TIB Report and the Missing Role Models
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) recently has brought out a dismal corruption perception index report on some of our service sectors including judiciary, police, education and others. The report inevitably brought back my recollection of some exceptions that I encountered in my lifetime.
After my father retired from government service in the late fifties, my mother could not serve us midday meal until 3:30 in the afternoon. Exasperated, one day, I asked her why was she so late in cooking the meals. Her short and sharp reply was “ask your father why he brings home the fish and vegetables late from the market”. I picked up the courage one day and asked my father why he goes to the market late? With a smile in his face he replied “fish and vegetable sell cheap after one o'clock”. Certainly this was an original marketing intelligence. However, I could not argue that perhaps he was buying cheap rotten and stale fish and vegetables, as I knew very well that he was trying to live within his means with precious little pension money. We perennially suffered the chill of financial hardship in our family of nine members including five brothers and four sisters. Yet, my father, a police officer who retired as Police Superintendent always upheld what was right and proper, decent and honourable. He never allowed his family the use of his official transport. Everything my father cared for, preached and practised was simple living and high thinking.
Photo: Zahedul I Khan
He was pleased that all his children received the best possible education at home and abroad. He was planning to settle in his village home but my mother moved from pillar to post to borrow rupees twelve hundred to pay the first instalment of five thousand rupees, the cost of one bigha of land allotted to my father. Consequently, my father was a proud possessor of a piece of land in Dhanmondi residential area, considered a status symbol in those days in the fifties. Two days before he died he called me by his bedside and said, “my father who was an ordinary peasant could not afford to leave any property or land for me. But I am leaving the land in Dhanmondi for you and your brothers and sisters. Remain contented with what you have. Don't buy any more land as a writer once wrote 'how much land does a man require?' Also land is limited in Dhaka and you will be depriving others.”
I was weak in Mathematics. With great trepidation, I approached our head master Benod Behari Deb, a sage, a serious man and a math prodigy, with a request to coach me for one month before my matriculation examination. He was never known to have engaged himself in private tuition. He looked grim, remained silent for a while and lo and behold, he agreed. There was disbelief in my friends when they heard about it. After the month was over, I handed him rupees 20 only as tuition fee. He gave me a rude stare, returned the money and said, “I agreed to coach you to bring good name to my school and not for money.” It was a good lesson for me because he lived a very simple life. There were signs of want and poverty everywhere in his little hut. Yet, he seemed very contented and happy in life; two of his sons were barristers in Calcutta.
Zahir khalu was our distant relative. He retired as a district judge. His life was confined to the court and cloistered home. He was extremely private and would fight shy of social functions or family gatherings. When asked about his self imposed ostracised life, he said his calling and profession in judiciary demanded exclusion in society lest he should expose himself to temptations of approaches by others and consequently compromise with impartiality and correctness of his judgments. He found refuge in his big library as a substitute of wider society. He led a very simple life and gave his children first grade education. Unable to buy a plot of land in Dhaka he retired to his ancestral home in Comilla. During a later visit, he said he considered his life a success. He looked happy and contented.
My father, my headmaster and Zahir khalu could be examples and inspirational role models who were happy with very little and despised filthy wealth and affluence. They could very well be role models to be emulated today by the Police, Educationists and Judiciary and other civil servants. These role models are the endangered species today. They are the missing role models in the TIB corruption narrative.
The debate over the accuracy of perception of corruption in the TIB report is besides the point. We all know we are all victims of corruption, which has seeped deep into the bone marrow, and every sinew of our society. We see and experience it in our everyday life every step of the way. There is no denying it. What we should affirm is why it is there and how it can be eradicated.
We have all the signs of decadent and decrepit society where the lofty and noble cherished values of a life of honesty and integrity, simplicity and sacrifice have degenerated and given way to insatiable greed and mad competition for wealth, power and position. The new yardstick of success in life is to own an apartment, a car, a Laptop, an iPhone, iPod and what not, send your children to expensive English medium schools and spend vacations in Bangkok, Singapore, London and New York at the start of your life. This infatuation with the modern lifestyle of a consumer society, by the present generation, is in stark contrast to the simple and unaffected life lived by our parents and is the root of corruption in society.
Aspiration for a quick good life of comfort and prosperity without earning it legally by hard work is dependent on easy money by robbing others. Hence the spread of corruption, the mantra to reach the ladder to so called success today. Choice is ours. Should we opt for a fulfilling life of decency and dignity, truth and justice, love and compassion or should we descend to decline and fall, chaos and conflict and tension and insecurity by sordid affluence acquired by theft, plunder and misappropriation, by mean and ugly selfishness.
The best way to combat corruption today in our society is to revive and regenerate the values represented by the missing role models. What is urgently needed is a sustained campaign in every home, every office and every profession for moral rearmament to return to what once was a gentle, just and compassionate society where life is truly beautiful.
Abdul Hannan is a former press counsellor in Bangladesh UN Mission in New York.
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