Sunday, March 18, 2007

Young Bangladesh

My uncle told me this story years ago. During President H. M. Ershad's time, a village was facing a disaster. Mr. Ershad had ordered officials to deal with the matter urgently. They had worked hard and disaster was averted. Now the President was visiting in a helicopter. When his helicopter landed in a field, it was completely surrounded by hundreds of joyous kids. Mr. Ershad apparently looked at the official next to him, pointed outside, and said, "We have averted disaster today, but what will happen tomorrow when all these kids must be taken care of?"

Well it looks many of those kids are doing Bangladesh proud today. One example is the really young team that defeated India at World Cup Cricket yesterday. There are several teenagers in the team. As the Daily Telegaph said,

"These Bangladeshis have an impish verve all their own. Their youngsters are not only ardent but cheeky and streetwise. They are the youngest Test nation but they don't die wondering."

Ah, all those years of eating chotpoti/fuchka and playing truant/cutting classes to practice cricket pays off! A day like this is enough to make a fan out of a crusty cricket-agnostic like myself.

Another example is GMB Akash, a young photojournalist, who was chosen in an important list of worldwide top 30 "New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2007". Akash is 30, the only South Asian in that list.

Yet another example is young novelist Tahmima Anam who I have mentioned on this blog before.

And so the list goes on. Naeem Mohaiemen, in an essay, commented on how young Bangladeshis who have been successful abroad rarely get the rave reviews they deserve in their homeland. Yes, they deserve more attention. Problem is that our culture has a historical tendency to tilt towards elders and towards the past.

But today I see a change. So many of the kids I meet at different occasions - from the classrooms and halls at BRAC U. where I teach, to budding software engineers at various firms or friend's houses, to school and college students I run into while wandering or photographing - show confidence, self-esteem, and yes, verve.

The future of Bangladesh is in good hands.


HP said...


It was really refreshing to see the way they played!


Anonymous said...

Yes we show some good achievement. But compare to other countries it is not enough.
Regarding the study in our school, technology, good governance forget about India and China, we are still far behind from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Vietnam. It is my experience after I have been work in US, Japan and South East Asia, I found how dynamic, knowledgeable, passionate about study they are.
In study specially science, math, English and overall Engineering education, India, Southeast Asia is far more advanced than us. If you go to any Famous companies in the world (Intel, Microsoft, Google, GE, HP ,Sony, City Bank, Morgan Stanley etc) we can find very very good number of Indian, South East Asian , Chinese are working. The number of Bangladeshi either 1,2 or 0. By South East Asia I don’t mean the whole. I meant each country and except Indonesia, all of them have less population than us but the percentage of high achiever is far bigger. By this I don’t say we did not achieve any thing-we achieve some but we need to go more and more.

Anonymous said...

thank you!i'm sure all of us between 19 and 35 are grateful! :)

Anonymous said...

Excuse me Mr Back to Bangladesh, but what pray is the point of the Ershad anecdote? That he took care of the kids? That the nation took care of them? That the kids are alright? You must be kidding right?

ulysses said...


I kid you not.

The point of the anecdote is simple. Back in the 80s the future of Bangladesh looked bleak because of the perceived future burden of the younger population. Today that same population is turning out to be an asset. Thus, kids who in the 80s were seen to be a future liability have today given us much to be proud of.

While on kids, there is no doubt in my mind that kids in Bangladesh today are much better off than they were in the 80s (and even early 90s). I started photographing our kids in villages in 1984. I could walk into a village and get surrounded by kids in minutes - thin, wearing torn shirts, no sandals. Today in our villages if I walk in during the day, virtually all the kids are in school. When I do find them, they are usually wearing nice clothes and sandals, and look much healthier. And carrying books in their backpacks.

So, things have gotten surprisingly better instead of worse. Of course much remains to be done, but we can be proud of the achievements of the hard-working people of Bangladesh.

Anonymous said...

I see. I don't believe this picture. Indeed the picture is most uneven and unequal, and I suspect a lot of stats would back me up. And whilst I enjoy your blog, your pictures never ever tell of the grinding poverty that exists in the country and the struggles to survive. They never show the violence, that is vilence in the broadest sense of the word, which stalks the country and the resources of the people to deal with it. .

ulysses said...


So be it. You keep your opinion and I'll keep mine. Hope you continue to enjoy the blog.