Remembering Those Black and White Times
Syed Badrul Ahsan
You get the sense these days that Bengalis are increasingly turning into a society of rude people. It was not like this when we were young. And that was because our parents instilled in us, constantly and insistently, the values which have always underlined the growth and sustenance of civilisations. We went to school, we played games, we listened to songs on the radio. And we came home before dusk, before our parents could stumble upon any reason to reprimand us for unwarranted behaviour. It was an era when our fathers saw to it that we did our homework on time as our mothers went about preparing dinner. It was an age when the family mattered, when bonding was all.
Those were black and white times. Our fathers were resplendent in their dignity. Our mothers were brilliant in their graces. And we reached for the skies. We heard about the race for the conquest of space; and we identified with the cosmonauts and astronauts who went out in search of new worlds, those beyond the confines of our own. There was innocence at work and diligence at play. We grew up to be smart children in the sense that we studied the world through our schoolwork. Our teachers did not advise us to go for coaching in the evenings. Our parents saw little reason to hire tutors for us. Of course we committed misdemeanours. Of course we committed peccadilloes. And we were severely reprimanded and appropriately punished for such worrisome behaviour. And we then stood corrected, properly disciplined. We never screamed, Tarzan-like, in school. We froze when we saw our teachers approach. We swallowed hard and gulped when the headmaster asked us a simple enough question. We were no bullies. And we did not encourage the rise of bullies amongst us.
We debated in school, on subjects as diverse as 'Frailty, thy name is woman' and 'A land of peace is more valuable than a piece of land.' It was debate that ignited new fires in us, that made us rush into the school library for new ideas. We debated, boys and girls, fiercely on issues we thought mattered. Even as we secretly aspired to receiving furtive, shy looks from the girls, even as the girls convinced themselves of our adolescent ardour for them, we knew that in school debates we needed to demolish one another. Those were epic battles we waged in defence of our dignity. At the end of it all, we went home, our friendship restored and our secretly nurtured wicked ideas back at work. Yes, those were black and white times, when our parents made our weekends special for us by taking us to movies revolving around the theme of family and society or having us accompany them to the park, to play, to get sweaty, to munch peanuts even as we panted beside the serene lake.
We belonged to a period in history when reading was all. In the villages, we devoured most of the classics of Bengali literature by the time we finished school. In the cities, we looked for Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' and Dickens' 'Great Expectations' and Harper Lee's 'To Kill A Mockingbird.' There were teachers whose eloquence only added spur to our intellectual ambitions. There were teachers who informed us that competition was good, that one who had no ambition simply did not comprehend the full meaning of life. And so we raced, friends against friends, for top honours in classroom performance all year. We loved it, loved too telling one another of the new books that had just arrived in town, of new songs that warmed the heart.
We walked, back in those days, for miles on end. And we took unmitigated pleasure in cycling all across town and beyond it, the wind blowing in our hair and a playfulness egging us on to what we thought were the final frontiers of life's riveting experience.
Ours was a fortunate generation, not circumscribed by technology, not inhibited by television, not confined to multi-layered gadgetry. We wrote in longhand. First came the pencils. And then came the fountain pens into which we poured ink. Our handwriting was a peek into our souls. The better the handwriting the clearer was the image of the world's beauty.
We had no mobile phones that would have us waste our time. We did not go around wearing iPods and listening to inanities for songs. We did not download information from the internet but spent happy, struggling days browsing through libraries until we came upon what we needed. We spoke good, sophisticated Bengali and Urdu and English. We wore proper trousers or shorts, depending on our age, but nothing that looked like a cross between trousers and shorts. Our fathers wore dark suits with black or blue ties. Our mothers, proper Bengalis, wrapped themselves in pretty sarees and not for a moment would they imagine exchanging those with attire that came from foreign land.
Those were good times. The sun shone bright. The rain fell in a cascade of melody. Lightning and thunder played all night. Beyond the rice fields, beyond the ancient mountains, a rainbow popped up to speak to us of the immortality of dreams.
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