TDA Desk (Formerly BLF)
“Those defeats are not a loss for me, they have built what I am today.”
Signary’s Editor, Maisha Islam, on behalf of BLF, talks to Sakib Bin Rashid, Deputy Manager, BRAC Education Programme and Chief Instructor of 10 Minute School, about what it is like to be a part of the local debate and comedy scenes, the challenges he faced in both, and what he found most rewarding.
BLF: So, the first question is, being a debater, what initial challenges did you have to overcome in terms of public speaking?
Sakib Bin Rashid: I started debating when I was in [the] 7th grade. And when I entered Bangla debating, it was relatively easier for me because from a very early age I was an extrovert and I didn’t have a lot of stage fright per se. So, it sort of came a little intuitively. But when I entered English debating, that was the biggest challenge I faced at that point because it was a new language and I wasn’t the best of speakers, particularly when I saw [that] everyone was so eloquent in their way of speaking. It sort of made me nervous.
So, what I used to do is to go to a tournament and, right after the round, I used to hide myself in a corner, didn’t socialise or anything. I was too scared to make a fool of myself. So that socialisation fear, or that social anxiety as you call it, that was there. The second trouble was… you know when you start speaking, particularly when you are on a stage, there are too many eyes around you, too much light on you. And then everything you prepared suddenly starts [melting] inside your head and you start to get lost and your heart starts pounding, your mouth gets drier, and you just can’t get the sentences out of your mouth anymore. These were the challenges and, luckily, I was able to find good friends who were like me, who had gone through the same troubles or were going through the same troubles. So, we sort of helped each other out with these problems.
BLF: So, did you overcome the problem with the help of friends, or did you come up with an innovative solution?
Sakib Bin Rashid: A number of ways, actually. As I was from [a] Bangla Medium background, I had to learn the language all over again because I thought, [according to] the way the language [was] taught in our schools, I [was] not appropriate for public speaking.
So what I had to do was focus on learning the language. I followed a lot of speeches on Youtube, on television. I religiously followed Barack Obama. I saw a lot of speeches [by] Shah Rukh Khan. It will surprise people, but Shah Rukh Khan is a brilliant speaker if you notice. I followed a few debaters as well. So, I had a few senior debaters from university whom I really liked and followed. And I saw their speeches and I tried to imitate them.
And say I lost a particular debate, I used to go home and think a lot about why [I had lost that] debate. Then I used to try to come [up] with a better speech on that very topic. So that’s how I actually did it. I followed my ideal people and then I tried to imitate them. I tried to learn the language through movies, documentaries; even cricket commentaries were a big source for me to learn the language. That’s how I tried to overcome the fears.
BLF: So the first challenge you faced was learning the language, since you were not from the same background.
Sakib Bin Rashid: Yeah, I mean I had the grammar. The school taught me grammar.
BLF: But the vocabulary you had to develop on your own.
Sakib Bin Rashid: It’s more than vocabulary, I’d say. It’s how you put your emotions into words. How you say certain things. Your word economy. How you better express yourself. The nuances, as we say.
BLF: So the things you knew in Bangla, you had to learn again in English.
Sakib Bin Rashid: As I said, I knew the grammar of English nonetheless. But I didn’t know how to put that into speech. I had to learn [to speak] all over again. I followed a few actors as well. How they [spoke] in a particular movie.
BLF: As you said, in the Bangla medium curriculum, English is only taught as a language in terms of grammar and literature. So, it does not promote much of the public speaking factor among students.
Sakib Bin Rashid: I don’t think our Bangla medium curriculum teaches English as a language at all. They don’t teach English as a language, they teach English as a subject. And then they enter the intricacies of it, the intricacies that are often not even required. I don’t know why voice is still a thing or why you need to know voice. “I eat rice. Rice is eaten by me.” — Why do I need to know “Rice is eaten by me”? “I eat rice” is a very good nuance of the sentence.
