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“I keep it in a clay bank, I'm going to give it to my mother”
-Shoikot, 15, cobbler, talking about his earnings

My friend Arghya and I were walking back from class. The sun was scorching hot and the fast was getting to me. By the looks of things, it was getting to most people. There were grumblings and mumbled, instead of loud, curses [it's Ramadan after all]. At that moment, Arghya's sandal ripped. I envied the way he could swear without worrying about offending God. 'I need to fix this,' he said, holding up the sandal. That's when I spotted Shoikot sitting under an umbrella opposite Dhaka City college with that toolbox cobbler's carry.

He looked young, no more than twelve. When we asked him his age though, he said he was 15. Kids on the street like to buff up their age; sometimes, to get a little more edge in their attitude; at other times, they honestly don't know. But we decided to take his word for it.

'Where did you learn how to fix shoes, kid?' I asked him as he started to sew back the sandal with skill. 'My brother-in-law taught me,' he replied. He has been an apprentice of his brother-in-law for three years. 'The earning is not too bad,' he says, '150-160 taka a day.' 'Do you have to pay your brother-in-law anything?' Arghya asked. Shoikot shook his head. This is his place. His earnings are his own. His brother-in-law has his own place. He worked there before. Then he had to pay.

'What do you do with your earnings?'
'I keep it in a clay bank. I'm going to give it to my mother.' He smiles. 'She lives back home; takes care of the house and my younger sisters.'

'What about your dad?' Arghya asks. I can almost predict the answer before it is uttered. 'He's dead. Died in Poush mash [Bangali month around Dec-Jan]. Used to work in a sweetmeat factory.'

'What happened,' Arghya asks quietly. Shoikot shrugs his shoulders and carries on sewing.

'Where do you live?' I try to change the subject. He lives in Hajaribagh with his sister and abovementioned brother-in-law. He has two brothers and four sisters. His brothers work in a shoe factory. One of them has studied, Shoikot doesn't remember up to which level. When Arghya asks him whether he studies, he hammers the sandal to press down the stitches and says, 'I can write my name. That's all the education that's needed, really.'

'What do you want to do when you grow up?'
'I want to have my own show factory'

He's done. The sandal looks ready to get back on the road. Arghya pays him and we walk away. 'You're going to write about this, aren't you?' Arghya asks me.

I remember the kid's smile when he talks about his mother.
'Take me along with you if you do any more of this,' Arghya says.
'Yeah, sure. Hey Arghya, do you think he'll make it to the shoe factory?'

“Hard to tell. He might, if he really wants it badly.'
And we keep walking back home.

By Kazim Ibn Sadique
With special thanks to Arghya Deb Biswas Aryan

Questioning instincts

The student sat in the exam hall, scribbling feverishly. There were only twenty minutes left and he had probably got the answer to this confusing question wrong. He neatly crossed out the previous answer on a whim and wrote a new one.

Five minutes before the end of the exam, he almost had a breakdown. Upon rereading the question, he found out that the answer he had just crossed out had been correct after all. He crossed it out again and rewrote the first answer. Only this time, it wasn't so neat anymore.

First instincts are, more often than not, correct. A well-known teaching technique instructs you to answer what your instinct tells you to when you aren't sure of the correct answer. Humans have this unexplainable ability of just knowing what to do sometimes. You can't tell why you did it and you can't explain it, but it's just so right.

Think about a mother and her child. When an infant is upset, the mother instinctively provides consolation by resting the baby on the left side of her chest. The child gradually calms down. The biological explanation for this is that the mother's heartbeat is soothing for the baby, ensuring it that the mother is nearby and will protect it. The heart is situated on the left side of the body and so the mother holds it on the left without knowing or thinking why she has taken such an action. Mothers without any remote biological knowledge follow this strategy too. The question is, how do they know?

All performers have to go through stage fright in their lives at one time or the other. Scientists have recently discovered that stage fright may be genetically inherited after all. Apparently it is a primal instinct. Primitive man was cornered, observed and sized up by predators before being attacked, and so when a hall full of people look at you like they're measuring your capabilities (although they aren't predators), this instinct automatically comes to play.

The fear of darkness has also got something to do with primal instincts. It has been speculated that long, long ago, something happened to primitive man in the dark so terrible and frightening that this fear has been embedded in him since then and passed on for generations hence.

We cannot deny the fact that instinct does rule our lives to some extent. When a face in a crowd immediately strikes one as likeable, that person is more likely to become a friend. Dislike is mostly mutual, too. Our instincts tell us who dislikes us and who doesn't.

Our ancestors, it seems, bestowed a lot more on us than just their gradually evolved body features.

By Anika Tabassum

Step up!

If you've ever wondered community service was a 'job' meant for a certain group of people known as 'social workers', you couldn't have been more wrong. Community service isn't about making huge, tangible difference which can translate into a certificate that glorifies you; it starts when you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about people around you. It can happen anytime, anywhere and with anyone. It comes with an inner selflessness of giving, without considering a grand return.

Many people desperate to improve their transcripts often come to me asking for a place in a community service program. When I recommend simple things such as teaching maidservants at home how to write their names or stop their friends from clittering streets; they pretty much, most of the time, don't get it. Just because it won't somehow earn them a presentable certificate or perhaps, a ready-made proof that they can show to 'people from college', they don't consider it worth the effort.

Bangladesh is a country that is in need of opportunities. Opportunities that can be created by the very people who live in this country. The very concept that we, as free-living citizens owe something to our country may sound clichéd; but it's still our responsibility. A friend of mine once said, “If you were a part of U.S, you're already rolling on the development wheel; but as a citizen of Bangladesh, you get a chance to pioneer development, which gives you a lot of other things to do than just charity.”

If you can spare an hour everyday for around 6 months, you can actually teach your illiterate maidservant to write her name and do basic arithmetic using pen-and-paper. If you can save around 50% of your allowance consistently for a year, you'll have enough money to sponsor the education of your driver's daughter for a while. If you can convince your parents, cousins or friends to give a certain amount, believe it or not, you can actually sponsor till her SSC exams. If you meet a picchi fakir on your way to class, instead of getting rid of him with a Tk.2 note, you can convince him to go to school and thus, secure him a more productive future. I did this, so I know it's possible. Instilling hope and courage, and teaching underprivileged kids to dream is probably one of the best services you can give to your community.

“You cannot develop people. You must allow people to develop themselves”, said Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania. This can only be achieved if people start believing in themselves and dare to dream.

It doesn't stop here. You can raise awareness about acid-victims through school projects or recycle paper at your own home. One of my friends re-uses the back of printed A4s to write down telephone numbers, addresses and just about anything short; hence saving a large amount of paper. You can turn your monitor off when downloading large files to save electricity and remember to switch the lights off before leaving the room. You can make sure the water taps are closed properly after washing your hands to ensure no water is wasted from your house.

These are only examples. There are tons of other things you can do, starting from this minute that contributes to the making of a better Bangladesh. I listen to music because I love it; I will do whatever that I can for my people because I love my country. My efforts might be so small that I'm never noticed or recognized, but I know I'm making a difference, maybe to the life of one person. It makes me smile and my rewards are the smiles or expressions of gratitude or eye-sparkling emotions of hopes that I get from helping people around me. That's motivating enough for me to try. And like Captain Planet always said it, “The power is yours!”

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya




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