On Fermi's Graduation
Many years ago in 1946, my father S M Najmal Haque, a fresh graduate out of Shibpur Engineering College of the then West Bengal, set sail on a ship from the port of Calcutta to pursue higher education at one of the Ivy League Universities of the United States. He graduated as an agricultural engineer in a record time of only a year and half from Cornell University under the famous Professor Rob Riley. He returned to join as the first agro-engineer of a newly independent country, Pakistan. He joined the Ahsanullah Engineering College, and was one of the most successful professors of Civil Engineering. A pioneer in low cost housing he has many other technical inventions to his credit. He served his country well and was endowed enough to give back his country more than he had taken from it.
These thoughts flashed through my mind as I boarded the plane to come to Washington to attend the graduation ceremony of my niece Fermi Nasir. She graduated Magna Cum Laude, and was awarded the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond award for outstanding achievement in the study of economics, from Washington College in Chestertown.
My heart burst with pride as I thought of the time she was born, my father's eldest grand daughter. Even when she was a baby, my father pinned high hopes on her and named her Fermi after the famous French mathematician Fermat, whose last theorem he firmly believed he solved, just before she was born. With her graduation, we completed a rare achievement of having three generations of graduates from the Universities of the United States. I graduated from the University of Hawaii in Population Geography in 1979.
Fermi's achievements at home were no less. She passed Senior Cambridge from Green Herald School and A' levels from Scholastica with flying colours. This enabled her to be honoured twice by The Daily Star. Her name is engraved on the wall of Green Herald amongst the best students of that school. Her brilliant result in 'A' levels (straight A's in all the three subjects) encouraged the college to waive credits thus enabling her to graduate in two and a half years instead of the usual four years. While she took French lessons at "Alliance Francaise" at Dhaka, she topped the list every year.
We drove from Maryland towards Chestertown on the morning of May 18th 2003. For a state adjacent to the capital of the world's richest country, Maryland is exceptionally green with a lot of trees and open green fields and croplands on either side of the highway. The houses, few and far between mostly looked like colonial houses. They looked elegant, but withdrawn (since it was a Sunday) with lawns and gardens, and not too ostentatious. It had more European flavour than the other US cities I was familiar with. As we crossed the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay the area became more recluse and quiet. I cannot remember seeing any people anywhere except in the cars running on the highway. The houses stood as if in a picture book, beautiful but without any signs of life. Coming from one of the most densely populated countries of the world this seemed very unusual to me.
The 221st commencement was scheduled to start at 10:30am. So we picked up Fermi from her dormitory at around 9:30am. An unusually rainy spell forced some quick decision changes for which I was grateful. The programme had to be held inside the gymnasium rather than open ground, which was a little too chilly for a tropical bird like me. This automatically restricted the number of guests to be allowed inside too. As we had the required number of cards we had nothing to worry and entered the gymnasium with other proud parents and guests.
The stage and the room were set very elegantly but quite simply, compared to similar ceremonies back home. There were chairs set on the stage with flags of countries represented by the international students.
At precisely 10:30am the sound of bagpipes alerted us and amid thunderous claps, cheers and music the academic procession headed by the Marshal carrying a mace, a medieval weapon which symbolised high office. Next came the students about to graduate, each sparkling and gleaming in their own right and achievements. Each was wearing the academic attire, the black gown and hood that noted scholarly achievement, lined in the official colours of the college. In this case it was a beautifully matched dark maroon and black.
Fermi, because of her outstanding result was among the first few other award winners and sat on the very first row. The programme started with an invocation by a Reverend of the Presbyterian Church followed by general remarks on the class of 2003 by the President of the college. Giving a short historical account of the college he spoke of the achievements of the class, their pride in them and their expectations. He spoke of the necessity of war on terrorism and the duties and responsibilities of the educated group.
In the alumni citation the President of the alumni association gave an account of the glorious achievement of the past alumni and reminded the graduating students of their duties towards their alma mater and requested all to keep in touch. An honourary degree of the Doctor of fine arts was conferred on Linda C. Hamilton, a reputed movie actress, who became famous especially after "The Terminator II", a student of the class of '78.
All the speeches were short, eloquent and meaningful. Finally the class of 2003 was awarded their degree amidst loud cheers and music in a truly American style. There were two students who had children and were continuing their education. This in our context is not surprising but seeing an American male student with two children aged about four and two was indeed a pleasant surprise. An award conferred for distinguished teaching by the alumni association was one of the highlights of the programme. What a wonderful way to thank the teachers for their sincerity, dedication, hard work and love! This year a faculty member of the department of drama was honoured with the award and his happiness at this recognition was well expressed. I suppose we could learn a few things from here too.
Lastly the senior honours and prizes were declared. These honours and prizes are given in memories of outstanding patrons, alumni, for specific aptitude and promise exhibited, achievements earned in different discipline and fields ranging from Chemistry to enhancing the quality of campus life or community or humanity at large. What better way could there be to encourage and uphold high standards in the quality of life for these young men and women? What better way to imbibe such aspiration in them?
