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|Volume 10 |Issue 42 | November 04, 2011 ||
The girl on the bicycle and some stray thoughts!
There she was. Maybe in her early teens. Bespectacled, rather dark and very good looking. She was in her teens, in a school uniform with a back pack slung behind her. She was on a bicycle, looking straight upfront in a ram-rod posture. I was in my car and she beat me in the race quite easily because of the traffic grid-lock. First I saw her overtake me, then I overtook her and then she overtook me again. Bottom of FormIt seemed like a game that we were playing. A race between the girl on the bicycle and me in the car was like the story of the turtle and the rabbit. When I overtook her, I gave her a smile of victory of sorts. But she didn't care. Her gaze was fixed on the road. At an intersection we both had to stop as ordained by the red light. I saw her right beside me. This time when I smiled at her, she accidentally looked towards her right and returned my smile. Soon as the red light turned into green, she sped away and I lost track of her. This chance-meeting with the young girl on the bicycle made me ponder. I started thinking. This, I thought, was an inspiring experience in two ways. One, it is not very often that you see a tiny girl in our society take to the streets on a bicycle and brave innumerable odds that threatens her beyond the confines of the four walls. But that did not seem to deter her from her mission. This was an example of indomitable courage. Secondly, I thought I should take my hats off to the parents who not only allowed her to undertake this hazardous journey but also inspired her to be brave and forthright. We all know that our city streets are not very safe, particularly for women. Sexual harassment is often blessed with impunity. We also know that our roads, disproportionately crowded by motorised vehicles, are dangerous for as tiny a thing as a bicycle. All these are known, I should think, to this girl and her parents. But that did not hinder her from undertaking this perilous journey.
I thought that people like us belonging to the much vaunted civil society talk nineteen to the dozen about freedom of women, but in reality within the last 40 years of our independence, we have become progressively conservative. We became free through a victory in a protracted war on the 16th of December, 1971. This was not merely a political or a geographical freedom. It also meant freedom from the fetters of conservatism, narrow-mindedness and lawlessness. A society becomes free in reality only when its people emerge out of the darkness of ignorance and backwardness to the light of knowledge and wisdom. On the 16th of December, we did not merely become independent, we became 'free'. This automatically warranted that we emerged as a truly enlightened nation that would be democratic, non-communal, egalitarian and open to new ideas. These were the values for which we took up arms against a quasi-theocratic, dictatorial state called Pakistan. And when we were freed, manifestation of these values was indeed visible in the spirit of the whole nation.
I distinctly remember on my return to Dhaka after handing over my charge as the Programme Producer of the English Language Programme of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra on the 10th of January '72, I was amazed to see how happy the people of my favourite city were. The streets wore a very colourful look and the vibrancy of freedom could be felt everywhere. For the first time, I saw almost an equal number of women on the streets. This amazed me. I remember asking my elder brother, “Where were these women before?” They came out in hundreds of thousands to see the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu, who came, after being released from the Pakistani prison to Dhaka via London the same day. They also came down on the city streets to rejoice on being free.
The city was reverberating with excitement and happiness. I was brimming with pride for my beloved nation. On my way from the border to Dhaka, I saw men, women and children working together to rebuild the broken roads and culverts on their own. Nobody ordered them. But they thought it their responsibility to work selflessly for the nation that they had just liberated. I thought this was independence! This was real freedom! I had thought that with so much sacrifice we had also achieved freedom of thought as well. That in this country the darkness associated with ignorance would never spread its fangs ever again. Everybody thought so. But now we know how sadly mistaken we were.
For the ones who had conspired to demolish us has not given up yet. They were conspiring behind closed doors to dismember our new found freedom and independence. We saw that soon afterwards our Father of the Nation together with his family was annihilated and thereby the journey backwards started. The conspirators flouted all those that we stood for, fought for and laid down our lives for. They unleashed a mission to make the whole nation stunted again and prove that we were a failed state. We saw that a rule of lawlessness, bigotry and shameless exploitation had a field day. Corruption and terrorism were patronised. In the poorest nation of the world, some people became richer than the rich of the developed nations while the poor became poorer.
The middle-class of societies like ours who are considered politically the most aware and, indeed, custodians of conscience became very sparse. Most of these people became poverty-stricken. Some of them living on the crumbs from the prosperity's table slowly emerged as the expedient class of the nouveau-riche. This is a decadence that is almost unstoppable. I shudder to think what a world have we brought our children to! They are growing up in a society which endorses all kinds of misdeeds. Where impunity is the order of the day. Where disproportion has become the second nature of the ambitious and wily social climbers. Would this nation then be torn apart?
It is when such devastating thoughts make me restive that I come across among the plundering parasites, a few healthy saplings like the girl on the bicycle, who rekindle hope in my heart. I feel energised again. All is not over yet. If I come across this brave girl ever again, I will stop her at whatever cost. Look into her eyes and tell her, “You are my future. You are my posterity. You are my freedom. Come, let us hold each others' hand and you lead me towards the celestial light, where no sin can ever intimidate us. You lead and I will be glad to be led by you.”
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