Adieu gentleman’s bicycleby Nadim Jahangir
I remember when I was growing up I used to go to my math teacher, double riding a bicycle with my friend. I sat on the bar in front of the sturdy Prince bicycle as my friend peddled me to the teacher’s house, during the 10th grade of my studies. When I was admitted to Notre Dame College my parents bought me a bicycle which I used to ride it to the college from Fuller Road. The gentleman's bicycle was a common sight right up until the 1980’s. Why was it called a gentleman's bicycle? My guess is because the bicycle was a solid machine made for men and because those who rode it, I'd like to believe, were gentlemen.
I was reminded of this particular bicycle during a conversation with a couple of friends, as we met in a local coffee shop and were reminiscing on our old school days. Our topic of discussion was traffic and who to blame for it! And the discussion moved on to our educated people – that is ourselves!
The conversation was loquacious and we blamed the motorists for parking their vehicles haphazardly. Wouldn't it have been so much better, we asked, if bicycles had not gone out of fashion. Then again, we came to the agreement that due to cars and buses it was impossible to ride a bicycle any more on Dhaka streets. All my friends in the coffee shop have cars and we also agreed that we, the car owners, simply don't care about other road users. We park where it is convenient - by the road beside the shop we want to enter, by the road junction, even on the curb.
It's often worse in the commercial areas. All my friends had the same story to narrate, as we do not drive the cars which are chauffer driven, hence, to save the parking money cars are kept on both sides of the roads and at the junctions nearby. We don't care that other road users find it hard to see approaching vehicles, not to mention drive through. When the chauffer is driving he is not following the law but the owner sitting at the back is also not reacting to the wrong. It’s we who are to blame for it. We are educated but somehow somewhere we have lost the essence of education.
Our wives take the kids to schools but we will make sure the car parks exactly in front of the school and then our wives will get off to drop our kids. We won’t bother to walk the few extra steps. Even if we had parked the cars a block from the school the jam would have been halved. So it is we who make the jam worse outside schools.
While we go to pick our children the scenario is even worse. We parents often park where we like as we wait for our children to come out of the school compound. Some double park, some triple park, some wait with engines running right in front of the school, unconcerned that other road users can't get through because of our cars. Very often those waiting have large cars. All the parents who are waiting to pick their children, almost always look educated – at least their dressing says so.
I believe we have in our midst an increasing number of the educated uneducated. I don't know how else to describe this situation! We can read, write and do arithmetic. Many of us surely possess degrees, yet we are not averse to displaying inconsiderate behavior.
Part of the problem, of course, is the lack of parking space which can be traced to poor planning and implementation by city planners and local government officials. During the coffee discussion we decided to park ourselves under the ‘educated uneducated’ category. It is we who are to be blamed for the problem; it is we who are not obeying the system.
In our country, we see people in power not follow traffic lights. For whatever reason, cars with national flags will not stop at the light. Not only that, if the light is red the flag bearing cars use the wrong side of the road to pass the signal. Hence, seeing this, the general public also feels that not following the traffic signals is a custom.
More and more people are becoming loutish. More Bangladeshis seem to be embracing violence as a method of resolving differences. More Bangladeshis are telling lies and half-truths, knowing full well the ramifications of their acts. Political parties believe in violence and only through movement, agitation and anarchy are they eager to solve all problems. We, the public, are used to seeing violence from the political parties and we also doubt that solving the problem is in the card of the parties.
Our literacy rate in 2010 was more than 50 percent, according to the United Nations Development Programme. We are producing more and more university graduates than any time before. Both Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) students are graduating in high numbers and, of late, the passing rate has crossed more than 80 percent.
Is our education system educating people? Doesn't look like it. The system is merely feeding students information and dogma. Education is the process of perfecting human beings, of humanising man, of allowing his capabilities and talents to grow, of inculcating a sense of right and wrong and of knowing both one's rights and one's responsibilities to society. In other words, education should produce decent men. It should produce gentleman.
We often think that the ancients were barbarians or uneducated or less educated than us.
But, back then, people showed decency and civility even in the midst of battle. The epic Mahabharata abounds with tales of decency among warriors. For instance, whenever a great leader fell, the fighting would stop and leaders from both sides would pay their respects to the fallen hero. That is decency. Those kings, generals and warriors did not have degrees or diplomas, but they were certainly educated people. They had a strong sense of decency.
But today, our leaders are educated. For sure they can read, write and watch TV news. But the way both our leaders communicate - it certainly would not fall under civilised behaviour. The leader who is in opposition always worries about the country’s well-being. More to it, to establish democratic rights, the opposition leader’s strategy is mass movement in the street. To save the country, the opposition leader’s policy is to call for a fall of the government. But when this opposition leader comes to power, it somehow ends up doing the same thing that the incumbent government did. Interestingly, the government also wants to hear only the good, regarding its performance. We, the public, are suffering due to shortage of power but government and its advisors are saying power supply has increased compared to the last government. If we publicly criticise the government’s policy of quick rental as a policy to solve the power crisis, we, the public, are termed as non-patriotic. Since the energy advisor is a freedom fighter, hence, he cannot be involved in something harmful for the country. Anyone taking responsibility must realise that responsibility comes with accountability. The freedom fighter as a government officer may take wrong decisions as well. As the public, we have the right to criticise. With criticism, the person in charge of the job will rectify the wrong and make the correction. These are all basic knowledge of education!
I fear the rise of the educated uneducated – that’s what is happening to us! The gentleman, I think, disappeared with the gentleman's bicycle. ‘God's most lordly gift to man is decency of mind’ – somehow I feel we have lost it.
Chaos is man made. Hence, it is made by us or made by people employed by us. In either case we are responsible for both the situations. All we require is a bit of patience which, unfortunately, we Bengalis are bereft of. If only we would obey the traffic signals and the rules, the traffic would be more streamlined. It’s sad that we are intelligent enough to know this, yet unwilling to do something about it. What does it say about our state of mind - sane or insane! Meaning, we acknowledge the problem, yet we refuse to tackle it. So our drivers drive our car and we just sit back and see our drivers not following the traffic rules and we do not bother to act on it. The drivers are mostly illiterate. They have no sense of what is right or wrong. We, the owners, are aware of that. Yet, we sit at the back and watch them break rules time and time again and do and say nothing to them. In a sense, that encourages them to carry on doing the same thing. In that case who is illiterate out here? We, who have had formal education or they who have had no education! Surely, the onus to a certain extent lies on us to ensure that if the driver behind the wheel is breaking the rules we can be the unlicensed policeman for them. If each owner does so, trust me, the streets of Dhaka would be very orderly.
The writer is Professor and Dean, School of Business, Independent University Bangladesh
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