Indecent Proposal

Photo: Star

A bit more about "special" rooms from my column a few weeks ago, when Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) was in the news for the wrong reasons. It's room 429, Nazrul Islam Hall.

The word is out that an inhabitant of 429 has aced the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). These "standardised" tests, designed by the Education and Testing Services (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey, put every student around the world on an even playing field with those in the US, or at least must be, for I surely should not panic seeing the question in the quantitative section of the GRE: "If you have a dollar, a quarter, a dime and a nickel..." ETS knows for sure that from the lad in Lesotho to the boy in Bangladesh use the nicknames of all the metallic denominations of the mighty dollar in their daily lives. ETS can't be wrong, after all even Spock, R2D2 and Darth Vader have all gone through the interstellar standardised IELTS (International English Language Testing System) before taking on planet Earth head on with impeccable English con puns and idioms. So, please don't deny my British visa application when I answer pointed questions using sholo aana, aat aana and pach shika based on a similar reverse assumption.

If engineering has taught me anything, it is to think laterally to solve problems through the mere act of deductions, especially where "standardised" is tantamount to cultural bias. So, I deduce, a skill needed more in the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) for would-be managers, that a quarter must have 25 in it somewhere. And it has to be a coin rather than a paper note, as I can't recall seeing 25 dollar bills (learned "bills" through one of the Barrons guidebooks) in briefcases full of ransom money on any of the "dime" (yeah, pun intended) a dozen TV cop dramas. That still leaves me with some "change" to scratch my head over on what exactly is a "dime" and a "nickel". I literally flip a coin and reach the conclusion that one is 10 and one is five cents, knowing that the outcome, with the odds at 50 percent of being correct, will not be known for another few weeks before I get the final score.

Heads I did win and tails you lose, for the results come with a perfect 800 out of 800 in the analytical part of my GRE test.

But for Buet-ians, that is also a dime a dozen as just about every Buet student is a math tutor and a score any less is akin to surrendering the future engineering degree. But the differentiator is the verbal part, where we are bombarded with esoteric words plucked out of the lexicon of the English language ("esoteric" and "lexicon" are words "acquired" during the GRE prep period). I score 600 out of 800, considered a sure shot for any top US school of choice for a graduate degree.

The news of my cumulative score of 1400 (800 + 600) spreads like wildfire, not only through Buet, but also to the neighbouring Dhaka University. Sure enough, I get visits late in the evening at room 429 with indecent proposals of appearing for the TOEFL and/or the GRE for someone else with a blank check waiting. It is a "black market" dominated by a few bad and the ugly with an early start in corruption.

The only proxy that I had ever engaged in is to dare myself to say "Present sir" in the class room five times with five different voices and with a stretch of ventriloquism—I was thus the proxy server of the analogue days. But to give a test for someone else? That is going too far.

I respectfully turn down the offers, a few of which could buy me a used Toyota Publica.

Reporting to authorities about such corrupt propositions was neither mandated nor warranted, maybe because the few shady characters were not the omnipresent Deepak Aggarwals of today and the stakes were not in the millions of dollars or bitcoins. But let's say if it were, I wonder if the punishment of not reporting would be freezing my engineering license for two years. I could live with that, for I, unlike a cricket player, am fortunate enough to at least not have a shelf life…


Naveed Mahbub is a former engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA, the former CEO of IBM & Nokia Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club.

E-mail: [email protected]


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