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The Woes of University Coaching

If you're one of those kids who thought life would be easier after HSCs or the O Levels, we feel for you. Figured after studying so hard for so long, you could take a well-deserved break, right? By now, though, you know just how wrong you were. Because after high school and before university, comes university entrance exams. And in Bangladesh, that means - you guessed it - more coaching.

The flyers and pamphlets that were being thrust in your and your guardians' faces when you came out from the Bashundhara exam hall were mostly for those coaching centres guaranteeing your entrance into IBA or BUET or NSU or IUB or BRAC. And you can bet your behind that your mother saved a couple. So now you're going to one of those coaching centres, prepping for the entrance exam of your (read: your parents') choice.

As is the way of the world, your holidays are cut short. And if that's not enough, you soon discover that university coaching is a lot like A Level coaching.

Exhibit A: 'Hierarchy' to 'higher ki'
How does it feel to sit at the corner and watch your English coaching teacher tell everyone that you spell 'hierarchy' with only one 'r', but pronounce it with two? Then watch some poor soul jot that little piece of misinformation down in a thick notebook? Initially, amusement, sure. Then you are forced to wonder why you're wasting a perfectly good day, on this. Also, when you actually pay enough attention to have a question, more often than not the teacher can't answer.

Exhibit B: Extra classes
Your teachers seem to be unaware of the fact that you have a life. The Physics teacher scheduled an extra class on Tuesday; the Drawing teacher (for Architecture students), if it isn't enough that you're doing his class on a Friday morning, wants you to come back again that same evening for two more hours. The Chemistry teacher doesn't care you have a three-hour extra English class Sunday evening. Your morning's still free, right?

Exhibit C: Homework
Oh, come on! Who wants to write five 200-word Bangla essays at home and bring them in on Wednesday? You have other subjects to study for, too! But does your Math teacher care as he hands out five lecture sheets, totalling ten with the ones you previously received, and tells you to complete all the seventy or so sums on them by next class? Which, by the way, is the very next day due to the extra class he put in, right before your Sunrise Drawing and after your UCC general knowledge classes.

And you thought school was bad.

Exhibit D: Traffic
Look man, bhaiya, sir, whatever, I'm sorry I'm late, but I had to race all the way from the Mentor's at Kolabagan to OMEGA in Dhanmondi, since they cut off rickshaws on the main road near Panthopath. You know what it's like. Can't you be a bit more sympathetic?

Apparently not.

Every teacher is under the impression that their subject is the only subject you're working at. Sucks, doesn't it? Some of you probably only go to one coaching centre, but the larger proportion of you go to two or more, since Mentor's only coaches for IBA and SAT, but you're also applying to BUET and Dhaka University. So you head to UCC and Sunrise. It's like the O Levels all over again, with your seven plus subjects and corresponding seven plus coaching centres. You spend your day in traffic.

This time, it's Ramadan. People's shopping sprees are clogging up roads and you have to get home in time for iftaar. Some of your teachers have also set classes after iftaar, so you can't even roll around with your full stomach at home in peace. It's a cruel world.

Unfortunately, for most of you, all of it actually helps, due to some weird cosmic sympathy and sense of justice. So you can't really complain.

By Professor Spork

Ramadan Musings over Vanilla Ice-cream

Vanilla ice cream at 3 in the morning, a week into Ramadan. An incongruous picture, yet I find myself pensively eating said ice cream indulgence in the month of abstinence. Such a little thing, really, yet one cannot help thinking. It sounds like something a child would do.

Child. Do you remember how much we'd want to fast when we were children? And they'd say, of course. Have breakfast and fast until lunch, and then don't eat anything until iftar. 'Half-roja', they called it. And we did keep those 'half-rojas' in good faith. We really, truly meant it and ate only during meals. I doubt that we would have caught our younger selves binging on ice cream in the middle of the night. Not that the grownups would have awoken us, but still.

And then, once you turned 11, the concept of 'half roja' didn't exist anymore. It was only because you were young, they said. Understandable. Grownups did things like that because you were young. They put lipstick on their forehead and told you it was blood, because you were young. They said you could fast without fasting, because you were young.

Thus was our initiation into the world of 'real' Ramadan. We learnt that 'Ramadan price hikes' happened because, for some reason, people suddenly needed more food when they were fasting. We'd await iftar parties of banquet proportions, and continue to snack intermittently until the next dawn. We'd join in the Eid Shopping rush, barely a week into Ramadan. And come Eid, we'd smile when friends would say how well we looked in that new sari or kameez, because we'd spent the past month trimming ourselves to fit into it. Or we'd exchange and laugh over anecdotes of the various iftar parties, already planning next year's ones.

You are taught an Arabic verse, early on during your fasting experiences. A Niyyah, they tell you, to express your intentions of fasting. And you recite it as you begin and end each day of 'abstinence.' Somewhere along the road, though, it occurs to you that you aren't exactly sure what the words mean. Intentions, yes but of what?

You realise too, that there was a time that you did know so well that a verse to express it wasn't necessary. You knew nothing of these formalities during your 'half roja' days but you meant it more sincerely than you possibly do now. You knew that it wasn't about having vanilla ice cream just because it was before sunrise, and there was no one there to say 'no'. It was about saying 'no' yourself.

So, for tonight, I'll say 'no' and leave that second helping for another day. I'll recite the Niyyah and pray before falling asleep as soon as possible. And maybe tomorrow I'll find myself expecting another elaborate iftar, preferably with friends, or pondering over Eid plans. Right now, though, I'll say 'no' and mean it. After all, even a child would know better.

By Risana Nahreen Malik


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