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An Empty stare

He was ready, just like in the old days. His body was breaking inch by inch, but he had nerves of steel. His mind could endure all the pain given by the elements of life because he never gave up on it. He stared blankly at the bench in the Baridhara Park area. He couldn't recall the first time he sat on a bench; maybe it had been about eight years. He was among the first of his family members to come to this capital city, searching for a job, struggling for survival, inching his way towards a better future. He was illiterate, but just like every other citizen of the country he had a dream, limited yet full of wonderful desires. He knew the things he wanted could be fulfilled by a rich person within a few seconds. But he would get a different pleasure on achieving those dreams, which probably a wealthier person would never understand.

He hopped on the three wheeler, paddled for sometime to gain a steady velocity and searched for passengers. Suddenly a shimmering light caught his attention, a lady in red and black looking anxiously on both sides of the road. Instantly he read her mind, saw the shopping bags in her hands and without giving a second thought he rang the bell. She turned and focused on him, waved her hand and with utmost sobriety he stopped in front of her. Both of them then started their journey.

The day passed by and he went on with his usual duty. Although the task was pretty tough for a fifty year old like him, he never complained; not because he couldn't, but because he didn't want to. This vehicle showed him so many hidden faces of life, where love and hate collided, sadness and joy sang in unison, fear and courage had different contrasts, all of which made him realize the unique characteristics that all of us hold.

When twilight struck the crimson sky with patches of grey clouds and a gentle southern breeze, the pain stricken face of this old man was beyond any recognition. But he managed a faint smile on his weary face; he knew there cannot be any stopping. He sighed, he would have to earn as much as he could until his body collapsed. There were too many responsibilities and concerns; three daughters to care for, their education. He would do anything to keep them happy.
The shrieks of a passenger interrupted his thoughts and he responded to the call. The clock hit nine thirty at night and he was heading towards Gulshan. He was on the highway, he saw the signal to be green at a distance and paddled faster. The moment he crossed the signal post a car suddenly dashed in front of him from the other side. The driver was a teenager and the next moment he saw tires screeching, people yelling and felt a massive blow on his rickshaw.

The driver came out and before he could react, he was caught by his collar and was given a few punches. Blood oozed from his lips but he didn't have any words of protest. He kept on staring at the kid. His infuriated eyes compared to that of the ice cold ones of the old man. He felt pity for the kid; he had lost all understanding the concept of 'respect'. The boy drove away after some verbal abuse but the damage was already done. The passenger showed disgust and without paying the fare walked away. Nobody cared to see who was actually to be blamed.

He took small steps towards the bench at the park. It was a moonlit night and he saw the lake in front of the park shimmer with brilliant radiance. He only had a ten taka note in his pocket, had to pay the rest for the damage. Holding a small loaf of bread, the old man sat on the bench. He was not alone, there was an anonymous person sitting at the corner of the bench and he too was looking at the calm water. A few trees swayed and rustled but couldn't break the silence of the mind.

He liked the company of the unknown person. Maybe it was meant this way where he would get a chance to share his joy and pain without speaking a word. There were so many unspoken truths that mere words cannot describe them. Sometimes we just need to see a few empty stares, which can tell us a different story, which can show us what it has seen, and what it has felt. The fog then started to appear just to lower the curtain of an evening drama.

By Yamin Tauseef Jahangir

Uniform …is it a necessity?

Let Karim wear a tie to school and Salma, a skirt. How is that going to help them become better human beings? How is that going to educate them?

Some explain it this way: without uniform, the 'have-nots' are jeered at by the 'haves' but uniform places every student on an equal footing. So no inferiority complex is built into the 'have-nots'; they can walk around with their heads held high.

But is this happening in today's schools? The sons of rich fathers still mock the poor men's sons. Since nothing remains hidden in today's world, a child's financial status isn't a secret for long. Besides, isn't that the truth? A thinker said, “Economic distinctions are part of the fabric called society, and they will not be hidden by covering them with uniform.” A beggar will remain a beggar in a prince's suit.

Schools assume that uniform will bring unity among the students; it will stop students from being aggressive. But don't we have gang fights in schools that maintain strict dress code? To sum it up, hooligans will remain hooligans no matter what they wear, and the same goes for the 'goody-two-shoes'. It doesn't matter what's on the outside, it's what is inside that counts. The beauty or the beast is inside a person and no uniform can change it.

