Doing away with consumerism


Umar Buya and boys of my age represent none but those who in a year or two will leave school and enroll for college. In early years of high school like other boys and girls of his town he dreamed to be great scholars like Ibne Sina, Abu Rushd and others who translated and saved all the treasures of Greek wisdom and travel countries like Chinese and Moroccan travelers — Hiuen Tsang or Ibne Batuta — who noted down the good governance of golden age of Muslim rulers and kept diary of what they experienced in the subcontinent. Later years when he came to know about the great Greek and Kurdish conquerors like Alexander the great or Salahuddin Ayubi or the heroes of the cinema, movie and video games, wanted to live up to ideals of them. Sometimes Buya thought him as Tom Sawyer or Sindabad when in the mood of adventure, acted like Rabeya Basri when in spiritual mood and appeared sometimes to be Aesop while spinning fables and so on.

But he couldn’t follow the footsteps of the aforesaid icons. ‘Things fall apart the centre can’t hold.’ Pomp and splendor attracted him and gradually he started to become a hedonist, practicing in consumerism. He became fashion-conscious and developed liking about the cutting-age dresses, new pens, pants and bags. No new arrival was ever spared. His taste in take-away foods grew tremendously. Buya believed in eating, drinking and merry-making only. Pleasure and personal attainment replaced all the great ideals. He was influenced by the media both print and electronic and also by the present-day radio and television. So things fell apart and centre of gravity started to shift things.

When hungry he imagines eating the stars of the sky like peanuts. Buya can never resist his tempt for burger, sharma, sandwich, ice-cream etc. He always competed with his friends in being the first guest on the opening day of a hotel or chain restaurant. None of the city hotels — from roadside eateries to posh 5-star hotels — were left unvisited. So he was often called Mr Burger or Mr Obese or Chocolate boy by his friends. Since his boyhood he used to get any toys he came across and demanded from his industrialist parents. As the only child Buya used to get whatever he desired. Affluent parents had always indulged his every whim. He hemorrhaged money on gadgets, books, foods, drinks and even personal vehicles. He never stopped short of spending all the money he had.

They used to live in the posh area of their town. The downtown he was brought up in was nothing but a centre of franchise of all the multinational corporate. Everything — from pin to plane, hairbrush to shoe shiner and even foreign vegetables like durian and strawberry — was available at hands. In this part of the city you will hardly guess whether it is the capital of a developing country or any capital of a European country. Seemingly Buya was born to buy things though he was often rebuked for shopping alcoholism. He often went to market to indulge in some serious shopping. He never believed in window shopping. Probably buying was deeply rooted in the very family title ‘Buya’— an Arabic which means to buy. Their family came here from Mindanao islands belonging to Philippines. Sometimes some of his friends make pun on the word ‘buy a burger’. He never hesitated to entertain his friends generously whenever they wished to be.

He was generous not only in eating and entertaining but also in buying the new arrivals in the city markets. The fashion-conscious young man even used to go to Singapore or Dubai to buy things of his choice. Cutting-edge dresses and shoes were on the top of his choice list. As far as memory functions Buya can’t remember a day without any shopping. He has to buy not because he was bound or he lacked that article but everyday he shopped at least one thing because he and his parents used to live on the fifth floor of the best multi-storied shopping mall in the city. He was determined to go out everyday and shop till he dropped as money his wallet was no problem. Whenever he stepped out of doors, he could see the showcases of the shops around the atrium lobby of the market. He had no alternative to but move through outlets of national and international brands either using moving stairs or see-through capsule lift. He always wanted to be a trendsetter as he had an upwardly mobile lifestyle. Due to buying spree dresses get piled up with the passage of one or two months. So he had to clear out some old junks in the attic every month.

Being bored and disturbed by his extravaganza and shopping alcoholism his parents once took him to a doctor who referred me to a psychiatrist. Since then on every after one week I had to visit the psychiatrist whose chamber was housed on the third floor of our multi-storied shopping mall. Even on this day of consulting him he couldn’t resist from buying anything. On my way to the doctor chamber I did window shopping only to choose things which I would buy while returning from the psychiatrist’s chamber. Little I could do in following his psychotherapy and suggestions as he himself was very fond of fashions of today and used to spend money lavishly on personal articles including dresses and shoes. He never wore a same dress again. As his suggestions were in direct contradiction to his own personal lifestyle, so he couldn’t help me to contain my trend let alone putting an end to my shopping alcoholism.

