Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, July 22, 2004





Caught between cultures

She sits on the floor of the concert hall, dressed in a short kameez and clunky platform-heeled shoes in the style favoured by Indian soap characters. Her straight dark hair is streaked with blonde highlights, and when she chances a glance my way, I find myself looking into a pair of violet eyes coloured contacts, of course. The band comes on stage, a group of young boys with long Morrison-esque hair, dressed in fatuas made of gamcha material, with baggy pants with chains hanging from the side, bead bracelets loading their wrists. With a lot of pomp and fanfare, they launch into the music the cover version of some American R/M/A (rock/metal/alternative) number. She rises to her feet with the rest of the crowd, head banging and gyrating to the music. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present the teen scene at a Dhaka underground concert.

Teenagers in the Desh, today find themselves at the crossroads where different cultures meet. Call it the invasion of foreign mass media, but they embody a flavourful fusion of different fashions, norms and ideals. While there's a lot of grumbling about how today's youths are losing touch with their roots, one has to wonder just how overrated this sentiment is. Considering that in terms of education, commerce and information, we are no longer confined to the four corners of our own country, but instead are competing on a global scale, is this potpourri of cultural influences really a bad thing?

Today's teens are better informed about foreign norms and cultures than their predecessors, having experienced these diverse worlds through magazines, TV shows, and of course, the internet. This helps them easily adapt to their surroundings if and when they go to study abroad. Even if they spend their lives here in Bangladesh, they are more comfortable with foreigners. A wide range of experience of different cultures makes for a broader outlook, which is an admirable quality in a young person.

Having said all that, there's no denying the adage that there's no smoke without the fire. While they go about exploring different cultures through the media, their own culture goes largely ignored. Stop some young people on the street and ask them to sing a verse from either the season's latest Hindi movie, or the current Western song that's making waves, and you'll get a flawless rendition. Ask the same person to sing the last verse of our national anthem, and you'll be surprised to see how few people can actually remember the words, and this is our national anthem, not even some obscure folk song. Go to the schools and quiz the students on European history or American geography and you'll have a hundred smarties shooting trivia at you. Quiz them about Bangladesh details like the number of thanas and villages, the names of the local tribes, and the number of kids who are able to provide satisfying answers is a lot less. Please note that this is a broad generalisation; of course there are exceptions. Also note that no distinction is being made amongst Bangla medium, English medium, or Madrassah medium schools. All three systems of education in our country leave a lot to be desired.

Ultimately, how much a modern youngster knows about his/her own culture depends on the home environment, whether s/he has had a lot of exposure to his/her own cultures and traditions as well as those of other countries. While today's parents, teachers, and other adult busybodies fret and fume over how ‘aaj kaal kar tchele pelera" are more excited about wearing jeans than kameez/punjabi and more keen on listening to Pearl Jam than Papia Sultana, they should really learn to have more faith in their kids. When the right time comes, the inherent Bengaliness will flower on its own. There will come a time when the sound of a bamboo flute on a rainy day will bring tears to their eyes. The young belles will one day, on their own, discard their miniskirts in favour of saris, and the boys will probably rough up any fast-talking foreigner that dares speak ill of their homeland. It's in our blood. It's who we are, and we can't escape it. For now, let the teens do their thing and enjoy being caught between cultures.

By Sabrina F Ahmad

A-Teen, B-Teen, Average-Teen, Deshi-Teen....

When I first started writing this article, I adopted a very candid approach, poked fun at myself (if you haven't noticed, I do that quite a lot) and descended into a humorous approach that became so complex that I got confused and eventually quit.

Well I'm going to take a more analytical approach to the subject (no don't groan, it'll still be funny, I promise). Now. Ah, the average Bangladeshi teenager (ABT). All they do is eat, sleep and watch TV, that's what Ronboss said. Bah! What does he know? Take it from an expert who has passed this phase (not that Ron hasn't!), ABT's are a species of their own. And from year to year their trends change.

When I was a teen (God that sounds so far back!) aimless rickshaw rides around town, pooling money to go eat, and talking on the phone for hours were a common phenomenon. I don't know if things have changed for the better or not, but I'm certain about one thing. Things have truly been upgraded. Here's a concise version of what the average Bangladeshi teen is all about:

Concerts: Apparently this is the latest 'in' thing. If you're in a concert you're 'in' or something along that line. While its great to see there are so many aspiring artists in town sometimes I just don't see how teenagers these days manage to sit in a room without sufficient oxygen in the sweltering heat and then still have sufficient energy to scream at the top of their lungs. But if it's the thing to do, then I guess it is the thing to do.

Chatting: Gone are the days of chatting on the phone. Now chatting online is the way to go. Why waste energy speaking when you can put your fingers to work? After all it does burn more you know. Gone are the days of mIRC and ICQ. Thanks to our Deshi teens MSN Messenger and in turn dear Mr Gates is making a ton. After all why remain in the confines of speaking to one person when through MSN everyone can chat at the same time.

Fashion: The West is definitely making its mark on teenagers these days. Although I haven't seen it myself, reliable sources say that tubes and tanks, spike collars, leather and Goth are definitely making their way. Add to that the baggies from Eminem's wardrobe and presto! As they say nowadays 'it's all in da hood!' While I have nothing against all of this, is it really wise to wear skin huggers in this heat or pants that might fall off at any moment? But then again compared to today's ABTs I'm old!

But let's see. So far the things I've talked about would generally give people a wrong impression of our Deshi teens and I certainly have no intention of painting a tainted image. So before I exceed my word limit let me add a few things. While concerts, chatting and fashion claim a big chunk of our ABT's time, teenagers these days have their priorities and goals set. They are more responsible, well read and well spoken. Teenagers these days are more involved in ECA and they are more focussed on achieving their goals. Above all they know exactly what they want. I guess that is why I set them a class above the ABCD teens that I've met.

In the end it boils down to this. There isn't a perfect Bangladeshi teenager. For that matter, there isn't any perfect teenager. And while two teens aren't the same, they do tend to act similarly. And maybe it's just because of their hormones. Who knows? In the end, our Average Bangladeshi Teenagers have their virtues and their faults. It's the balance between the two that makes them more than average. It's this balance that makes them…almost perfect!

By Riyana


home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

© 2003 The Daily Star