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    Volume 9 Issue 8 | February 19, 2010|

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Aasha Mehreen Amin

Anyone who has had the opportunity to go to university will swear that those were the best years of their lives, the wrinkle-free faces, the carefree days, the pleasant yet inane preoccupation with the opposite sex. Sometimes those days were so golden that the now aging 'youths' (old in body, juvenile in intellect) just can't let go of their youthful days. This, despite the growing tires around the waist region, the loss of hair, the deteriorating brain cells and of course the reality of not being single anymore to browse around.

Student 'leaders' as they are called, are often stuck in time and wish to continue their carefree, irresponsible uni days, well into their middle ages and much after the expansion of their midriffs.

According to several brilliant (and rather hilarious) reports in Prothom Alo on student leaders, most of them had long crossed the age-limit stipulated by the constitution of the respective student bodies. One leader, for instance was around 47, had a wife and kid and had started university in 1986. This means technically he has been studying for the last 24 years. It would probably make him the most academically-inclined Bangladeshi in the country. One story of the aforementioned daily states that the party in question has 103 members (out of 171) whom are married and thirty leaders have school-going children. Not that it's wrong to be wedded and a father while still a student, lots of people do it, think of medical students, people doing their PhD's or those who just feel like getting a degree after years of slogging to feed the family. But when it comes to students staying on since first year, setting up businesses and even taking part in elections and still claiming to be 'student leaders' perhaps the imagination is being stretched a little too much.

The most mysterious part of the story is that many of these middle-aged student leaders have completed whatever they had set out to complete academically and so were not even students. Thus the rule is you don't have to be a student to be a student leader and age is no bar. I mean if machetes and sawed off shot guns can be carried around as openly as library books why should a few years here and there and even the absence of proper enrolment matter? It's how you think and feel that matters. These fellows think themselves as students even when their little ones are pulling at their pants to take them to Shishu Park. They believe they have a right to be on campus just because of this feeling. Some leaders have expressed that though they are not really students they do intend to start some course or the other. Perhaps something like botany or literature to take off the edge of all the tensions of being a cadre would be in order. A common option is to do an EPhD (Eternal PhD). Of course this would be during their free time after all their other responsibilities are done- establishing supremacy at the halls obviously to maintain proper discipline among students, in other words, so they join their fraternities, coming out first in the tender exams, finding proper storage space for their 'stuff' and just getting prepared to lead the nation when in their 80s. Then of course there is the wife and kids to consider and the whole rigmarole of attending to shoshur bari duties, buying gold jewellery for the sisters -in-law, giving the brother-in law a role in the fraternity even though he is a complete dud. Being a student leader/cadre is not a bed of roses.

Meanwhile another student body that specialises in surgical measures, although the members do not necessarily study medicine, does not really have any age bar at all to be a member. All you have to do is be a student of some kind although one member interviewed by the reporter of the Bangla daily, cryptically said that there was no definite definition of what a 'student' was. Others, however have taken a more practical course: taking a course in Japanese which no doubt will come in handy at some point in their violent political career.

Oh the extremes we, the aging non-student leaders go to - to feel young - the hairdyes, the layers of make up, the tight shirts that barely retain our paunches, the face-lifts, the wigs, the liposuction and wrinkle-free creams. But for the student leaders this is all very 'immature' behaviour. They have a better, far less expensive way of doing it. Just stay in university by being a student cadre. You can remain young by being a youth leader of a student body for as long as you like. At least until your heart tells you otherwise.


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