But being a friend to Buya I used to accompany him in shopping though I didn’t believe in extravaganza. He never shopped around when I looked for factory shop where the company people sell products directly at a cheaper price than normal. So he accompanied me while doing my shopping he became bored as I bargained and shopped around. Not only that I used to do window shopping first then bargain before buying one thing. Though both of my parents were government employees and rich enough to lead life comfortably, I didn’t lavishly spend money on the things unnecessary for me. I was a bit utilitarian and practicing austerity as I believed in a proverb that goes waste not want not.

Anyway one fine evening when the shop closed the shutters at around 8:00pm the govt ordered to observe ‘Buy Nothing Day’ and deployed army and police in all the shopping malls to enforce the declaration at 8:00pm. Giving no scope to the shopkeepers and shopping malls to reopen the shutters, the govt’s Press Information Department sent message to all the newspapers, radios and television channels for publishing and airing the govt announcement that tomorrow ‘Buy Nothing Day’ will be observed. Online, electronic and print media made news on it and helped greatly so that the day is observed properly across the country, giving a pause to the consumerism. However the declaration was nothing to common people but to a boy like my friend, Buya, it was a bolt from the blue. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The announcement came as a surprise to Buya. To his great dismay next morning he came to see all the shops shuttered and additional police forces were deployed along with army vehicles were on the move. Apparently the day seemed to him the moments after military coup. I reached Buya’s flat and called him to come out to celebrate ‘Buy Nothing Day’ spending nothing. The next day was start of Ramzan. Buya came out of their market-cum-residence and said, ‘Hey Siam how are you’. I said, ‘I’m fine thank you’ ‘Won’t you go for Physics and Chemistry coaching classes after school?

Buya said, ‘How can I go there as my car won’t move it has out of gas and petrol and I can’t fill them either as today is buy nothing day’. ‘Don’t worry I have managed a bicycle from our guard’, I assured Buya who again asked me what would happen to our lunch.’ ‘I will be highly hungry when classes break up and I can’t bear it’, said Buya and lost for sometime in deep tension about the whole day. This time I showed him my backpack. He looked at my back and said, ‘Why are you showing me your back?’ I convinced him saying that today we’ll take no take-away food. I am carrying some home-made food. Finding him hesitating I drew him near me and said, ‘Ride on the bicycle, let us go to school first.’ ‘We can’t stop going to school as it is open’, I added saying that it was time we attended our classes first.

So Buya and I rode on it and bicycled to school. The school turned into a sea of cycles. Some of them were baby cycles as the govt has ordered to spend a day without spending anything. Some of the students particularly the girls came to school on foot. At leisure we went to school canteen only and discovered the shutter closed. So we couldn’t buy chips, burger or chocolate. Those who didn’t carry any health-friendly food, they had to starve. As there was no junk food, I was happy eventually. After the classes we two friends took what we brought from home and gossiped for sometime. In the meantime Buya needed to sharpen his pencil but finding no other alternative we looked for used blade near a saloon and I found one and helped him sharpening his pencil. He looked grateful at the cooperation. As we had no choice my friend and I drank fresh water in place of soft drinks. By now Buya could have spent more than one thousand taka, drinking juice, soft drinks, chips and chocolate and sharing them with a large number of friends. We took no chocolate or chewing gum on the day and talked widely about the day and its’ message. We could eat nothing but some home-made foods not even a cuppa. Whereas in the afternoon the other day we would have indulged in eating kebab, drinking from a juice bar or sipping from a coffee cups. The fat wallet of Buya seemingly got heavier because by the evening his wallet could have been emptied in an ice-cream parlour in midwinter when nobody enjoys colder ice-cream. That afternoon we particularly Buya got to lose temper for failing to buy a new dress which he will wear next morning for a wedding ceremony. He repented and said to me, ‘Why did I use the new shirt that I bought yesterday?’ ‘If I could avoid using the new shirt today!’ he rebuked himself. ‘Since I will have to start early in the morning and have no time for shopping I shouldn’t have forgotten about the day.’ Siam said to Buya, ‘On such a day we can’t continue our adda for long. So we can call it quit with the evening and get back to reading table’. At least they could think of alternative lifestyle. Everyone agreed to the proposal and said bye to each other with a feeling of back to nature. By then Muezzin called azan for Maghrib prayers. They left for their homes doing away with consumerism though not for good at least for one day.

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