Memoirs Of A Bangladeshi Dreamer

The Best Speaker in UADC has never come from an institution in South Asia, let alone been someone who was a relative unknown in the circuit and his freshman year. Sajid Asbat Khandaker has had a remarkable run this year and this is his story.

Being a freshman at IBA-DU has its own way of molding your life. From dealing with the worst faculty members to the increasing need to socialize and make new friends in an alien environment – it’s an ‘interesting’ experience, to say the least. However, for me, personally, getting into IBA-DU was a way for me to further explore myself as a debater, and for the first 6 months of my time there, it was no different to what I expected.

Debating has been an integral part of my life for a few years now. From around 9th grade, being able to represent Bangladesh at the World Schools Debating Championship (WSDC) was my biggest dream, and after countless failures, it finally did happen in 2016. However, as with most Bangladeshi teams at WSDC, heartbreak was the only outcome of it all. We ended as the 25th team on a 24-team break, and missed out by a single ballot. I was in my final year of high school, and couldn’t come back to right those wrongs the following year. My coach at the time (Rawnak Zaheen Wasi) along with my team mates and a few friends told me to think of the bigger picture – to do well in the admissions that were nearing and eventually focus on university debating.

Even before entering IBA-DU, I had a few friends in the club already (Sourodip and Nawed). However, the club atmosphere in general is one you can’t truly understand unless you’re a part of it. It’s nothing but a family. They took me in and allowed me to represent the club at a local tournament with no previous attendance or training within the club. We’re all in the same boat – we have the pressure of having to succeed the golden generation of both Bangladeshi Debate as well as the IBA-DU debate club, while simultaneously managing our own academic lives and the pressures that come with it. We’re constantly supported by a few loving seniors (Adel Mostaque Ahmed bro – we love you), without whom I think the club would fail to function especially in the midst of all the bureaucracy attached to a public university.

From the beginning of the year we had one thing as our primary target – doing well at the UADC. Bangladesh doesn’t have a strong history of participating at the UADC. The university circuit and local tournaments are mostly BP centric. There is an overwhelming glorification of success at WUDC, and most universities shape their training around it as well. Most universities have limited funds as well and Asian tournaments are usually the trade off; I say most because the other universities, like ours, don’t have any funds at all. In Bangladesh, we don’t really have an Asians season and a BP season – we just have a whole lot of BP university tournaments, with a couple of 3v3s here and there. However, I was quite used to the 3v3 format, having been a part of the WSDC program for quite some time. Most of the other debaters at IBA-DU were as well, since IBA-DU has had a history of recruiting some of the best WSDC debaters of the country for the past few years.

We started training and selections around March. We had weekly sessions after class where we usually just practiced debating on one motion each day. It wasn’t a regular and rigorous process, but the intensity and frequency of practices increased as UADC approached. We didn’t have other universities to practice against since no other Bangladeshi university was participating at UADC this year, so most practices were restricted to ourselves, and sometimes we didn’t even have a judge. However, we were fortunate enough to have the WSDC kids to practice against, owing to the fact that WSDC this year was a few days after UADC ended. We decided to have quite a few combined sessions in which we practiced the WSDC prepared motions. We spoke for 7 minutes each, while they spoke for 8.

Initially, the practices weren’t really to help us improve as debaters significantly, but were to help us decide team combinations and speaker roles. I was a 2nd speaker in my WSDC team, but I had to shift to 1st speaker to fit the IBA-DU team. Sourodip had done 1st speaking in his school life, but shifted to 3rd as he realized that was his most comfortable position in practice. After deciding on these, practices were mostly just to help us improve our word economy and impact. We realized that UADC motions generally demand covering a lot of matter while making them impactful (especially because you can’t really be lower house in an Asians debate), so we tried to improve on those things. I had to shift my speaking style to a certain degree as well. I tried to be less dependent on rhetoric (which was demanded at WSDC) and concentrate more on additional layers of analysis that have intuitive impacts. I personally believe my biggest problem in debate has been starting arguments that are intuitive, but leaving the impact on rhetoric. It wasn’t as harmful at WSDC, seeing as to how a lot of judges at WSDC prefer it that way, but it was one thing that would never be taken well at UADC. So my biggest hurdle was learning to flesh out arguments as much as possible, while simultaneously covering a great many arguments as first speaker.

