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OP-ED: Entrepreneurship and the forgotten, angst-filled youth

  • Published at 06:03 am April 5th, 2021
idea entrepreneur
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The face of the modern Bangladeshi youth differs greatly from that of the 70s and 80s

The entrepreneurial “avant garde” spirit is perhaps the greatest asset of the modern day young. I know a ride-sharing biker who works during the day and at night, and spends time as a YouTuber analyzing recent socio-political events laced with humour and regional dialects.

There’s another person who does not have enough education but, with three young doctors, has opened an online medical advice platform for women in rural areas. One young lad recently talked of using locally made drones to monitor crop lands and act as digital scarecrows. The ideas are endless -- most of them unique.

There will always be one portion of the young determined to enter government service, but from experience I have seen that a lot of brilliant students would rather take up a challenge than go for a structured life. Nothing against civil service, but the young nowadays want to exercise their creative flair. Something novel always gets attention fast!

The rabid 70s socialist

In the decades after independence, especially in the 70s and 80s, the young were mostly engulfed in desolation. The immediate years after the war were marked by a pervasive feeling of malaise, while in the 80s the young were hamstrung by the autocratic regime. Countless university students took to the streets to bring down the dictator, and the anti-Ershad movement became their main preoccupation.

The 70s were all about trying to catch the socialist utopia; young men fresh out of university were imbued by the ideology of Marx/Mao, feeling that it was their duty to form an egalitarian society. Of course, this led them on a collision course with the authorities. Consequently, the image of the 70s youth is that of an angry young man, outraged at the iniquities all around us.

The 70s were also about the unemployed, educated young man, desperately trying to get a job to make ends meet. The period was just after independence with the economy in tatters.

There were very few employment opportunities, and multinationals were unheard of. Only Grindlays Bank was among the few foreign companies, along with Duncan and a few UN agencies. However, from mid-senior level onwards, all posts were held by foreigners.

The common picture represented by 70s movies is that of a young man going from door to door, clutching on to his certificates to get a job. In one of the most notable movies of 1975, Surjokonya, Bulbul Ahmed epitomizes the morass of the young from the first decade after liberation. He is seen wandering the city, spending afternoons day-dreaming at the Ramna Park, coming back home empty-handed to face a torrent of rebuke from his father.

This desperation of the young remained a recurrent theme all throughout the 70s. In the 1980 film Ghuddi, Raisul Islam Asad plays the role of Mohabbat Ali, a smooth-talking con artist who tries to win over a girl from an affluent family, played by Suborna Mustafa. Once more, an educated, unemployed young man is seen adopting fraudulent tactics to win over a woman.

The 80s anti-autocracy crusader

The furious socialist of the 70s paved the way for the vociferous anti-autocracy crusader in the 80s, who put education behind and took over the duty of bringing down a usurper.

University students do not know or have not experienced session jams, though it was normal for a young man to be stuck in university for eight years in the 80s. This again was portrayed in popular culture of the time, showing a young man failing to marry the sweetheart because his education isn’t over as yet.

The 80s also saw a “must go to America” phenomenon because many parents looked at the mammoth session jams with dismay and thought it prudent to send their sons abroad. Notice, I mentioned sons and not daughters because even in the 80s, 8% of students who went to the US for education comprised of men. Women only went for PhDs or Masters, though mostly accompanied by their husbands.

This US-going trend is the by-product of the autocracy regime, which, over the years, lay the foundation of the American Bangladeshi diaspora. Mind you, parents sent their sons to get an education and not a green card. The idea was to help young students avoid the long session jams and come back home with a foreign degree.

The decision by many students to stay back in the USA was obviously slated by many guardians. Interestingly, many of these parents, mostly in their mid or late 70s, are now living overseas with their children who are grown up and very much settled among the USA based diaspora community.

Those who stayed back in Bangladesh to fight on saw eight years of relentless turmoil plus hardship. Life was defined by Spartan living. They had a revolution to run, which gave them the strength to go on surviving on tea, singara, and filterless Star cigarettes.

The dramas and films of the present never show a young man in sweaty clothes going from door to door seeking employment, and neither do we see an ailing father dying because the son or daughter cannot buy medicines.

The young in this Bangladesh are enterprising and have too many options which they can use to make a living. A teenager can dare to dream of becoming a fashion designer, a writer, a composer, a book cover designer, a dance director, or even an online yoga instructor.

Entrepreneurship is ubiquitous -- that is the face of youth in Bangladesh at 50.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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