Syed Mehdi Momin
This is the lament heard by every generation in one form or another: What’s the matter with kids today? The idea that the current generation is somehow deficient compared to those of the past (including ours, of course) echoes throughout history. Nowadays days when some of our friends or acquaintances (say aged between 40 to 50) gather and chat–besides the obvious the issues of dealing with health problems, how to expand their balances and how to ensure foreign education for their children– a common theme is nostalgia about their days of youth when everything was pristine and free of tension. And these people also waste no opportunity to rubbish today’s’ youth saying that they lack integrity and idealism, their morals are loose and too many of them abuse drugs. Listening to these people with a middleage spread and faces with thick cosmetics I often ask myself did I live in the same country or city as these wise ladies and gentlemen.
Take the issue of drug for instance. Sure there was no Yaba, which is the entire craze in the drug circuit. But codeine syrup abuse was quite common. It is people now fifty or below who took to phensidyl in a massive way. In certain areas the stuff was sold quite openly and there used to be long queues of people. Interesting the same people who would create a hullabaloo at a restaurant if they were served a couple of minutes late was prepared to wait for hours on end for phensidyl. In some of the spots the rate of the day was also written. People including law enforcers were rather casual about the matter.
Why only codeine syrup you would find charas and opium in many teach shop or cigarette stalls. Some of these shops actually sold cigarettes stuffed with ganja, again quite openly. There were places–Karwanbazar, Nilkhet, Sutrapur, Gonoktuli– where one could have country liquor.
Sure during the year end there were not so many so-called DJ parties.However on New Years when the whole city apparently gathered in Gulshan 2 or the Dhaka University. The revellers–yes of both genders–drank like crazy and this writer personally saw cops joining in the fun. This was the common scene even a couple of decades ago.
Even before that in the 1960s and 70s there were many people addicted to mandrax, chandu and various amphetamine like drugs. Poet Niramlendu Goon wrote
Today’s a holiday
Today it’s Mandrax
It’s only Mandrax.”
The middleaged people who we talked about are seemingly deeply concerned about the moral decadence of today’s youth. Porn sites on the Net, they believe are making the kids today experiment with sex in a dangerous manner. If you hear them you may think that the teens and twenties of the 1980s or 1990s knew little about sex.
Well my experience is a bit different. In the early 1990s there were at least half a dozen brothels in Dhaka and Narayanganj. And the clients of these establishments were not all lungi clad, paan chewing creepy men. Actually they were in the minority. Many of those seeking the services of sex workers belonged to the jeans, T-shirt and sneaker brigade. As one by one most of these establishments were evicted of sex workers the business shifted to the residential hotels and even neighbourhood flats. There were many hotels in the capital that depended on sleaze for making a profit. People these days would find it difficult to believe that there used to be hundreds of so-called massage parlours in Dhaka. Well I have been told that not a single girl working in these ‘massage parlours’ actually had any professional training. These were for all intent and purpose mini brothels. There was some cinema halls where sex work was comnmon. So my you readers if anyone tells you that there was no opportunity to engage in carnal pleasure of the illicit kind in Dhaka two or three decades back, well the person is suffering from a serious case of amnesia.
1980s was the time when VCRs and VCPs became ompnipresent. And the movies people saw were not always about wholesome fun. A 20-year-ol today would find it difficult to believe that in the 1980s there were certain areas where blue films were shown to audiences, some of whom were wearing school uniforms.
Then there is this continuous ramblings about violence in campus. Some would like the youth today to believe that during the 1980s and 1990s the campuses were idyllic places where everyone concentrated on their studies and nurturing innocent and chaste culture. Well I studied in Dhaka University, the so-called Oxford of the East from 1990 to 1996. (When we studied there was this very unwholesome phenomenon of ‘session jam’. I was supposed to complete my Masters in 1993 but had to wait three more years for no fault of my own). And I was also a regular visitor to the campus since 1986. Those were hardly peaceful days. There was violence and hundreds of rounds of bullet from every conceivable weapon was fired whenever there was fighting between two rival students’ organisations and intra organisation battles. Many were killed or maimed for life. There was hardly any active member of the student wings of the major parties who was not accustomed to the workings of one type of firearm or the other. Even the most studious and diffident student could by using their auditory senses differentiate between a rifle shot or a bomb blast.
Occupation and re-occupation of dorms were monotonous in their regularity. Like the present days many students were forced to join political rallies against their wishes. Frankly speaking I my opinion the present day situation is no worse–if not better–than it was 20 years back.
Those who want to portray a rosy picture of the days when they were young are only deluding themselves. There were lumpen elements then as there is now.
The claim that students work less on their studies now than they did earlier seems bogus to me as well. When we were students there were no e-books with hyperlinks sending the reader to related pieces of information within the book or online. There were no online databases or resources-if you wanted to read a research article, you had to go to the library, sort through a catalog of index cards, and eventually hope the book or article was where it was supposed to be (which, often, it was not). Then you had to go to the next article you wanted to read based on that one, and so on, sometimes taking an hour just to find that one source. The extraneous time wasted in the search for an article now can be used for actual reading, research, and writing.
Intelligence among the youth today, in my opinion is definitely on the rise. The younger generation are exposed to a vastly greater amount of information than ever before in environments which are more goal directed, spontaneous and creativity based as opposed to the strict, ‘disciplinary’ way of education of the past.
Youth is the time when we are at our most idealistic selves. Later life being what it is in Bangladesh, people tend to get cynical. But there is no place for cynicism among most of the youth. They do believe that it is possible for them to change the world. And even if they can’t change it, they will at least make an attempt.
The complaint that today’s youth lack idealism simply does not hold water. They are as idealistic as their predecessors . However, the fact is that we are living in a different time. Things cannot remain the same forever. The times and circumstances of the youth today are not similar to what it was decades earlier. One must realise that today’s youth have all grown up in a free country. Many of them have no personal knowledge of living under direct military rule. Their mindset will definitely be different to those who grew up in a state of subjugation. It is extremely difficult for a young man of 24 to understand how it feels like to be discriminated just because you are a Bengali.
So with no alien foe in sight who will they fight against? Most of the young people today are basically fed up with politics or more precisely politicians. They are apolitical. And who can blame them?
The politicians are not exactly setting a perfect example. Are they? There is no such thing as internal democracy in the political parties. The young people are seeing the veteran politicians shifting allegiance for their narrow selfish ends. Politics in Bangladesh have become totally dominated by a few major families.
This is not the place for putting the blame on anybody. But the fact remains that violence in student politics had its seeds sown decades earlier and now we are reaping the fruits. It is the classic Frankenstein syndrome. Passing the buck on the so-cal “misguided youth” is definitely not the answer.
Today’s world is a place where political boundaries are getting blurred. To say that our youth are devoted followers of the ‘degraded’ Western culture is to take an overly simplistic view of things. The contemporary youth have a much greater exposure to other cultures. In the present day world you cannot remain a recluse. It is a reality that the youth today, the world over, are heavily influenced by American culture and some say its worst aspects. The Bangladeshi youth have not been an exception.
However, they are devoted to their own culture too and are proud of it. Rabindra Sangeet is still a favorite with many. They are not the stereotypes of a Punjabi-clad Bengali'” bhadrolok” of yesteryears. Just because a young girl prefers to be in jeans does not make her any less of a Bengali. Culture itself, after all, is an ever-changing phenomenon. Our culture will be enriched if we interact with other cultures. We, of course, have to make sure that it all does not become a one-way traffic.
The writer is a journalist