Bangladesh in the eyes of three generations

Ziauddin Choudhury

THE three generations I am about to talk about are set apart by a gap of more than fifty years, from the youngest to the oldest. The youngest just turned thirty, the oldest eighty-six, and the one in the middle is in his forties. They all belong to Bangladesh, the youngest was born and raised abroad, the mid-forties man was born and raised in Bangladesh but educated abroad, and the oldest had spent his entire life in Bangladesh and its earlier incarnation. I met them all during the course of my most recent trip to Bangladesh; all of the meetings were accidental.

The young man I met was on my way to Bangladesh; he had just returned after a month of stay there. The man in his forties I met was when he was returning to the US after a two-week professional visit there. The man in his eighties I met in the airplane on my way to the US. The three had one thing in common, a vision of Bangladesh that is uncommon among most Bangladeshis I had met during my visit to the country. A vision that is built upon their interaction with other Bangladeshis, a vision based on their own assessment of the potential of the country and its people, a vision of pragmatism and not of fanciful expectation or negative judgment.

The young man I met had left his lucrative job in the US with a reputed global firm to join a group of other young men like him who want to help set up venture companies in developing countries that draw on their human resources. The young man had little exposure to Bangladesh as an adult, as he had mostly spent his childhood and early adulthood in the US. He had expected substantial obstacles, particularly in gathering skilled human resources that were suitable to his line of work. What surprised him most was that not only had he found the resources he was looking for, he also found that some of the young people he dealt with were highly proficient in skills that were the cutting edge of information technology and applications. He and his group were so satisfied with his new found resources that he wanted to start his venture there without delay. When I queried him if he and his group were not a bit hasty in getting involved in an economy that has yet to take off, his answer was that the economy had already taken off. The young men he would deal with are the future of Bangladesh, and they are proving to be no less equipped with technology and technical knowledge than neighbouring countries. On top of it all, these people are not burdened by the baggage of their parents who look to the past; they look to the future.

The second person is an educationist by profession, who taught in a renowned US university, and then set up his own institution of online education. His path breaking technology, web based learning, has been adopted by many universities in the world, and he has authored a number of text books and how-to manuals to teach web based or e-learning to people all over the world. Some of his books have been translated in several languages. Despite his global reputation as an expert on e-learning, and his ability to draw a substantial following in many countries, one deep passion of this innovator is his country Bangladesh and his desire to make e-learning a day to day phenomenon for the people of the country for both formal and non-formal education. He went to Bangladesh recently to spread his passion and his tools to the universities there. He told me that after years of endeavour his efforts have been received well and he is confident e-learning for education would be a tool for every common man in the country. His version of e-learning is not learning through computers only, but learning through all electronic means — radio, TV, phone, and of course computer. He firmly believes that, just as microcredit movement launched through Grameen Bank pioneered a revolution in rural economy, e-learning or virtual education will also launch another revolution — education for all. He is confident young people in Bangladesh who have shown great adaptability would be able to use this method to not only get formal education at little cost, but will also be able to learn skills that would help them find jobs domestically and internationally. He thinks the future is here right now.

My last interviewee was a businessman who had spent over eight decades of his life in Dhaka city. He had built his wealth from the farm lands that his father had left him, and founded an industry and a real estate business. Himself a high school dropout, he raised eight children, two of whom are doctors, one a barrister, and others college graduates. In 1971, he had joined the Mukti Bahini after leaving his wife and small children because “he could not stand by after witnessing the rampant devastation and killing by Pakistan army of his old Dhaka neighbourhood.” For him, the birth of Bangladesh had brought many promises, but most important of all, it had rid Bangladeshis of their oppressors. To him, the glory is not what the last forty years or so have brought us; the glory is what is yet to come. Politics has become polluted, but people are not. He regrets that mistakes and machinations by some politicians allowed enemies of our liberation to rear their head, but he believes people of Bangladesh will know how to take care of them. Like the two younger men, this octogenarian also believes firmly in the future of the country and its potential.

The three views of three persons spread across three generations on the future of Bangladesh could be described as overoptimistic or overly biased. But the abiding theme of the three views is confidence in the main resource of any country — its people. None of these persons dwelt on politics (except the oldest person, on the margin), nor did they expressly talk about the economy. Their confidence about the future of the country came from their belief that the people of Bangladesh are capable, hardworking, and have both the willingness and potential to pull the country forward. In this day and age when politics has polluted our hopes and machinations of politicians have put us all in a doomsday parade, the visions of the people that I just talked about are like lights at the end of a tunnel. I only hope that their visions are rightly founded, and these actually lead the country to a future yet to come.

The writer is a political analyst and a commentator.

Source: The Daily Star

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