Such a programme usually charged with emotion brought tears of joy and thankfulness. There was so much to be thankful for, to my parents who sacrificed significantly to give us the best education possible. Seeing us through good days and bad, encouraging and goading us on. The strong firm foundation that my father established was blooming but he was no more, to see it. My mother, who could not be here in person because of her illness sent her blessing and was eagerly waiting for the video of the show back home, as were other family members. Above all, gratitude to God for His infinite kindness and blessing, always.
The commencement was another opportunity to renew and reinforce our faith in the Supreme Being the ever merciful and the ever beneficent.
wondered why Ramna Park was so full of people today. There were couples
on every bench, every
He decided to walk around for a while and see if he could find any suitable empty spot. He could not bear to see any more of those couples! For a second, he wondered whether all those couples had fallen in love at first sight. That couldn't be! The very concept of 'love at first sight' was so stupid that it made him laugh! How could you possibly love a person you do not know merely by looking at him/her once? Funny!
Suddenly, he noticed a huge banner saying 'Happy Valentine's Day.' So that is what it is all about! Even though he could not understand what couples found special about this day, he liked the way it was written. It was in red and yellow. Red and yellow… he liked the combination. In fact, those were the exact colours that he was wearing today! He had red trousers on with a pale yellow shirt. What a coincidence! He was sure he looked especially good today… almost everyone turned twice to look at him. He hoped it wasn't because they were all falling for him…although, with all those inquisitive stares, he couldn't be sure.
Mojnu looked at all the paddleboats cruising on the lake. There was not a single empty boat! Every one of them had couples! For a second, Mojnu imagined himself in one of those boats with a girl with very long hair done in two braids. The braids should be tied with red ribbons and she should wear a red and yellow kameez to match what he was wearing. He would not sit too close to her. Maybe they should sit on the opposite ends of the boat. Ok fine, maybe not that far away, but he would be way too embarrassed to sit on the same bench, or chair or whatever it might be called, as her. Good Lord! What on Earth was he thinking about? He felt absolutely ashamed of himself! He, sitting with a girl? Unimaginable! Disgraceful! He would never fall in love.
He was sure he had gone around the whole park at least once before he found an empty spot to sit on. He laid out his handkerchief on the grass and sat on it. He called the little boy nearby who was selling peanuts and bought some of it. He was munching on some nuts and looking at the ants coming out of an anthill when there was a light tap on his shoulder. He turned around and got the biggest shock of his life. There stood the girl he had imagined seconds ago! She had her long hair done in two braids, which were tied, unfortunately, with white ribbons. Her kameez was red with big, yellow flowers. She had the most beautiful, bright red lipstick on and the most exquisite, yellow pair of earrings. Her eyes were jet black, but they still, somehow, reminded Mojnu of the deep, mysterious sea.
'Hi,' said the girl.
A tribute to cows
EID-ul-Azha is a cycle that starts and ends with cows (and their related four legged cousins). Everywhere you look you are reminded of meat to be sacrificed. People obsess about it so much that if Darwin had not come up with the theory of primates then we would have believed that mankind descended from cows. The first hint of Eid starts from the banks. Accounts start to become smaller as people go out shopping. It is like the arrival of winter and the creeping chill. Here the chills start from the wallet. This Eid coincided with the Dhaka International Trade Fair. Asking some of the people at the stalls I found that the top selling home appliances this year were refrigerators. It makes sense how all that slaughtered cow has to go somewhere. Next come buying the animals themselves. There's a lot to look out for including some parts that cannot be mentioned here. Basically you watch out where you step. It is the rule of the jungle. You either will step on something or be stepped upon.
What with the heart surgeons of the army having retired, Dhakaites can go back to blasting their merry way all through the night. The only reason the hearts will fail is from the sheer noise of the crackers. From the cows perspective this is the sound of impending doom.
Early in the morning people go to pray. What with this Eid falling during winter a lot of the people prayed for warmth. In my locality people prayed for the Imam to stop with the prayers after a marathon fifteen minutes. Asking for world peace was the next prayer. Some people were not so patient. They got up and ran carrying their sharpened tools long before the prayers were over. Yes, these are the butchers.
Eid is still a lot about new clothes. People dress up in their finest to go out on this day. But one thing has finally been put to rest. Cows DO NOT chase people in red clothes. Last Eid driving by in a red car did not incite a single cow to gore me down. Or maybe the cows are simply material sensitive. Steel does not interest them. See? Even I cannot stop thinking of cows albeit in a scientific manner.
Speaking of red the slaughtering part comes up in all its glory. Animals are beheaded left, right and center. Sometimes you will have to take a detour because there is a dead beast in the middle of the road. Its enough to make you want to run down the people and add to the slaughter. At least the dry winter weather prevented the place from stinking up.
The bloody eid ends in its bloody finale with people feverishly working their jaw muscles. Food is all people have on their minds now but underlying thought is still that of cows. It is a day when humans get in touch with their bovine side in more ways than one. And here is a little anecdote to wrap up with.
A cow ventured into a corn field the day before Eid and started chewing on the plants. One aggressive corn plant cursed the cow and told him that the cow would be DEAD MEAT in a days time. Yes, that corny joke must have been real groaner and hurt the pit of the stomach just like it does to half the population during this festival. I actually asked a few drugsstore clerks to find out that their biggest selling item around this time is antacids.
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