Write to Mita
Write to Mita
The Last 20 years
It is hard to believe that 20 years has elapsed since the first publication of the Daily Star. Without any exaggeration, one can honestly say that it set a new and higher standard for English journalism in Bangladesh . Since the beginning, the Star magazine has been an important feature of the paper, focusing on critical social issues. I started the column Write to Mita on request of the late SM Ali, the first editor of the newspaper. I was hesitant at first but was persuaded by friends given my training in Marriage and Family counseling.
First, to my readers and those who have written to me in all these years, I want to say thank you. I am not very sure what I have given to you, but I have certainly learnt a lot. Through the hundreds of nameless letters I have been able to get a sense of what people of different ages, especially young people think about, their pain, frustrations and challenges. In these short, often disjointed letters, I have read between the lines to discover a world of unsaid and unexpressed feelings and emotions. Young people yearning to express themselves, writing desperate letters and asking for help.
My constant feeling has been one of inadequacy. Given the brevity and lack of information in the letters, I have great difficulty in coming up with any rational advice. Often I have made mistakes not having understood the nature of the problem and have perhaps inadvertently caused harm. In fact I have never flattered myself into thinking that I was solving any problems. I have seen myself as someone who was there for people of different ages to open their hearts to. I have only tried to make them think of different options when confronted with a problem. I have also made attempts to encourage them to seek help from family or friends given the limitations of my column.
As I look back over the last 20 years, I can seriously say that the nature of the letters have changed to a great extent and so have the age group of those asking for help. In the first few years most of the letters came from very young girls and boys of 12 to 16, asking me to help them solve their infatuations and love problems. Most read something like this: Dear Mita, I am 14 and in love with my neighbour who is also 14. I don't know if she loves me but due to this I am not being able to study, my exams are close, what should I do? Without trivialising their genuine emotions, I have emphasised the importance of friendships over love at this age, encouraged them to have a good time, get involved in sports, extra curriculum and have lots of friends of both sexes.
Then came another wave of letters which read: Dear Mita, I am 22 and tutor a girl who is 15. I have fallen in love with this girl. I know her parents will not like this, therefore what should I do?
As many of you know, I have taken a hard position against it and have totally discouraged any attempts to take this further. I believe this is a breach of trust, the tutor is basically breaking the trust of parents and should not be encouraged to do so.
During this time, the letters have certainly become much more open. Seeking advise on sexual matters, intimacy, homosexuality, lesbian feelings etc. is now common. Young people especially women have announced to the world, to society that they no longer want to stay under cover, they are seeking help in proactive ways and on their own terms. My dilemma has been to strike a balance between societal norms, our traditions and culture yet acknowledge changing times and responding accordingly.
Another change I have noticed is from housewives who are bored with their life. They admit that in spite of a beautiful home, lovely children and a loving husband they are bored and restless. To them my advice has been, get out, do something that you like, go back to study or work, use your potential before it is too late. Such marriages are doomed to end either in a break up or a lifetime of regrets. Women must take responsibility for their actions, they cannot blame others and sit back, I know there are huge barriers from in-laws, children, husband, housework etc. But even then, women will have to push the boundary and make space for themselves.
This brings me to the issue of in-laws. Letters on problems with in -laws have also changed. Daughters-in-law are no longer the docile and timid beings listening to everything mothers-in-laws say. To be fair to mothers-in-law, they have also changed for the better. Even then, this problem of adjustment remains as many young people opt to live with parents due to economic constraints. My advice to them has been to see the pros and cons of living together and then decide. Adjustment and being able to adapt is not a negative trait as long as you do not compromise with your basic principles and self respect.
The letters that have made me sad are the ones from women experiencing problems in their marriage due to unfaithfulness of husbands. The helplessness of women has disturbed me. Women from middle class and well off families have surrendered their self respect and accepted a life of humiliation rather than think of an alternative. However, recent letters now show that women are standing up for their rights, they now write to ask how they can save their marriage without surrendering their respect.
The letters that interest me the most is about relationships. I have been confronted with all kinds of relationship problems, parents-children, siblings, in laws and of course husbands and wives. The perennial question has been, how do I make my marriage work? As I have written many times, there is no given formula except for some common wisdom. The most important one being, don't take each other for granted, always appreciate each other, even for the smallest of things, think of interesting and innovative ways to make life interesting and finally, never say things to each other in anger that you will later regret. This of course goes for both husbands and wives.
Finally, 20 years is a long time and much has changed. What has remained constant is the yearning, the need of people, both young and older to talk to someone who will listen. In the thousands of letters I have received in all these years, I hope I have been able to bring some comfort and happiness to a few of those who wrote to me.