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      Volume 10 |Issue 18 | May 13, 2011 |


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Forget Juliet's Philosophy


When Juliet 'What's in a name, that which we call by a rose/By any other would smell as sweet' she was just being a true love-struck teenager, in denial of reality. Shakespeare on the other hand, was only too aware of the significance of a name, especially a last name and used the naiveté of teenagers to weave his ever famous tragedy. The great English Bard, however, could not have imagined the monumental consequences even a slight mix up of first names can have.

When you have names like Obama and Osama it may become a very big deal indeed.

This was experienced on May 2, when the breaking news of Osama bin Laden took the world by storm. News anchors everywhere, in their earnestness to announce such a huge piece of news, kept saying President Osama and Obama bin Laden, creating quite a lot of confusion and amusement for their audience, not to mention speeding up their own exit from the respective news channel.

Ordinary folk, too, fell victim to this mixing up of the 'b' and 's'. One Bangladeshi man almost fell out of bed in shock and dismay when his friend from New York called in the morning and gleefully announced what sounded like: 'Obama is dead dosto. Isn't that great?' All the friend in Bangladesh could do is shake his head in despair thinking of the horrible implications for the whole world and also perhaps because he had a soft corner for the American president. As he was repeating what he had heard to other members of his family, his New York friend kept screaming: 'Not Obama, Osama!' Finally the whole thing was clear and everyone sighed in relief although they knew that the death of Osama Bin Laden could have its own frightening consequences.

This is perhaps one of the unique cases where first names really do make a difference. In the case of last names, things are just as intense as the days of the Montagues and Capulets. Just think of the difference in the way the names Ali and Aaron would be treated in immigration at a US airport. Then again so would Muhammad and Montgomery.

Sometimes it's not names but titles that get attached to a person so that the general public can associate him or her with some kind of known activity. A teacher is supposed to teach, a doctor is supposed to heal, a fisherman is supposed to fish. Similarly a policeman is supposed to protect and catch the criminals while criminals are supposed to commit crime and hopefully, get caught by policemen.

Things get very confusing and may even lead to total destruction of the world order if people with certain titles engage in activity that completely contradicts their job description. Say a doctor does not bother to see a seriously ill patient because he/she is too busy building a multi-storeyed apartment complex in Baridhara. A teacher demands a 10,000 taka bribe from a bad student so that he gives a passing grade. A ward commissioner cancels the names of all previous VGD card-holders and gives them to his relatives who are not even in the 'poor' (forget 'ultra-poor') category.

A policeman decides to rob a villager and a villager takes the law into his own hands. A policeman gets caught trying to plant firearms in a villager's home. A law enforcer kills the dreams of a teenager by shooting him in the leg and maiming him and then he and his colleagues decide to label him as a criminal and files false charges against him.

On the other hand, ordinary criminals pose as policemen and extort money from a fruit seller. This is quite mind-boggling. Why would criminals pose as policemen who are supposed to be the good guys of society, and commit crime? Why didn't they commit crime as themselves i.e. criminals?

People, it seems, are beginning to forget what they are supposed to be doing and also what others should be doing. This is why when criminals rob people posing as law enforcers or when law enforcers extort money in exchange for amnesty from torture and incarceration, nobody is surprised. It is what is expected of them. At this rate we may see mafia lords becoming newspaper owners, psychopaths becoming psychologists and robbers becoming bankers.

As for calling a rose by any other name, it may have worked for teens in love in the sixteenth century but in the real, present-day world a sewer by any other name just wouldn't smell the same.


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