The photo of the boy from St Joseph's School is flashed during the news on BTV, the only broadcasting channel in the country. His gone missing is national news. Two days later, there is a collective sigh of relief as he re-emerges, unscathed. Domestic interrogations yield that he got a detention at school and fled to his village home to escape the wrath of his parents.
As I have no village home to run to, I have no choice but to sheepishly go up to mom to report the receiving of my first ever detention slip.
“Oh, it's part of growing up.” She says matter-of-factly.
Wait, that's it?
Mom is an instant hit in school as “it's part of growing up” becomes the catch phrase. As part of growing up, I become bolder in my mischiefs and seek out several more detentions in the ensuing months, carefully optimising to ensure I don't reach 10 in the academic year that triggers the dreaded Transfer Certificate.
Then why the fascination with the after-school exercise of writing 1,000 lines of “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”? Well, the detention class isn't exactly a windowless prison cell, but a regular classroom with glass windows and a clear view of the other classrooms being used by Siddiqui's Tutorial where the rare sight of the opposite gender flocking on the otherwise androgen laden grounds of the all-boys' St. Joseph's is worth getting a step closer to being kicked out of school. In a convoluted, risky but kosher way, that's the best we can do to satiate our adolescent hormones. We envy the boys of Siddiqui's with the only consolation of knowing that they are not allowed to talk to their female cohorts. And thus, the advent of romance in Morse code and sign language…
Growing up with the motto “It' part of growing up”, the genes of mom have passed on to me. Coincidentally, a similar parallel flow of genes trickles down to my arranged wife. The parents of our own teenager of 2018, are thus a major source of embarrassment for her whereas several of her class friends put themselves up to us for adoption. But as per conventional wisdom, the cool parents are really bad parents, for we high five our teenager for getting her first C as “it's part of growing up”, we make her miss school so that daddy can take her on a Motorcycle Diaries trip to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos where she falls in love with history, geography, culture and more so, the Bangla language that doubles as a code language in a foreign land. The wife and I give her a free reign to smell the beauties of life even at the cost of possibly flunking a year, which, in our selfish ways, gives us an extra year's lease prior to the onset of becoming empty nesters. The daughter is the one who reprimands us: “Baba, Ma, for Heaven's sake, can you PLEASE be a little strict with me?”
As bohemian parents more aptly fitting the flower child era (perhaps that's why we both went to Berkeley to vicariously live the 60s), we have thick skin. We actually WANT to be poked so that we can counter-poke in good spirits. Maybe that is why the parent-teacher meetings are a dreaded exercise not for our kids nor for us, but for the teachers, who are unfortunately dealing with a beatnik comedian and a free-spirited banker.
But for parents to be loosely wired like the Mahbubs, rightfully and thankfully, is an exception rather than the rule. “It's part of growing up” is thus a subjective and not universally objective definition. As a nation where we can't even fill out a single page form without glancing at that of the person next to us filling out the line where it says “Surname”, it is not unexpected that we lack the confidence to answer questions without the proverbial crutch called cheating. Let's ask ourselves, whether even once in our lives, we, in Bangladesh, have not peaked at the answer sheet of the person next to us. It is not that we are not prepared, it is just that we have been crippled into not being able to fly solo. And we can't fly solo is because we have to rely on private tutoring, we have to rely on private tutoring is because our regular classes are deliberately The Fast and the Furious, literally and figuratively, with the endings always prompting another sequel off of class hours. As a result, we run from one private tutor to the other and have no time to diversify our emotions beyond grades, and it is because we can't diversify our emotions is why life is single track, and it is because life is single track is why we think life comes with no second chances, and life gives only one chance is because life is just BBA, engineering or medicine.
Yes, it is wrong to cheat. But life can come with a second, third, …, Nth chance. Even God forgives, and we, mere mortals, can't? But then again, we are Bangladeshi humans, we will humiliate in public, not only the child, but drag the parents to the hall of shame. Remember Tagore's Chhuti? It is a vulnerable age, where, in a society and system where every conceivable and expected psychological issue, far from being treated professionally and with passion, is considered a figment of imagination, curable in an instant with a single slap.
Fire a rocket, respond with a rocket, if at all, but for Heaven's sake, not with an ICBM. It's just not worth it...
Naveed Mahbub an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA and CEO of IBM & Nokia Siemens Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club.