Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, April 5, 2007

By AAniqa Moinuddin

"If they can't get bread to eat, why don't they have cake instead?” was the ignorant Queen's response to the woes of the rioting mass at the very brink of the French revolution. Only half a year back even we Bengali were in situation that was just a tad bit worse than France; our Rulers were not ignorant or unaware about the miseries of the nation but could not care less.

Well for France the French Revolution happened …but what about us? Alright maybe our Rulers were not guillotined (not that they don't deserve to be) but there certainly has been an interesting transition. Not a single massive change but more of a myriad of events and changes coming together in a well coordinated manner.

Today's article looks to explore these recent developments, through the eyes of young citizens going towards their first vote, towards entering university or just planning to build a future in this country. Most importantly we attempt to figure out what it all means, where it leads to and whether one dare start hoping already…

Banker to the Poor
13th October 06, when Doctor Yunus was the first Bangladeshi ever to receive a Nobel Prize, was indeed a joyous occasion for all. He was awarded this prize for having pioneered the concept of micro credit and succeeding at actively alleviating poverty, through this system of small loans to rural entrepreneurs.

It was truly a break; a break from the bickering politicians, a break from tragic headlines, a break from thinking up the fastest route out of this country that had become a hell-hole and finally a break from being a state that in internationally recognized for topping the charts of only the corruption and pollution rankings. After having deservingly earned the label of 'State of Disgrace' by Time magazine in 2004, to have gotten a Nobel Prize, that too for Peace, of all the things, was truly a shock for us.

Young aspiring students, particularly those of economics found a new inspiration; maybe the issue of poverty in Bangladesh was not beyond repair. This was proved by this man with a vision who worked silently over these decades weaving a web around the rural areas, with the motive to do something for the country while we moaned and groaned about its sorry state of existence.

However for the younger population, there were rallies and discussions and endless BST projects in schools to make children understand the significance of the event. But there are doubts if the younger generation really understood the depth of it all. Why do we say this…oh because of a particularly disturbing incident that occurred in a renowned English medium school-

You see, this was also the time when there were some problems with the selection of the committee for election commission and the food supply to Dr. M.A Aziz's home was cut off. During a class discussion, when a student heard this piece of news he announced with a concerned, grim look… “No, no…they shouldn't have done that. After all…the guy won the Nobel Prize” (?!?!?) So you see it did not really hit this particular generation because under those circumstances and for us teenage citizens with no hope left for this land, the magnitude of this achievement was way too big to be true! Also the concept of micro-credit and how theories of economics can be the ultimate tool to alleviate poverty, to say the least, sort of went slightly over our heads. Neither were we taken into the whole fiesta and swept up by the joy of the nation, whether we understand the motive or not, maybe it was ignorance or even that disconnection from surroundings that English medium students are so often criticized for.

The new and improved Rambo Government
Well ultimately, M. A. Aziz had nothing to do with the new election commission or the newly appointed caretaker government. Now the care taker government that did come into action, under the leadership of Fakhruddin interestingly took steps that were as drastic as anything that the Bangladesh political scene had ever seen! But for those of us who are not that a big a fan of the dirty politics in Bangladesh and choose to listen to the news as rarely as possible, it was only a few actions that really caught our attention. Well yes you guessed it! It was the tearing down of all time favorite fast food joints, eat out places etc…They actually tore down Candyfloss, that had almost become a landmark in Gulshan. Not only that, shopping malls would have to close down at seven o' clock 'until further notice' a phrase that many of us fear is just a nice way of putting 'permanently'. After classes and coaching and SATS, IELTS, GED, CRAP etc. seven is the time when the average teen can actually hangout, go shopping etc. So knowing how ignorant and self-centered the whole Yo-generation is assumed to be, there should be riots or at least incessant complaints regarding the changes that have taken place. But is that really so? A discussion was held in classrooms of eighth grades to have an idea about the over all picture and what these young people really think. The pattern of the questions and answers are as what follows:

Q. Have you noticed any sort of changes surrounding you…in the city streets, in your neighborhood or in the news?

A: Yes. Big markets and shops and some restaurants are being broken down.

Q. And why are these perfectly functioning buildings being broken? Do you think it's alright? Does it affect your daily life?

A. Yes, of course it's aright. These shops are illegal, and they should not be there. But whether it is there or not really does not have a direct affect on our daily lives

Q. But where will the shopkeepers go, for whom these shops were the only source of income? .... (Silence)

Answered by a single student: The Holiday market is being built so that these shop keepers can set up their stores again.

Q. Alright moving on, why have the streets gotten quieter after seven?

A. OH! The shopping malls have to shut down by then. This was done to save electricity, so that there are less power cuts.
Q. And is this a good thing or a bad thing?
A. There is less noise at night so I think that way it's good
A. As long as the fast food joints are open we're happy; we just want to hang out after along day of doing classes. We don't really go to shopping malls that much.

A. It's actually bad for us because we cannot go shopping on weekdays anymore and on weekends the shopping malls are jammed all day. There are some people who like to shop or at least window shop at Rifles, Rapa as a pass time.

Q. Alright so this is posing to be a problem. But is this a problem that you are willing to deal with if it solves the problem of electricity in future? Those who think you are willing raise your hands.

