DU History department held its reunion last Friday on the 27 of January 2023 at the TSC grounds. Many came from everywhere to gather and mingle and I was there too. We had gone to meet each other, the ones we knew for many years and a few for lesser days. The lawn of the TSC was full with alumni of different years and batches, welcoming, greeting, shaking hands.
Some were known faces and some were strangers but all looked for familiar faces as we did. After all, for us, the friends we had made more than fifty years back mattered more than the identity of the DU department we had passed out from.
It's a reality I realized all too well as hundreds of names and faces loitered on the lawn, not really bothering to listen to what our once venerable teachers were saying on the stage. Times had changed. There was no classroom, no obligation to listen to anyone anymore. The stage, with its usual official look and the podium speakers had less meaning than the faces and words of friends. They were sprinkled all around soaking in the last wintry sun already becoming a little too warm for comfort and taking pics capturing what had changed and had remained the same.
Who were we?
We were the first batch after 1971, the original "independence "students. We never studied at the University level under Pakistan but in a fresh new state called Bangladesh. But we entered the University without any illusions because even by the middle of 1972, we already had seen enough comings and goings in the new state which made us realize that life wasn't going to be easy. It wasn't and we had experienced enough difficulties, shortages and violence to grow up quickly leaving all illusions behind.
We still had a great deal of confidence in the role of politics in changing our life and circumstances. So many of us were involved in the war, so many in the post 1971 politics and yet our body and soul carried no stigma. Or perhaps it was too early in the day for all the complexities and contradictions that hit political life soon after. But let's face it, we were not naïve. Just because we had become independent didn't mean we were expecting better days.
Another part that strikes us is our lack of swagger for what we may have done in the war. It strikes me the most because nowadays, even the grandson of a supposed FF walks with a bigger step than the ones who had directly fired a gun in the war did. We were probably more humble or maybe we hadn't yet learnt to show off very well. And nobody was bartering their role in the war for all kinds of benefits as they do now. So nobody really cared. Nobody was boasting about what they did and how. Everyone was just a student like everyone else. A war is a great teacher of being humble and deliverer of common sense. And we had a sense of being lucky that one had escaped 1971 without death or injury.
What did we become and do?
In so many ways we were the classical middle. It would be difficult to think that what we were not was flamboyant or braggarts or even the standouts. We never boasted about our courage and sacrifice, about fictional memories, we just moved on, coping and surviving. We did middling results and did middling jobs and led a middling life. It's interesting that almost none are tinted with scandals and shame, none accused of corruption. No shame touches us, no stigma haunts us. Even the few who reached the top in respective professions never spoke about it or showed off.
Our private and public life bore the same mark. We never did anything to embarrass anyone including our families and friends and took that as part of life. We have never been arrested or tried for theft and escaped professional life with integrity. In the end, that's who we are, people who never succumbed to temptation.
We were the great middle class of the kind society imagines, exists but doesn't see. We were that group that saw Bangladesh through in the most difficult years and having done so we retired from the stage.
This "first group" didn't hang around for lunch and cultural shows. They drifted out to an earlier chosen rendezvous, stopping for Friday prayers for some at a nearby place and spent the rest of the day being old friends as they were for a half century. In the end that's who we were -friends forever. That's all we ever wanted to be.
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