Perhaps none of the words in the title needs any explanation except for the last one. ‘Bhouse’ is a bangla colloquial term widely used in rural Bangladesh. This means wife or spouse of an elder brother. The most refined form of the term is, of course, bhabi.
The expression bhouse is somewhat pejorative and affinitive at the same time. There is a sweet and sour relationship between a bhabi and the younger brother of her husband called ‘debar.’ The latter is known to take on bhabi with pranks and jokes, and other lighter aspect of life in the cultural setting of Bangladesh.
But the debars are known to take liberty, albeit undue, with their bhabis or bhouse. Therein lies the essence of the title. And a poor man’s wife in her hapless and helpless condition, coupled with her precarious social standing, is more prone to such undue advances by the intruding and indulgent debars – both the real and the self-assuming ones.
Folk literature of Bangla is also awash with myths and stories of love and romance between a bhabi and her debar – cutting across the religious and ethnic lines. In fact, the lore and songs of the indigenous people here abound in such love and romance. Most often, love is stoic but needless to mention that it at times turns into physical intimacy and ending in elopement. Folk songs about the supposedly naughty ‘Chhota Deora’ (young debar) are an enticing rendition in rural cultural settings.
Whatever be the moral explanations and etymological interpretation, the saying simply implies that a poor man’s wife is for everyone’s take.
President Abdul Hamid while at a recent convocation ceremony said politics in Bangladesh has been turned into a poor man’s spouse – hence rendered into a bhouse – an easy take for anyone and everyone. His witty observation is both relevant and appropriate. The President has been involved in politics right from his days of studentship. Being a politician all his life, he likes to see politics as another passion and a full-fledged profession rather than being a mere past time or hobby.
Let us examine what a profession is. Professor Phillips Samuel Huntington (April 1927–December 2008) was an American political scientist and academic at Harvard University. He was one of the most enlightened scholars. While defining profession, the learned professor had identified three distinct characteristics of a profession. These are expertise, responsibility and corporateness. These distinct features also differentiate and distinguish a profession as opposed to a trade or a craft. While expertise has to be achieved through education and training, responsibility has much to do with accountability of a professional person or a professional group to the society and the state. Corporateness, on the other hand, refers to the belongingness to professional associations that set moral and professional standards for its members with a view to guiding and regulating the professionals for service and for greater good of the society.
Politics, in its rudimentary form, may not stand for the acid test of Huntington’s model. And it may not be necessary. While formal education and training are not the sine qua non for politics, every politician worth the name ought to shoulder the responsibility of serving the society and the state. Corporateness or belongingness to association is, of course, the starting point of every politicians’ career. Guiding principles of all such political parties and associations are to serve people through honesty, dedication and patriotism.
Human beings are endowed with various physical and mental abilities and attributes. Admittedly, some need a high calibre of both the mental agility and physical ability to master a profession – think of an astronaut or a fighter pilot. On the other hand, a university professor or a doctor or such other professions need a combination of these attributes at various levels and ratios. Whatever be the level or combination, all professions need people of intellect and wisdom for the profession to develop itself and for it to grow and serve the society and the people. Success depends on the skilful use of these attributes by the possessor. Politicians, even with a mediocre level of wit and mental faculty, sometimes make up the deficit and do wonders with the gift of the gab, leadership traits and higher better communication skills.
What the President meant is inclusion of people with merit and higher mental faculty and not dropouts and mediocre in the arena of national politics. Aspirants who want to do politics and dream of becoming politicians ought to choose that path right from their student life. If the nation wants to have quality politics, the nation has to have induction of quality politicians right from the colleges and universities.
Politics must attract students with merit and intellect to its fore and alternately, students with merit and intellect must choose politics as their future profession to infuse quality into the system. Many matured democracies have forum of the leading political parties in the colleges and universities, where political orientation of a future politician takes place right at the formative stage of a budding politician who would someday lead his/her country in the future. Admittedly, we also have such platforms in almost all the political parties and all the institutions, but unfortunately those mostly attract people with physical abilities; the back benchers and the not-so-good fellows.
Although, exception and departure from such standing are not uncommon. Participation of members from all walks of life and from different professions in the legislature provides an opportunity for genuine representation. However, the core element and the critical mass of the law-making body should be composed of experienced and political professionals.
This writer has a lifetime memory from his student days at Dhaka College. The vice-principal probably being very weary of students’ national passion of gossiping had the following message on his desk – ‘if you have nothing to do, please don’t do it here’.
With the 11th national election knocking at the door and with the nation standing on the doorstep of its golden jubilee of independence, that realisation of having quality politics and equally qualified political professionals has become all the more relevant and imperative. There are more than 200 political parties; some exist only in name, some in signboard, yet some only in ideas either because of dissent or default. Most of the party men are aspirants for political positions from the national levels to the local bodies.
Officials of all types and either description retire at a rather early age in this country. Many take to politics as a second career. Although the political system and the government machinery need expertise, such expertise ought to be inducted in the system vertically, bottom up and not laterally – at least not so freely and frivolously. Politics should be a domain for the dedicated and the ordained and not for the free takers and the nothing-to-doers. Echoing the learned vice-principal, we can say – if you have nothing to do, please don’t do it in politics.
Muhammad Zakiul Islam is a retired Air Commodore, Bangladesh Air Force.
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