See, what’s the purpose of language? It’s to be able to communicate with people. And the secondary purpose is to be able to articulate all the feelings that are inside you in the best way possible. That’s where literature comes in. Even when we were taught literature in our curriculums, we were taught it in a manner like “memorize this, memorize that”. They never really told us [what the] deepest nuance of this literature [was].
So, I think they fixated on the grammar too much, they fixated on the wrong aspect[s] of literature. They did not teach a lot of [the] communication skills they should have. They did not teach the nuance of literature.
BLF: So what do you think the board could do to make the curriculum better?
Sakib Bin Rashid: I think everything doesn’t have to be written. There should be courses and assessments on communication. Say, public speaking doesn’t have to be an extra-curricular activity. Every single individual on our planet has to speak publicly. Even if you are a doctor or an engineer, you have to speak publicly.
It’s a shame that we still don’t teach it in our schools. So, maybe we could teach that practice within the classroom. Imagine if I practiced public speaking in Grade 5, I wouldn’t have to be so embarrassed and scared in Grade 7. And I have noticed that most people who leave the art of debating or public speaking, do so because of that embarrassment.
BLF: They can’t take it anymore?
Sakib Bin Rashid: Yeah, they can’t take it anymore. See, school is a place where we can make a fool of ourselves. School is a place where you fail and it’s okay to fail. So schools should take the responsibility of teaching us a few public speaking tactics.
BLF: So the second question is, how do you plan to involve the young participants who come to these workshops, seeing how you are really good at public speaking?
Sakib Bin Rashid: I am not very good at public speaking. In my mind, I am still imitating certain people. There is a very peculiar way I process public speaking as a whole. However, there are certain tactics that I use to make a particular speech better. These are not necessarily grammatical rules of public speaking. But they have helped me. So, I will teach them how to learn public speaking because one hour is far too little to teach them. That’s one. Number two is whom to learn from. Number three is how to practice.
So these are the areas I will try to focus on. If I see that someone has particular interests, I would like to have a few personal interactions with them, try to help them first. Because I know for a fact that having mentorship at an early age helps you a lot. That’s what you need.
BLF: As you said, mentorship at an early age helped you a lot. Who was that mentor of yours who helped you?
Sakib Bin Rashid: Luckily I was from Saint Joseph, and regardless of the curriculum, we had a really strong alumnus. They were senior debaters. Like, I was from batch’09 and there were debaters from [the] batch of 2003. And they were really helpful. There was Rishad Sharif, there was Nahid Qashem, there was Wahid Bari, and before that there was Asif Newaz. So, all these people helped me.
I think if you are debating or if you are public speaking, it’s very important to learn from your contemporaries. Because the art form is moving so fast, you can’t rely upon the learnings of six years back. You’ll have to learn from your contemporaries. I was lucky to have teammates or opponents that I could learn from. There were several debates that I already knew I [would] lose. I didn’t try to win them, instead [I] tried to learn as much as I could. I tried to make sense of every defeat by learning from them. And if you ask around, I have lost way more debates than anyone would do in their lives. So, I think those defeats are not a loss for me, they have built what I am today.
BLF: So, the next question is, what difference did you find between public speaking otherwise, and debating?
Sakib Bin Rashid: Debating is a very competitive sport. If you are not really good at it, it’s difficult to enjoy the art. Everyone is very aggressive and very few debaters try to do the storytelling right. So, one important thing I am gonna talk about in today’s session is how to get the storytelling right.
So, public speaking gives you an avenue to do that storytelling. It’s much more relaxed. You can nuance things much better. I think humour has a lot more space in public speaking than it does in debate. And I think humour, as an element of language, is very underrated. So, I make videos on Facebook as well. I have made serious videos as well. And I have made funny videos. I tried to give very important social message[s] with a strict face. Nobody listened. And when I started making funny videos, everyone was instantly drawn. So, I think public speaking allows you to be witty, to be funny, and to play with the language as much as you can.
The primary focus of debating is often not the language but the arguments themselves. In public speaking, you need to know the language very well, but in debating, even if you are not the best at it, you can make sense of it. That’s exactly why initially, even if I didn’t know English much, I could make my way into debating. I couldn’t have done that in public speaking.
