Mr. Aaqib Farhan Hossain and Mr. Ratib Mortuza Ali have achieved something that this country was dreaming about for all these years – a World Championship. We caught up with the first-ever World Champion of Bangladesh and the first Debating World Champion of South-East Asia to discuss what is holding this country back and what they did which turned out to be the great difference. This write up is lengthy but reading it completely might change you.
The ESL Champions of the world, how do you feel?
Immediately after winning, we were relieved. Gradually, the idea of National pride and what it means for our country were beaten into us by the people back home, through facebook, and by everyone in the Bangladesh contingent that went to Berlin. But right now, we feel great.
From the onset, what was your mission this time?
Championship – we went there to win it. It was a step-by-step process; get the break into quarters and then the championship but we would not wanted to settle for anything less than the Blue Bear[The Championship trophy]. The harsh truth about the Bangladesh society, debaters and non-debaters alike, is that they are afraid to aim big. Mr. Sinha Ibna Humayun and Mr. Nayeem Kashem[Graduates, North South University] progressed to the pre-quarters five years ago, and everyone thought that to be the highest achieving limit. We understood that the only way for Bangladeshis to strive and achieve something bigger was to win the ESL Finals. When people like Mr. Ivan Ah Sam[eminent debater, University of Sydney] and Mr. Mohammad Abdul Latif [eminent debater, IIU, Malaysia] tells us that we should break in WUDC, that is the moment we stopped aiming at a break – we aimed bigger, which is why it was also a personal sense of achievement for us.
There have been a lot of teams before you, in the past years, which went to Worlds University Debating Championship but did not proceed to knock-outs. How do you differentiate yourself from them?
We would say that we absorb all the knowledge that we can get. It includes sucking up to all the important people, meaningless hours spent researching over the internet and what not. You need to give yourself all the scope to learn. You can even learn while having dinner with someone! Knowledge has no form and it is available everywhere – we just grabbed it. We also believe that our ability to discern, understand and process knowledge plays a part too. We present our cases as a package; a story, which tells you why this is necessary, how should we do it etc, and make it convincing as to why such a proposal is necessary. You might have a good case about gay marriages and you might come out as Rank 1 in any local tournament but you cannot feed that particular case to your parents at home. There is the difference: you need to be convincing. After our finals debate, quite a few honorary guests came up to us and told us that Immigrant representation is necessary in parliaments and that they believe in our proposal. Those 7 minutes behind the wooden podium should not only convince the adjudicators, rather it should convince everyone who is listening to you.
A lot of people streamed the ESL Finals here in Bangladesh and the majority of them thought that Mr. Aaqib was nervous in his speech. Why so?
Aaqib Farhan Hossain
Aaqib: I was not nervous. Throughout the debate I was trying to find mental connections whether our case will fall into place or not and it turned out that it did. I knew Ratib won the crowd all by himself but when I got to the podium I was primarily focusing on the panel of judges. I do not know why it came across as nervous - I definitely was not.
Tell us how you felt when you walked down to the stage to receive the Blue Bear [Championship Trophy].
Aaqib: Doug Cochran knew how big it was for Bangladesh. He took a long 5 second pause before he announced the winner. The whole auditorium of 1500 people went bonkers with that announcement! I knew it would be a travesty if we do not have a flag while we receive the trophy. So, the first thing I did was to shout for a flag. Then, we walked down a hall full of shouts and chants; the Bangladesh contingent had a whole winning song “Purbo Digonte Shurjo Uthhechhe” prepared for this moment because they were convinced that we won this. We did not properly thank the guests who handed us over the Blue bear – we lipped it. It was a numbing moment.
BRAC Bangladesh A is a World Champion now. You two have added responsibilities to your shoulders to help improve the whole debating community. How do you plan to do that?
Ratib Mortuza Ali
Ratib: Even though, The ESL Championship is just another addition to our CV, we bring a bag of experience along with it. While my flight back home, this junior debater who was sitting beside me, tried to leech off as much information and knowledge as possible; it felt like we have to carry the sack of expertise and knowledge until it rots completely. So, it might not be the kids of the institutions we coach or the institutions we belong to, others would still want to know mine or Aaqib’s ideal case to a particular motion. It might be hasty at start but if the kid is bright, he will absorb, work on it and make it better.
Aaqib: I would definitely like to increase the quality of adjudication in the local tournaments. As Ratib mentioned, we do have significant amount of experience and we would like to give it away to everyone. We need to set the standard high enough so that the speeches are not only logical, but convincing as well. Along with that, I would like to improve the standards of the motions [Debate Topics] on which the school kids debate. I believe the motions are blatantly one-sided and portray the ego of the Adjudication core. I believe people should not sit in Coffee shops, a day before the tournament, and decide the motions because that really harms the development of the school debaters. People might argue that putting up a motions committee for each tournament will dilute the credibility of the Adjudication core but I strongly believe it is necessary. We need more research-based motions for the kids to debate upon. Only then, these kids will bring a lot to the podium rather than normal, clichéd, text-book arguments.
Majority in this country tend to turn the other cheek to debating; they believe that debating is a waste of time and they do not appreciate the win that you have brought. How do you think you can break this stigma?
Well, it will take time to seep in. We do agree that a lot of people are still not aware of the achievement but the media has started to portray the idea to the general mass; we just have to wait for it. Along with that, we believe that it will take some time more to get others hooked into debating. We need more initiatives from all the Debating Councils and Organizations of this country to go into rural areas and teach them English debating. It is a slow and gradual process but we will definitely see improvement.
The Blue Bear is not only a debating achievement; it is a national achievement which will inspire millions in this country. Any words of advice you would like to give to people, debaters and non-debaters alike?
Dream big; work hard. The debaters need to know that the Post-break ESL rounds are easier than the preliminaries in the in national circuit. So, once you break, you directly aim at the Championship. For non-debaters, there is no substitute to hard work but, hard work alone is not enough. If there is any advice that anyone should take from us that would be to dream big –set a high standard of achievement for yourself so that, even if you do not achieve it, you will achieve something that is still commendable. Big dreams will do wonders for you – Bangladesh should dream big.
Tagging these two individuals as celebrities would be wrong. The degree of achievement they have brought to this country is beyond imagination. Shakib Al Hassan and Tamim Iqbal do not bring us enough pride and glory. Debating in front of 1500 people from 82 different countries and more than 400 teams, clutching on to the gold and still acting as human beings, fetch us more pride and glory than any of the stereotyped cricketing heroes – they are true inspirations.