Why, you're a boy!” Perplexed, I look at my parents, “Dad! Mom!! Is there something YOU know that I don't know?”
I look back at the journalist who had blurted out the fateful statement. And I hear this as an eighteen year old and in front of our living room full of journalists with eager pens.
“We thought you were a girl…”
Never has a printing error of just one English letter yielded this much of trauma in a grown adult. The combined merit list of the H.S.C. exams under Dhaka Board is pasted on the wall of the Education Board, sporting the top twenty 'place holders'. My name is in the 5th position, spelled 'NaHeed Mahbub' instead of 'NaVeed Mahbub'.
So, there's an army of journalists in our living room to interview the student who has secured the 'first place among girls' in the 'combined' merit list. Yes, combined from a list of humans of science, humanities, commerce and both the genders.
So what if I WERE NaHeed and not NaVeed? Did we really read different books or were given different questions to answer during the harrowing exams?
Meanwhile, the journalists, out of courtesy from having being fed a lot of fresh sweets, interview me – a privilege reserved only for those who secure the 1st and 2nd positions.
The usual question: “Who is your favourite writer?”
The answer from me is not Tagore or Nazrul, as expected from any goody two-shoes student from 'the' list, but I speak the truth: “It's Harold Robbins.”
“Oh my goodness! That's semi porn!” Chides my mom later.
Too late. It's on print the following day under my beaming picture on several dailies: “Harold Robins is his favourite and he will be an electrical engineer.” Hey, I never said I WILL be an electrical engineer, I had said I WOULD LIKE to be an electrical engineer.
The pressure is on as engineering is my 'only' option of repute, having burned all bridges to other careers much earlier in life, such as that of becoming a doctor by dropping biology. After all, we are wise enough to decide on life while in class nine.
Fortunately, I get into Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). But unfortunately, my first ever taste of a co-ed educational institution comes with a sheer disappointing ratio of the genders – six females in a class of seventy. Sigh! Hence the exodus of the engineering boys, chanting “Ohm's Law zindabad!”, to the department of architecture boasting a much, much democratic distribution of the genders.
It is therefore only befitting, that the first female vice-chancellor of this male majority university (surprisingly true for all engineering schools around the world) comes from the Department of Architecture. And it is not just a symbolic gesture that many gather to say farewell to Professor Khaleda Ekram on a soaking day at BUET campus, a BUET she leaves behind that has not bowed to pressures for quite some time, a BUET to which 'session jam' is a myth of the past, a BUET whose students pitch business plans for seed funding way beyond just building gadgets.
I hear Billy Joel singing, “Only the good die young”. And I say that it may be another Halley's Comet before there is another 'Madam' VC.
Au revoir ma'am…
The writer is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA and CEO of IBM & Nokia Siemens Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ABC Radio's Good Morning Bangladesh and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club.