We went into UADC with a lot of dreams and a lot of hope. Most of us hadn’t debated at an international university tournament before so we didn’t really know what we were in for. We were afraid and didn’t really dream big, but we were confident about beating any team on our day. Rawnak joined us a few days late after recovering from chikungunya and was on steroids for the duration of the trip. Having him there gave Sourodip and I a great sense of relief and confidence. He was the only one in the contingent with significant previous international experience, and multiple breaks.

The tournament started off quite well. We set targets throughout the tournament, and re-evaluated them continuously depending on our position. With every win, we kept dreaming bigger,and our targets started going higher (apart from the losses to NUS – thanks Lucas, Sher May and Adil -_-). We functioned well as a team, as all 3 of us were different in our contributions to prep, and different in the way we speak. By the end of the 2nd day, we were on 5 wins from 6 rounds. We were relatively certain about our break since we were in the top room twice. From the final day, we just wanted to end up with as many wins as possible. We ended up on 6 wins in 8 rounds, and we broke 3rd in the team tab with the highest speaker points in the tournament. This did come as a surprise to us in hindsight, as even the IBA-DU team from 2 years ago who we all look up to broke 4th at UADC 2015. We hadn’t lost to anyone except NUS (the top breaking team with 8 wins).

However, as with most Bangladeshi teams in the knockouts, our run ended in the quarters on a 3-2 split to the eventual finalists, Ateneo. I, personally, was quite down after that round as I thought I had been the one to let the team down. We could’ve made history and progressed further, but a really bad LO speech from yours truly made life difficult for the other two.

The general mood of the contingent was not uplifted until the grand final award giving ceremony. The top ten speakers were being announced. Rawnak was announced as 9th, and Sourodip was announced as 5th. History had already been made for Bangladesh, and I was gleefully clapping for my team mates as they walked up to the stage. But then, a few minutes later…I was announced as the best speaker of the tournament. For a second I wasn’t sure I was hearing the right name, but the random pats on my back from Nawed and hearing the other members of the contingent cheer made me realize I wasn’t really dreaming. As I approached the stage, I was stuck between screaming and laughing out of joy, while also trying to act cool with a poker face. Never was I happier to hear Saad Ashraf say ‘you’re still a piece of shit’ as when he gave me the medal.

In short – UADC was great. Yeah. Definitely better than we expected or we’d hope for. It was a tournament we weren’t really accustomed to but one we did well in. Some other South Asian universities, such as Delhi and LUMS, exceeded everyone’s expectations too. I think a lot of reasons could be thought of for this. Asians, in general, suits the South Asian style of debating. Most of us are well informed about the world around us, and most of the UADC motions this year were matter heavy. Secondly, from an early age, we’re heavily dependent on the ‘pure engagement’ style of debating, versus finding out extensions and their values. It takes quite some time and practice to adjust to BP for us, but Asians is not really far off from the general norm of debating practiced, even in school. Thirdly, I think South Asia has one of the most talented pools of potential debaters, but with limited access and experience, which is probably why we always exceed expectations, but never really win tournaments. We don’t have a rigorous system of practice. I’ve heard of the disjointed Indian circuit and the difficulties in having tournaments that everyone comes too. With proper training and exposure, some of the biggest Asian giants could emerge from this region as well.

My advice to any young Bangladeshi, or even South Asian, debater would be – never be afraid. I’ve watched the same videos of ‘big-name’ debaters on YouTube as you have, and facing them does seem like an immensely challenging ordeal. However, with enough hard work and just a bit of luck, beating anyone is possible. We’ve done it and so can you.

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