After a moment's hesitation 80% of the class raised hands and the polls said it all regarding the concern of these average students.

This was the generalized pattern. Among these there were some answers like “I think it's a good thing because there are now less dogs on the streets” this was a joke, or at least I hope it was. Some of them didn't think it was going towards a positive direction at all. While amongst the same students a particularly outstanding opinion that was expressed was “We are always talking about changing the system, but these people (the caretaker government) are actually getting into the system and correcting it.” Coming from a tenth grader this was a very insightful observation.

Now coming back to the system, there was far more to the government's actions than just tearing down buildings that encroach main roads and closing shopping malls before seven. Elections were suspended indefinitely, due to the present condition of the voter's list where the name of the opposition leader herself has appeared in two places.

The city seems to be slightly emptier than before. Although we couldn't come up with a logical explanation for this, a rickshaw-puller had an interesting suggestion “Shobai polatok” (everyone is in hiding) and one could see that it was a very serious suggestion. This brings us to the government's crusade at drawing out corruption from the deepest, grimiest levels of society that it has seeped into over the past years. As a part of this cleansing process people who were previously untouchable are being tried for allegations made against them, thus instilling fear into the hearts of wrong doers.

As a response to this particular aspect, some senior students commented: “This is a very a positive change because since very soon we will be graduating and going into jobs we will have to worry less about falling victim to the corruption in the corporate field of mainly public and even to some extent private sectors.'

There are actually programs on television that discuss issues regarding development of country (Meet the Press, Bangladesh Shonglap, Talkshow) and not how the government/ opposition party is devising evil dexterous plans of ruining the nation and hence should be condemned and maybe, if possible, physically attacked.

For once we can actually listen to the policy makers and feel like they were knowledgeable people who are capable of making decisions Before, it was like living in some parallel world where rulers of the country represented that part of the population who were mentally challenged and so our mentality had no similarity whatsoever to theirs.

Rise of the Bengal Tigers
On the night of 17th March, the Bangladesh cricket team experienced the most historic win for Bangladesh in the World Cup against India. It can't be flicked off as a 'narrow win' or 'stroke of luck' 'a fluke', anything that might attempt to deny the absolutely stunning performance put up by the team, because according to sports analysts all over the Bengal Tigers were consistent throughout. India was all out for only 191 runs and Bangladeshi bowlers were praised extensively for having successfully caused a collapse in India's batting line.

According to a mom, this was India's punishment for attempting to steal the title of 'Tigers' and announce it as theirs, “Yes the Tigers won alright, but they were the original ones!”

Now Bangladesh is in the Super Eight, a position that could not be secured by India or Pakistan, who are age old powerhouses in this sport. So if the Nobel Prize or the positive government measures had failed to reach out to the youngsters of this country, this victory completely fulfilled all that was lacking of these months of glory.

Every single MSN nicknames show the support of the youngsters towards their team and hence their country. The same people who would not be caught dead, in a Bangladesh jersey arrives to coaching in troops proudly wearing those very jerseys along with flags wrapped around their hands. the entire environment is immediately transformed as every single person in the room feels a certain uplifting of hearts, to share the excitement that is raging all around and contribute a bit of support, just to be a part of it all!

The bliss and excitement was so festively expressed that even BBC news broadcasters were drawn to this country, to highlight the enthusiasm of the supporters in this country. One cannot help but be swept off into the high spirits, of the crazy fans and maybe even feel pride in belonging to the nation that 'totally rocked at the WC'!

The sprinkles on the cake
Amidst all these obvious achievements it is hard to find the smaller things that don't singularly project themselves but nonetheless contribute to making a picture that is brighter and more enhanced, much like the sprinkles on a black forest cake. These would the small scale changes that have come along in a steady gradient.

The dramas that are aired in Ntv, Rtv, Channeli etc are actually far more tasteful and realistic than before and compared to Hindi TV serials that we have long been fans of, they are miles ahead(if you've been reading the column “things that Hindi serials have taught us”, you should know what I am talking about).

The fashion industry has truly outdone itself when it comes to the fabrics and styles. The chic and stylish designer attires of boutiques like Jatra, Piraan, Mantra, Aarong etc have set a new standard in the world of fashion and given a truly unique identity to 'Deshi clothes'.

Every year students appearing for the international O and A level examinations manage to snatch at least one distinction for almost ever subject, while the number of golden GPAs in SSCs and HSCs are increasing at a greater rate than the number of students appearing for the exams.

Well yes our country has not reached the peak of prosperity for (e.g. the Bangla films continue to be pathetically ridiculous and there are flaws in the infrastructure that need to be solved) but neither are we stuck in those dark days where one was even afraid to hope. Certain things are happening that are trying to tell us “maybe…just maybe, it's all going somewhere.”

Even those who thought it was 'uncool' to be a fan of the country, in a single word, 'patriot', are now dancing in tune with the rest of the nation with every victory, those students who were utterly oblivious to their surroundings are starting to take interest, those who were had eyes glued to Hindi channels are now switching to the Deshi ones. So maybe it is time that we gathered up our courage to at least hope, hope for a brighter future in this country.

“Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope; and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.”
-- John Fitzgerald Kennedy



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