Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, March 15, 2012

Story: Safieh Kabir
Cover art: E R Ronny

What do you want to be when you grow up? A musician, perhaps? Or an animal trainer. I remember, you said once you were going to play football.

You laugh in reply. That was a long time ago. Don't be a kid.

Why, who went around popping all your dream-clouds? Was it your parents, society, or your choice of O' Level subjects? Was it money? Was it money? Was it money?

There is a way of life here. Its mother is Poverty, and its father is Dearth, but its ancestry dates all the way back to Human Instincts, whenever he or she was born. This way of life is one of survival. It extends throughout our society, from the farmer with his hut of mud to the businessman with his marble floors. A child is taught that above all things, most important are his three plates of rice, and enough in the pot for his wife and children. This lesson is passed on not in words, and not even consciously, but with looks and gestures prompted by a knowledge that flows in our blood. With concave-stomached poverty knocking at our car windows every time we turn, and the memories of our forefathers' sweat-salted days never too far to leave behind, it is difficult to remember we no longer have to fight for life. Parents, even as they sign over thousands of taka a month to their seven-year-olds' schools, are doing it so that their O' Level results will end up good. These, they hope, will lead to good A Levels. Reports full of A*s, and their children will be guaranteed admission to good universities. These degrees will get them good jobs, which will earn them good salaries, which will enable them to leave comfortable lives. At this point, the parents will be satisfied. They have fulfilled their duties.

These paths, cobbled for us when we were born, involve so much running, there isn't time or space for dreams. One hurdle after another, we jump, until we reach the final finish line, and once that ribbon is ripped, the questions go unasked what colour were the roses along the way? Were there any roses at all?

And often there were not, because what is the point of roses? Do they provide fruit, or shelter, or clothing? Will English Literature definitely get you money every month? Would History, or Art, or Theatre Studies? No. Why, then, would anyone choose it as an O Level subject? And if no one would choose it, why would a school offer it?

They don't. The papers come around with the choices. Biology, Physics, Chemistry. Accounting, Economics, Commerce. Mathematics, Further Mathematics.
The dream-clouds are already greying, fading a little at the edges. Printed words take their place in the air, permanent, definite things. Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer. Chartered Accountant. Civil servant. Businessman.
The old futures are separate things, not connected to this world of studying and offices and days and weeks and months. Where would you be a gymnast anyway? Where would you set up your zoo?

But we felt the need to prove our cynical selves wrong, so we asked around. The first time, it appeared that we had, indeed, hit the nail on its depressing little head. Only one in fifteen people seemed prepared to play with failure and ignore its sidekicks (scorn, belittlement and the rest of that crew) to be what they truly wanted to be. Some couldn't be bothered even to dream. Our own words were thrown back at us, “parents” and “money” and “this is Bangladesh”.

But we wouldn't accept it. We asked again, and we're glad we did.

A wants to be an aeronautical engineer. Physics, Maths, he'll do it all. D wants to get involved in films: acting or cinematography. She says people discourage her all around, tell her it's not a proper profession, and that she should be spending her time on more suitable study. Sometimes it's hard, she says, to stick to it despite what they say, but you have to do what makes you happy, right? We wish her luck.

R was really a success. The first time we asked her, she talked about music and Juilliard, but said finally that she'd end up studying medicine like her parents wanted her to. On the second round, though, she had changed her stance. We had made her think, she said, and realise that teaching music is something she would love to do every day of her life, no matter the salary or the success. She can sing, play the piano and had taught herself to play the guitar. C is another musician. He plays rock piano without sheet music, picking up the melody by ear, and wants to spend his life promoting and performing. He aims to study at Trinity Guildhall and then change the way people view piano music.

S, though, still wants to be a professional football player. He is in two of the best underground teams, the third division of the Under-16 National team, and is generally just ridiculously good. He's looking at the University of California and Los Angeles, but it doesn't really matter where he goes, we know he'll make it anyway.

This writer is not one of these cooler people, but she asks you not to make the compromises she probably will. It's not long we exist; exist the way you want to. When the earth blows up, it'll all be the same anyway.

For more on dreams and what the real life does to it, find out more from the dreamers themselves on page 3. - RS



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