We were the first batch of students at Dhaka University after liberation and saw the dawn break over Bangladesh. Some of us had even taken up arms in that war of 1971. In those days, being an FF was more a matter of fact and nobody really cared about who was what. One got nothing in return for being an FF and no job quotas were there. Life was simpler in the newly independent desh.

Last Saturday, that is 28th May, more than several of us from the DU History Department got together at the RAOWA club at a get-together party organized by class mate Col. Shahjahan Mollah who incidentally is an FF. He is the ever generous ultimate host, always sponsoring such dos. While some are constantly in touch via FB, we met many after many years, some 45 years after graduating.

What were the big and small changes? Well, the big change was physical and all of us looked much much older than we did then. The faces are like chronometers keeping track of time while the beards - all white - is the most visible hand of the clock.

Yet beards are also not the same. While some are traditional and conventional, a few are clipped and cut. Some are of the descending variety while one or two are wild. But snow hangs from the chins, a bold declaration of time. The orange hued ones belong to the fastidious pious. While maybe one or two beards were not religious at all. Still, they all were beards.

Enjoying forbidden fruits

When this lot was at the university, drugs were just entering the market and DU was one great big throbbing hub. There were many reasons for the consumption but its popularity was a fact. Ganja was the most common and also the cheapest so very common. What had once been the staple narcotic of the poorer class became the most sought after high/low of the newly enlightened. Nobody really cared and although socially and personally, there were many warnings, nobody listened. Some did harder stuff particularly pills - both uppers like Dexedrine and downers like Mandrax and a few others. Over time most dropped it and some moved on to the more respectable alcohol but the trip began at the DU.

Last week, in an odd way many were breaking consumption taboos. Of the lot, almost all 70, many have health issues and one item many went for were mishti. It's significant that several/more than several were diabetics and most did have rosgollas and doi and so on. In a way, they were breaking the same rules of consuming poison but they did, just as they had done almost 50 years ago. Not grown up still?

Careers and life

Almost all were retired, most in government service and were now comfortable at different points of the range. But life had not been able to overwhelm them. They had in their own quiet ways had survived and reached a pleasant point. It was a period, their children rather than themselves were active. It was a time to reflect, remember, ruminate and return back in time. In many ways, both time and space played a part in the production of that history each held.

Post 1971 society was constructed with several segments including the advantage seekers. These were the people who read 1971 better than the lot in the room and made money and gained power and fame. These in the room are the ones who didn't seek wealth through honest or dishonest means but stability and comfort. They hadn't gone for high flying jobs or even did the BCS but joined where competition was less because they didn't belong to any crony network, political or otherwise. Barring one or two few had risen to the top but all were in the honourable and respectable middle. It's their story of life, to blend into the middle - safe, respectable and peaceful.

An odd old-fashioned morality?

What they had never done is being dishonest, dishonorable and disgusting. And why that is so is the biggest question of them all. Is it that all were grown up in the pre-1971 world where morality was important, respectability was sought and prestige made a difference? Is it possible that these values drove several of them to join the war? Yes, it's telling that nobody ever brags about what they did in 1971. It's taken as part of life and its duties. Like living within means, not be greedy, not womanize, not touch liquor et al

In many ways, it's a way of life and an attitude towards it. The middle class that went to war also had segments. The small cream that rose to the top also had the flaws that these people didn't. If such ambitions lived so close to crime, then this lot of ageing people had none of it. Their address is in the simpler part of Bangladesh and not any fancy street. It's they who have made it possible without spending any extra boast.

Children of the soil.

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