BLF: So, the last question is, is there any one memorable tournament you’d like to talk about?
Sakib Bin Rashid: 2015, IUT Professionals. It was a wonderful experience. I was a nobody. And I was the funny guy, who [did] weird stuff. It was a two-day tournament. So after the initial rounds, we stayed over at IUT at night. And we did silly things: We played football, I took off my t-shirt, and people laughed like, “Oh my god, what are you doing?” And the administration saw and someone complained and there was a huge case out of it. So, I was the guy who took off the t-shirt.
And we broke last. 8 teams were breaking, and we broke last. Semi-finals we won and we went through to the finals. And in the finals, apart from my team, every other team was very good. They had a worlds break and I had never even been to worlds. I still have never been there. And it was a very weirdass motion. My upper house was very brilliant and they boxed us out. They covered almost everything that they could.
But the most beautiful thing happened back then. I literally had nothing in my pages. With all my courage, I said the weirdest shit ever. On the third minute of speech, my opposition, a guy I am still friends with (his name is Saad Ashraf and he is sort of the best debater of our generation), he posted on Facebook that Sakib Bin Rashid [was] a beautiful human being, because of that speech. That was a big appreciation coming from my contemporaries’ super debater. And we ended up winning that tournament and everyone was like, “Whoa, that was a brilliant speech”.
And I came back home and I told myself that these 7 minutes took away a lot of regrets, like I couldn’t go to worlds, I don’t have any international accolades. But the fact that I was able to enjoy those 7 minutes and made everyone enjoy it. And everyone laughed and had a good time, everyone had philosophical revelations. That’s what makes it all worth it.
BLF: One last question. When did you find the beauty in humour? Have you been witty since your childhood or is it a recent trait that you [discovered]?
Sakib Bin Rashid: As a child I was very attention-seeking, I still am.
BLF: So, there are many types of attention seeking people. Some do weird stuff, some do funny stuff, some imitate things.
Sakib Bin Rashid: I say funny stuff. I try to say funny stuff. So, after growing up, when I figured that no, I can’t do genuine humour, I started to get a little more confident. I had a very funny friend circle in general. So, we are very funny [with] each other.
But [when] you used that humour [with] the entire nation, it was nothing. Wasn’t something that I thought of. So, as a lot of people would know, it started with Game of Thrones. I did try stand-up comedy a little bit before Game of Thrones as well. But I wasn’t very good at it. I wasn’t happy myself. But when I did the series on Game of thrones, I found my niche. Felt like I [had] cracked this language. Have you seen the Game of Thrones series that I made?
BLF: I (Maisha Islam) have watched all of your series.
Sakib Bin Rashid: Thank you. Really honoured, really honoured. So, then I realised I [had] found my niche.
BLF: So, before the “Game of Thrones” series, you weren’t that serious about doing humour?
Sakib Bin Rashid: Deep inside, I wanted to be a comedian. I saw John Oliver.
BLF: What did your parents say about you wanting to do comedy?
Sakib Bin Rashid: My parents were quite supportive of the things I did. Because I was good at my Plan A. I kept Plan A right, which [was to] graduate from university, get a good job. So, I never played with Plan A. I always kept a stable job, kept a stable CGPA. Kids these days [are] rebuked because they mess up their CGPA. I kept Plan A right. So, my parents were quite supportive. I am not sure if they follow my comedy videos, my mum follows a lot of my serious videos. She doesn’t watch GOT, hence doesn’t watch my comedy videos much either.
But she did follow the fact I am looting their cultural heritage by using a language that sounds very much like theirs. So, she’s from Magura and she [was] like, “You are not doing Magura right.” And I was like, “Mom, I don’t know what I am doing but the people like it.” A lot of people asked where [this language was] from, and I [was] like, I don’t know. I just picked it up, and people seemed to like it, so I am doing it. That’s that. Love doing it.
BLF: Thanks a lot, and I think that’s the end of it.
Sakib Bin Rashid: You are welcome.