Now some may argue, since it doesn't matter what's on the outside, why such a fuss about having uniforms. Here's how the anti-uniform faction explain it:

A harmonious world is the ultimate dream for many but it will never come true because beloved 'mom and dad' (Adam and Eve) have already lost paradise. We can reach equilibrium following the middle path, but not by wearing uniforms. If uniform was the answer then footballers wouldn't fight among themselves, army personals wouldn't be so merciless, police wouldn't take bribes and students wouldn't form groups. Yet these are all people who wear uniform.

Uniform calls for a lot of money. This is an extra burden on the parents who already have to struggle to buy the books and stationaries. Without it, a student can wear his usual colour clothes and that's economical!

Some moms always complain about cleaning uniforms. And none can deny that it is a fair complaint. The colour of uniform is usually white and so they get dirty easily. After being scolded for dirtying their uniforms, children remain alert always and avoid playing. In turn the constant alertness creates stress, and avoiding sports makes them dull as the saying goes, 'All works and no play makes Jack a dull boy'.

It does matter how you look. Some say uniform makes one look tidy, neat and pretty. Others contend that uniform demotes a princess to a 'bua'. The usual white colour of the uniforms is a contrast to the skin tone of our girls. A high-school student we interviewed says, “Uniform makes me look like a crow wearing a doctor's coat. I hate them.” With all the awareness on style and fashion can uniform win the battle?

Who enjoys being strangled by a tie on a hot summer's day? And if a student is not comfortable can he pay attention in the class? Kids need to enjoy going to school, they need to feel at home; it is then that they can learn. That is why everything has to be done to make kids feel comfortable and not entrapped at school. Having uniform is a headache because it keeps the child worried if it's clean and ironed. Why not get rid of it? Who likes to have a pain in the butt?

Then we have the case of a creative kid called Zarina. She loved to create and she loved to beautify things in her own way. She dreamed of being a fashion designer and disliked uniforms because it took away a major place to exercise her creativity. But the principal of the boarding school was too arrogant to bend the rule. As time passed by, her natural creativity was reshaped and she forgot what she once knew. She did become a fashion designer at last but not the fashion designer she was born to be. She was the man-made product of a factory called school.

This is what uniforms do. Zarina's mom says, “Uniform took away the purpose of my daughter's life.” Just imagine, without uniforms when a creative kid full of extravagant ideas, complete standard 10 the world will have a 10-year experienced fashion designer already.

But Sabrina, another advocate for uniform, strongly disagrees. “Uniform gives kids a bigger challenge. They have to find creative ways of expressing their individuality while staying within bounds. We used to fold our sleeves to make them look smaller. Japanese kids use glue to bunch their socks at a 'cool' length.”

I say, “Thaaat's a point.” However, the philosopher says, “People behind bars and chains can eat, sleep, drink and talk like the free people outside but yet they are prisoners.” The philosopher is correct. The prisoners can eat with the left or the right hand. But they don't have the third option of eating with a spoon. In the same way one can fold one's sleeves but can't colour them; one can glue one's socks but can't draw flowers on them. And if expressions are within bounds they can't be called art; they are not creative at all, they are just clever ways of breaking the rule. (This paragraph has been written with positive intentions and with all due respect)

A major non-verbal communication in human beings is through their clothes but schools having uniforms are depriving their student of it. When uniform doesn't suit a child, he may feel ashamed of it, which can cause depression. In fact some students feel frustrated because they cannot pick out what they wear to school. This frustration makes them aggressive, which leads to crimes. Many educators believe that uniform takes away a child's individuality and violates a child's 'Free Expression Rights'. When the whole world is fighting for freedom of thought, speech and action, why should schools be unfair to their students?

A research paper says that uniform doesn't inculcate any positive behaviour in a child. Why wear it then?

Because Rajesh says, “I feel so proud to represent my school in sports events wearing my uniform.”

So it would be fair and square for both sides (advocates and antagonists) to make uniform compulsory in case of events and happenings. This will have a positive effect. Students, when restricted to wear uniforms only for a few days of the year will put them on with interest and happiness unlike the usual fuss. Because for youngsters there's nothing sweeter than restricted activities. Parents and teachers must learn to make use of this reverse psychology!

A faint uproar of the supporters is already in the air. Is a non-uniform policy worth the effort? Will violence and theft decrease? Will gangs in schools be prevented? Will students be more disciplined or will they become worse than what they are? Will there be no peer pressure? Will students concentrate more on their studies?

The most logical answer is 'nobody knows'. But it's worth a try since uniforms are not effective. Besides a kid has to be taught to stand up for himself, be proud of what he really is, instead of enveloping himself with something he is not. Above all, if a child is not disciplined, obedient, honest and friendly it's the defeat of his teachers and parents because these values are seeded in a person's heart with education and has got nothing to do with clothes.

By Efadul Huq


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