Something has gone totally berserk with our collective psyche.
We are no longer the docile, polite society of bhodroloks anymore.
First there was the incident at ASA. A walk-in job interview session became a riotous situation that closed down Mirpur road only a few days ago.
Then there was the incident between the students of two universities in Banani over some remarks made. The angst of our students is nothing new. Once, that helped tremendously in reaching the goals of independence. The angst of yester years had purpose and a higher goal. The angst of today is about personal egos and pathetic lack of dignity and respect for one another. In the public universities, it has been reduced to occupying of halls and bringing in teachers, students, and administration alike to the cadres of the affiliated political parties. In the private universities, which have been immune to these vacillations of the definitions of a place of higher learning, the reasons are more to do with the former.
Road rage in Dhaka lately seems to have taken new dimensions where drivers are slapped and hit with impunity for fender benders caused by an impatient traffic flow caught in hours of gridlock. The other day, I was witness to an altercation between two CNG drivers and their passengers. Ironically one had the slogan painted on it, ‘One’s behaviour is the indication of one’s birth heritage’. If that is the case, I am sorry to say, we have descended into a nation of illegitimates.
Our private behaviour is set by the examples set by our immediate family members. We follow their teachings, traditions, and heritage, and try our best to emulate it. Our families are taught to endeavour for the betterment of the next generation, building up layers upon layers of good behaviour and education, so that our next generation is not only more successful, but also more erudite, mannered and exposed to better surroundings.
That unfortunately begs the question of who leads and teaches the masses. When our top leaders are bickering about the past whilst our ecological security is under heavy scrutiny, I wonder what we, as a general public are learning from them. One thing for sure, respect for one another in not one of them.
The vitriolic war of words between the government in power and the one in opposition is tiring, feeding the opening minutes of the countless TV channels that proliferates our screen. Bad behaviour has crept into the ‘natok’ scenes as well. We have lost patience, and joined the ‘right now’ generation. We want instant wealth, or at least all the trappings of wealth, and we are getting there. We see Cadillacs and stretched limos, two-seater sports cars, private helicopters, and fancy diners and we emulate and gawk at them in their materialistic trappings. Collectively we are acting like a nation of nouveau riche wannabes, crass, unsophisticated, too much bling, and not enough sophistication. The rich and the poor are getting away with this crassness with it while it is the class on the fringes of middledom, caught between the dirty rocks of daily life and the hard place of keeping their heads up, who had enough, and now are venting and bursting out.
Clearly the ASA incident was a case of too few jobs and too many applicants. Wait that did not sound right! Why would that cause a riot? Speculations ranged from favouritism to mismanagement of the process by ASA authorities. What we saw was people interpreting their situations to their own judgments and taking the law unto their own hands. Did the ensuing situation resulting in a closed major roadway and the compounded aggravation of commuters, broken glasses of passing cars and buildings and untold frustrations of the hundreds of others who did not make it to the interview solve anything?
As far as the incident in Banani is concerned, the proximity of so many universities, instead of fuelling of competition in learning and culture, caused a riot over the sexist remark of one about a woman from the other institution. Could not the recipient of the remark point out the fallacy of that utterance and show his friend his own wrong perception of the opposite sex before it ended with the closure of these two institutions? Have we become intolerant to the point that proximity of large groups of people will these days act as a pool of instant riotous men to be summoned at one’s beck and call with an incendiary remark? The faces and comments of those students on the TV screen later afternoon betrayed the fact that somehow their education, their backgrounds, their surroundings, their families, and the society as a whole have failed to instil the basic norms of tolerance, restraint, and behaviour that was once expected from all of us. They may not have known any better, but we did, and we have failed miserably.
With just two more years remaining in the mandate of the results of the last election, we also have two years of vitriol coping up. We shall see our two leaders at the top belittling each other, in spite of the fact that both have been elected more than once to lead the nation. We shall see their minions, advisors and who’s who of their parties joining in on the chorus and I can only hope that this does not spill into more than words into bullets, grenades, shoes, lathis, and whatnot and rest of the political bile that we constantly find ourselves drenched in.
My request is that you two ladies be civil to each other and the rest of us will follow.
MK Aaref is an architect. He studied architecture and urban planning at the University of Houston. Later, he specialised in privatisation during his MBA from Aston University, UK. He currently resides and practices in Dhaka.