That we won the top award in corruption five years at a stretch is no secret. That our leaders, politicians, and government officers have amassed wealth beyond belief through dubious means is also widely known. Corruption is so endemic in the country that with our limited resources we can only go after grand corruption and ignore the petty.
Honesty, integrity and generosity are no longer prized social values. These were values held dear by our parents and grandparents, and seem so old-fashioned now. Today, we have become self-centered and inward-looking, avaricious and materialistic.
A sad state of affairs indeed.
But every now and then, something good happens, and it boosts hope anew. Like this incident:
Yesterday, some colleagues of mine were in a very bad highway accident. Swerving to avoid a motorcycle, their van went flying, turned somersaults, and ended up on its side in a water hyacinth-filled ditch. It was a miracle that they escaped with only minor injuries.
The locals came running to lend a hand, pushing the car upright, pulling the dazed passengers out, organizing transportation to the nearby health complex. They also got everything out of the car, cleaned and dried the things, and returned them. I can just visualize raised eyebrows as readers come to this part: Returned everything? Surely some things went missing? Oh, ye of little faith!
My colleagues were returning from a workshop and did have expensive things with them like digital cameras and laptops and multimedia projector. Not to mention everyday stuff like cell phones and overnight kits. And they had bought quite a lot of mangoes and lichi.
But everything was returned. EVERY SINGLE THING. Including mud-caked fruit and items of clothing, fancy notebooks and jars of sunderban honey. And when a colleague opened his toilet case, he found in it a packet of ballpoint pens and a blank cassette tape. Insignificant things, really. But very significant in the sense that someone was honest enough to pack them, knowing full well that these things would not have been missed in a carload of similar things.
When I listened to my colleague narrate this, I was so choked by emotion that it brought tears to my eyes. I felt so PROUD to be a Bengali, and I can tell you quite frankly that the way things are in today’s Bangladesh, such feelings are very, very rare. Honesty and integrity are endangered species in Bangladesh’s current political and urban life, but I am so very glad to be able to say that amongst those who make up the lifeblood of our country through their labor and sweat, these are still commonplace traits. We may look down on these people from our lofty, educated, know-all perch, but they can certainly put us to shame any day by virtue of their simplicity and goodness of heart.
Are honesty and integrity really such bad bargains? They may have lost a little of their sparkle in today's marketplace, but rub off the dust they've collected, and they are still the genuine article beneath.
If we are by and large an honest nation, why should we allow ourselves to be tarred by the brush of corruption that only a handful wields? Which path shall we take then, as a nation? Shall we plod through the dirt of duplicity, corruption and deceit, or shall we rise above such petty matters on the wings of integrity?