Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Generation 71 and the Fifth Republic

Dickens might as well been writing about today’s Bangladesh when he said “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

We live in interesting times caught in dichotomy between optimism and pessimism about our nation’s prospect. Standing on the edge of greatness we are trying to look into the crystal ball and see what the future holds. We are waiting for Destiny to reveal her hand and tell us what is in store tomorrow. Is it the promise of greatness or the decay of despair?

These questions are most definitely in the minds of the Generation ’71. And to them I say, my fellow brothers and sisters, the future is now. We need to take charge of our nation’s path and pave it with honey and gold if we want to. We cannot wait and play out the hand that is dealt. We have to do the dealing. It is our calling and any failure can only be on our shoulders.

To Gen ’71 being a Bangladeshi is the only identity we know. We are too young (or not even born in most cases) to remember the War of Independence and its aftermath. Or for that matter the bloody days in mid 70s. Or the birth of BNP. Or the military rule of the 80s.

In most cases our political awakening happened in the last days of the Ershad era. When as students we spearheaded the movement for democracy. We dreamt of a new nation with the luring promise of participation in our own destiny. Oh how that dream collapsed. In just 15 years the mood went from one of anticipation to one of complete hopelessness. How could we have let slip between our fingers the pledge that we made? Rightly today the great philosopher of our times Hyder Hussyn sings “why are we still looking for democracy even after 30 years?” Recently a voice of our generation, Zafar Sobhan of the Daily Star, eloquently affirmed the demise of the Fourth Republic.

Welcome to the Fifth Republic. These are the early days. The days of optimism. The days of a new beginning. The days where the responsibility of framing the manifesto rests on the shoulders of Gen ‘71 as the constituent members of the new Republic. I hope my generation is up for this task.

Often I hear the argument that our generation has failed to live up to expectations. And as evidence number 1, Mr. Tarek Rahman / Zia and his motley crew are presented. Let us make it clear for once and for all; TR(Z) & co. do not represent us. They are, if conventional wisdom is to be believed, nothing but a bunch of self-serving, corruption-fuelled, misguided, uneducated good for nothings. They did not take on themselves the task of building a nation. They just hoodwinked you into believing so while they robbed us of our prosperity. By saying that they represent Gen ’71 is like saying that the trash from Dhaliwood represents the best of Bangla culture.

So who does represent us? I know many many fine Bangladeshi young men and women who are making great strides in the country and outside. You just need to look at the ever-growing buzz on various places on the Internet to feel the high calibre of debates. Just browse through any TV channel or read any newspaper to see the contribution this generation is already making in moulding our agenda. From IT to Life Science, from Sports to Journalism, from Business to Private Service, no aspect of Bangladeshi society or economy is without the influence of this generation. Well except one glaring field -politics.

Ah the dirty word! When I say I want to be one there is so much negativity from all around. Why, my family wonders would I want to get into such a dangerous world? Why do I want to wade into the filth and muck of a thankless profession? Have I gone mad? Or is it that I want to make my fortune overnight? Over the last 5 to 7 years whenever this topic came up I found myself in a lonely corner. Today I hope there will be many to join me. After all we make up more than 75% of the current electorate. We are the majority my friends. If we do not voice our desire now no one will do it for us again. We have been yet again given a unique opportunity. Let us not drop the ball on this one.

We have many tasks in hand that we need to address. To start with, we need to reform our Education system. It needs to have more focus on the needs of our industry and statehood. We need to address the reforms that are needed in the judiciary and bureaucracy. Checks and balances are essential to ensure that no one in the future can hijack the nation. We need to bring the nation into the global village. Trade, currency and commercial reforms are essential if we need to benefit from the power of our people. This list is long but the beginnings need to be made. The task now in hand is to move forward with a renewed vigour. New dreams need to be believed in. New adventures embarked upon.

To catch onto the idiom of the times, “the light at the end of the tunnel” is blindingly bright. We need to take out our sunglasses and get into the task of building a nation. A new beginning my friends; a new ray of hope; a new promise; a new republic; a new Bangladesh.

Published in the Daily Star Independence Day Special supplement of 26th March 2007 [http://www.thedailystar.net/suppliments/2007/march/26thmarch/generation.htm]

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Women in My Life

I thought to celebrate International Women’s Day I should pay tribute to five women who have had a lasting effect in my life. Each in their own way and style have made me what I am today.

Geeteara Safiya Choudhury: What does one say about one’s mother? She is all that and more. And more importantly she is (or should I say was???) my boss. I could write a thesis on her and still not be able to describe her fully. I learned many things from her but the values of honesty and hard work that she taught me are the most valuable. (Well atleast I practice one of them!). From a very young age I knew that my mother was different from others. I could go to her with anything and get a patient hearing without being judged. And that I’ve seen is true even now at work. On her desk sits a small plaque that I had bought her that says “Mother is one who can take anyone’s place but whose place no one else can” . True!

Rokia Afzal Rahman: What does one say about one’s mother-in-law? Well she is nothing like the stereotype that is butt of “mom-in-law” jokes. I’ve known Roki Aunty since I was a kid. She being my mother’s friend, I heard great tales about this person since eons. But I really got to know her after I got married. To my utter delight I found a wonderful person. And since my father-in-law’s demise found a strong and level-headed one. I am still amazed by how friendly she can get. It is a matter of minutes before she starts a conversation with a complete stranger. And a few more minutes before they are friends. I am sure not many people can truly say that they are good friends with their mother-in-law. I can.

Faiza Rahman: This is the tricky one. And only because I just don’t know where to begin and where to end. She is my best friend and confidant. She is my anchor and my engine. She is my present and my future. She is my wife. I guess many can claim that their wives are the same. But I know she is different. I am mesmerised by her beauty and awe struck by her intelligence. I often wonder how she can take so good care of me. (Ok confession time: I do absolutely nothing to help out in the house). These days it is uncanny how we begin to finish each other’s sentences and thoughts. I just I wish I could sing, then I’d sing her the world.

Fahima Choudhury: I’ve known her all her life. And she has known me most of mine. We were born just 2 years, 2 months and 9 days apart (those 9 days mattered when you were young). We grew up together as friends. I don’t remember any sibling rivalry growing up. A lot of fights maybe! But mostly because I figured out what fun it was to see her get angry. Despite this Keya and I had the most fun growing up together. Our summer trips to Sylhet. Our cycle rides in my father’s office (Sherlock Snoopy Roger that!) Us figuring out who got a bigger share of Coke left over from last evening’s party. Kodai. And her borrowing money from me for not having “change” for a Taka 500 note [the bill being Tk 475!!] She is one of the most capable and intelligent persons I know. And I know many.

Yasmeen Murshed: the only non-family on the list. I guess that makes her special. But she is. These days it seems to be fashionable to blame her school and her for so many things. But I never do get it. She taught me most of what I know. Well not only academically speaking but also about one’s sense of responsibility, patriotism and belief in one’s abilities. Even as the principal of my school, she never used to impose her will on us. She used to encourage us to challenge her. She pretended that we were her intellectual peers and engaged us. Not as mere school boys but rather as men.

I know, I know. Many will think I’m sucking up big time. But here is the truth on why I wrote this. These days it is very common to hear conversation about “these two ladies” who have ruined our nation. And this thought is often taken forward and argued as a fault of their gender in general. But that this is so, so far from the truth. These five ladies prove beyond a doubt in my mind that it is not gender that should be a discriminator.