Cultural Stimulus at Primary Level
When we were in primary school it was customary that at the end of the year there would be an 'annual variety show' on the occasion of the prize giving ceremony for excellence in academic and non-academic performances. Academic performance, needless to say, has to do with the 'core' function of an educational institution. Therefore, it goes without saying that any academic institution would automatically have a prize giving ceremony at the end of each academic session. But cultural events were refreshingly close to our hearts. It is that bit of extra curriculum and artistic endeavour that we as students would be genuinely looking forward to. I remember, we all believed that it was no big deal singing a song or two, reciting a poem or trying to act out a joke before a crowd that comprised mostly our peers. Once I had even tried to sing a Tagore number in one of these functions. “Saving me from the impending danger is not what I pray to thee for; bestow me, o lord, with the power to win over the fear of danger.” I was singing with my eyes closed and with full devotion when I could not check the temptation of opening my eyes to see for myself how my listeners were enjoying my rendition. And that was, perhaps, the greatest mistake I made that evening. I discovered my parents in the fourth row of the auditorium. I think I saw a glint of smile in the eyes of my mother. To all mothers her children were always the best in everything and they could do no wrong. But my father, I bet, was not amused. At least his facial expression did not say so. Later that evening when I returned home my father told me, “I thought that I had got you into a school that took pride in its all round excellence, but going by your achievement in singing I am beginning to doubt if I made the right choice”. Thankfully my father had said that, otherwise I'd perhaps be still toiling to make it in the field of music with my utterly useless musical sense. This initial resistance to my musical aspirations perhaps was something that made me try out other branches of cultural activities.
Artwork by Nurul Islam
There was a time when every middle class family, irrespective of religious affiliation practised some form of cultural activities. My own parents were devoutly religious but mother played the organ and sang Nazrul's songs. It was a tradition that when some one in the family got married and were invited to our home for a get together there had to be some song and dance. There was a lawn in our Ganderia home and we used to enthusiastically build a stage in one corner to have this 'function'. This function usually preceded dinner. In our family we had quite a few celebrated performers. So such a function could easily be rounded up with our home grown artistes. Before we came to Dhaka we lived in short stints in various towns like Meherpur, Madaripur, Feni, Khulna, Kushtia etc. My father was a bureaucrat and we went wherever our father was posted. My years in these towns were spent when I was still a very young boy advancing toward adolescence. In these towns if you walked through the residential areas early in the morning or evening you would hear the sound of harmonium, or tabla accompanied by one or more voices practising to sing. One could even hear poems being recited. I distinctly remember, as I was growing up, every school had a debating club or a recitation class. In some schools there used to be wall periodicals with literary contribution of the students by way of poems, essays or fiction. These activities were not limited to small towns only. Cultural activities in our village high schools were very common. In winter they even staged plays where the elders of the village also took part as patrons, organisers or even as actors. When we went on vacation to our village such events used to be our main source of entertainment. Since Bangladesh came in to being, while such activities still exist in the expensive schools in the large cities, they have become sparse in the primary level of schools in small towns and villages. This is a very interesting phenomenon that could indeed be a matter of research for those who are interested to take an interest in the shift of emphasis from the larger section of the population to a selected section of urbanites. A society that consisted of a strong middle class wielding opinion is giving way to the richer people who are emerging as the social elite and also, to a great extent, are corrupting our society.
The schools in our villages have become absolutely drab places that naturally fail to attract attention of the kids. The teachers are most uninterested in taking any initiative and are more busy conducting coaching classes within the class rooms for some extra bit of money rather than taking regular classes. These apparently special coaching classes are meant for as young a student as five or six! The cultural activities or any extra-curricular activity that have to do with generating interest towards education or sharpening the overall intellectual faculties of the children take a back seat. Efforts were made at various times to rejuvenate the existing academic atmosphere in the primary schools but failed for want of sustenance. Therefore, when these students; now in the primary schools in rural or small towns of the country; grow up they'd have very inadequate compensation for the kind of youth that we would look forward to take this country forward. The liberal, egalitarian and democratic norms that we want our children to have, something that had helped us have a mind of our own, something that initiated in us the eagerness to fight for an independent country of our own, and something that made us open and eager to learn is what we are depriving our own children from. It is time that we gave adequate attention to this if we do not want a nation without brains.
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