room formality to establish a relationship that was both more personal and more productive. It was also meant to be a place that the students could use, to engage themselves in various extracurricular activities. In the exact words of Md. Alamgir Hossain, the present director of TSC, “it stood and will continue to stand, as a channel of expression for the social and cultural activities of the Dhaka University students; one that not only enriches them but also completes them as human beings.”

That simple concept has evolved over the years, in the process, transforming the TSC into the focal point of the country's political and cultural scene. To some, this teacher student centre symbolises a life away from the daily academic humdrum of this educational institution. It is an escape route, a place where they can let go of their troubles. To others, in addition to the afternoon plate of shingara, the TSC is a platform where they can speak their minds, where they can meet new people. And, to some more, the TSC embodies the core of the country's socio- cultural dynamics.

One facet of this multidimensional prism is the TSC's notoriously famous addas. Hours and hours of carefree addas have come to define the 'TSC experience' for most of the Dhaka University students. Anyone walking around the TSC during any time can see huddles of students spread all across the compound. These “circles” have become a permanent fixture of the TSC itself. But these addas often cleverly deceive the eyes of the everyday observer. On the surface they are just clusters of students taking a break from the hectic classes. Peel the skin and look closer. You will see opinions being shattered, reformed and then reinforced. You will see lives being changed.

Professor Geeti Ara Nasrin, from the Department of Journalism remembers, how in her days, it was still somewhat of a taboo to speak to a boy so openly in public. But the TSC provided a place that was untouched by any such stigma; a place where any interaction could take place freely. It gave the students the courage to speak to someone of the opposite sex without having to worry about what people would say. And as every new batch came in, the mindsets and attitudes of the students changed. These students in turn changed the outlook of others around them, setting off a subtle, yet significant, ripple in the multitude of thoughts swarming around. The TSC gave people the freedom that was demanded but never granted.

Allowing such wishes to be realised requires one of the most sought after treasures of all time - open, unadulterated space. That is what makes the TSC so special - the accessibility to limitless space. No other place in Dhaka University has the capability to offer its students such a humongous area to mingle and interact in. The three main buildings, interconnected by open hallways, enclose a sprawling green lawn which is never unoccupied. The tall trees, which are a trademark of the university itself, do not fail to make their presence known either. They surround the entire compound of the TSC, standing tall as if in quiet defiance, daring any outsider to desecrate the holy land.

The blueprint for the construction of the Dhaka University Teacher Student Centre was created by the Greek firm, Docksiadis Associates Consultant Limited and the building construction was completed in the year 1966. The compound is roughly divided into three architectural components. The first is the three storied main administrative building. The administrative staff, supervised by the Director Alamgir Hossain, occupies half of the third floor. The other half is used by the Student Counseling section of the University of Dhaka. The second floor has the Munir Chowdhury conference room a room used, mainly, by the Dhaka University students and teachers, for various seminars, conferences and meetings.

The air conditioned auditorium, with a capacity of around 900 persons, is where most of the university's programs are held. Starting from the interdepartmental debate tournaments, to the seminars, to the departments' cultural festivals almost everything takes place here.

The final structure in this compound is the cafeteria building. With a large dining room, a snack bar and a separate faculty dining space, the TSC cafeteria still remains a popular hangout. “The food, cooked by the TSC's own cooks, is good and cheap, sometimes even better than that served in the halls”, says Jahir, a former student. “I used to come here for lunch most of the times, even though it was a little out of the way from my hall. He also says how these lunches were a chance to meet new students or even catch up with old friends that he could not otherwise meet due to the pressure of classes.”

Behind the cafeteria is the Games Room, accessible to both the students and teachers. Arrangements for table tennis, carom board, chess, etc are always set up, waiting to be played. “But this facility is availed more by the students than by the faculty members”, observes Alamgir the TSC director. “Most of the teachers head out to the Dhaka University Club after classes. They rarely come here to play” he says.

The latest addition to the TSC family is the Cyber Centre, which according to the TSC administration, is turning out to be one of the best investments they have made in recent years. The Cyber Centre, supervised by the Chairman, Department of Computer sciences, accommodates 25 computers allowing students, teachers and staff access to the internet at any time of the day. All the users have to do is buy a Pre-paid internet card of Tk. 60 from the centre, that will last them 300 minutes online. The centre also allows options of both laser printing and Dot Matrix.

At one corner of the lawn, stands a four walled Greek monument which was built around the 1900 AD. In the style of ancient Greek temple house gravestones, the monument was built in the memory of family members of Greek merchant families that used to live in Narayanganj during that period. The walls of the monument contain the epitaphs of four of the family members.

Yet, ironically, it is not the architecture of the TSC that one notices when walking in. It is the exciting flurry of activities that catches the eye. There is so much to absorb simultaneously that it's like being in an amusement park for the first time. More than 50 organisations are authorised to carry out their activities on the TSC grounds. Mostly cultural groups, these organizations enrich the cultural environment of the university and the nation as a whole. Behind the cultural walls of the TSC, are other clubs and organisations that add equally if not more to the diversity of life at TSC. The Dhaka University Journalism Association (DUJA) is one of these. For the members of DUJA (students of the Dhaka University Journalism department), the TSC is the first taste of their future journalistic lives - exchanging ideas in a highly charged environment, battling opinions and several cups of cha. Then, there are groups for which the TSC is a mere meeting place. These organisations, like the Dhaka University Tourist Society carry out their activities all over the country, going on expeditions and tours every few months. All the while, the TSC still remains the headquarters for the intellectuals of the Dhaka University Debating Society. This is where they prepare for upcoming events, organise tournaments and arrange workshops.

For 34 long years, Mr. Alamgir Hossain has been the Director of the TSC. Smiling quietly, he talks about the changes that have taken place. “Over the years,” he remarks, “I have noticed a distinct change in the way the students interact with each other. Now, boys and girls talk more freely, with none of the hesitation that there used to be before.” This is positive change towards a broader mindset pleases him. He adds, “The forms of activities have become more modernised than they used to be. Now we have concerts and fashion shows, things we could not have imagined a decade ago. The overall environment has become healthier”. But Alamgir also throws light on the other side of the coin the huge space problems. He points out that, with the ever-expanding student body, the TSC is no longer capable of providing space for all the activities that take place. “We do not have enough rooms for all these groups. Often, there are organisations that need to be shut down due to the lack of space. That is heartbreaking. Now, more than ever, we need more TSCs” he emphasises.

With its ageing walls and towering trees the TSC has always been an integral part of every D.U. student's life. As polite small talk turned into more personal conversations, these students formed life long friendships. Graduated, employed and married, they now reminisce about a place that had once changed their lives. A place that has evolved into the hub of Bangali culture; a place where the entire country rushes to every 21st of February or the 14th of April. A place, where, if you listen closely enough, you can hear “coffee house er sheii adda gulo......” A place called TSC.


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