By Shahriyer Hossain Shetu
“What is your roll number in the class?”
I was never able to answer this question. At a very young age, I realised that the importance of having a roll number is highly significant in our society. This significance includes three important aspects that reflect a student’s life: First, on a scale of balance, the weight of a roll number placed next to a grade is heavier than any other qualities of a student. Second, it adds an enormous impact on careers availing people to differentiate between the best and the worst. And third, it clarifies who deserve all the importance as well as compliments from everyone.
Back then, I was not familiar with the concept. Due to my unfamiliarity with the term, I ended up questioning my Abbu (father), “What exactly is this roll number thing, why does everyone keep on asking me this question?” His answer, being straightforward as always, was, “Ask your Ammu (mother).” His reply was very much expected considering how hasty he has always been because of his work as a journalist. Asking my Ammu would have been a waste because she too would give me a similar response to Abbu. The scenario was like a football match where I, like a football, was being passed between one player to the another from the same team, unable to determine where exactly I was going.
Before getting admitted to a school, I mostly spent my time watching television. CN (Cartoon Network) was my best mate with whom I had spent most of my childhood. I got so obsessed with the fictional characters of CN that I started to draw them on papers using pens of different colors. My obsession started to develop into a habit and gradually to an escape from reality. But my escape route had to be closed as I was told by my parents that it is religiously prohibited to draw human figures. Plus, there is no particular future in such an obsession. “The real talent only lies in books and knowledge.” And to have a bright future, the first step is to reach the top position in the classroom. Thus, I stopped drawing.
I did my schooling in an ordinary English Medium institution located in Dinajpur. Because of my father’s job as a district correspondent, I was lucky to spend my childhood in that beautiful region. One well-known place in Dinajpur is the Boromaath (literally, Large Field), a huge green field that can be considered as the heart of the district. My school was close to Boromaath and we would often bunk our classes to play cricket or football on the big field. Our school was the only English medium institution in that locality and the idea of O and A level was not much appreciated by people who lived outside the capital. Thus, very few students in our vicinity were English medium students because people were also suspicious of the system in such schools.
As we were fewer student, the idea of having roll numbers was futile. Although, instead of roll numbers, we had registration numbers that were not given based on any academic excellence, capability, or talent. These numbers were like a code that they had shared with us as evidence for being a part of that institution. One can say that the numbers were an unnecessary adjunct, occupying an extra space in our school identity cards right under our long names.
The idea of classifying students was visible, even though we had no discriminating term as the roll number next to our grades in school. This categorisation of students based on academic grades came with extraordinary packages that concerned only the top candidates — too much care from the teachers, applause from parents, and the privilege of having too many friends. Unfortunately, I was not among the good ones to receive such privileges as my marks were never satisfactory and the dream of achieving the “extraordinary package” was never a reality for me. Due to my incapability, I had to go through an extreme ordeal of taunts and insults from my surroundings. I was already declared as the “worst” kind.
The ordeal phase was mostly because of a particular distant relative who could’ve been a millionaire if criticising could be called his full-time vocation. I still can recall the face of that overly concerned person who loved to critique my every action like a war hawk. He assumed that I was too embarrassed to share my roll number with anyone because of my poor grades. I wasn’t sure of the reason for his fantastic assumption. His way of speaking seemed too absurd to me, and I ended up raising my voice to prove my point, wrecking all traditional beliefs. As a result, I received the title of a “discourteous” child in the family. He even informed my other relatives about my “rudeness” just to prove his point.
Being raised by a middle-class family that only follows ethics and traditions, I am not supposed to defend myself from elders (not even to save my dignity) as it is religiously as well as societally prohibited. Although, using the code of “seniority,” an elder can cut and split me into two with his sharp-edged words.
He still reprimands my parents for not raising me properly because of that particular reason. How can defending ourselves from senior citizens who are almost toxic, wicked, and torturous be wrong? What does it have to do anything with our parent’s nurturing method? I still couldn’t figure it out.
The importance of roll number is still high in our country. Is it necessary to analyze a child’s future just by seeing his academic grades and categorizing him/her in first to last numbers? I don’t know. But I do know that this idea is destroying lives before it even started.
Shahriyer Hossain Shetu is a student in the Department of English & Humanities, ULAB. Some of his writing has appeared in Daily Star, Bangladesh.
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