In our contemporary education system, extracurricular activities are regarded as a prohibited one, as parents think these will distract children from studying. Slowly, but the time has changed now. Nowadays, parents are interested in grooming their kids in different activities besides study. Debate is seen as one of the oldest and most prestigious extracurricular activities in Bangladesh. People have grown up watching school students giving impassioned and informative speeches in front of judges and audience on BTV.
While people in this country are quite acquainted with Bangla debate, English debate was always categorised for a specific group of people. But for the past decade it has created its own glorious path. And the credit goes to a few pioneers in this arena who are inspiring thousands to dream to represent Bangladesh at global platforms.
In recent times, this position has been conquered by Sourodip Paul - whose journey towards debating started just casually participating in debate sessions at school but now being counted as one of the heavy weight debaters in the world. Although Sourodip's cabinet is full of shining trophies with well deserved achievements, his latest championship in addition to becoming the best speaker at Australs is his biggest accomplishment till date.
The Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championships colloquially known as "Australs" is the annual debate tournament for teams from universities of Asia and Australia.
It is the second largest debate tournament after the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC). This year's Australs was organised by Monash University Australia where Sourodip participated from The Australian National University as he is currently doing his masters there. He completed his undergraduate from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka - which is the basis of his prosperity today.
He has been participating in Australs for the past two years, but this year's Australs was the most challenging of all. Sourpdip shared his experience of participating in Australs 2020 and his entire journey with The Business Standard.
"Apart from the fact that it is my biggest achievement till now, this is specifically very memorable because this year's Australs was attended by the largest influx of participants from many countries who never used to participate before. Due to the pandemic, the whole event was held online. That is why many Asian students participated for the first time for whom finance used to be a huge obstacle."
"And they did really good. It's their diversity and quality which made the tournament very challenging and my victory more special," he added.
The tournament is held in three categories, English as Foreign Language (EFL), English as Second Language (ESL) and Open - which is open for all. This year Sourodip participated in the open category with his two teammates, one was a Malaysian and another was Australian.
"This is the first time I was debating with people who did not speak Bengali as their first language, which was a huge shift for me. Let's face it. I cannot cover as much material as my English speaking teammates in 8 minutes. I have to compensate for that with lots of strategies.
Although participating in international tournaments is nothing new for Sourodip, he has witnessed multifarious ups and downs before kissing the winning trophy at a major global tournament. Last year at Australs, he participated from IBA and made it to the semi-finals. He has been in the list of top ten Asian debaters for five times now including ranking 11th on the preliminary round of WUDC with his teammate Sajid Khandaker, which is also the best performance of Bangladesh on World's till date.
"Before winning the Australs, I made through two Asian finals in 2018 and 2019, two Worlds' quarter finals. We were consistently the best performing Asian team in WUDC for three years in a row but the championship was slipping every time."
But he apparently broke the streak with his recent victory.
Sourodip started English debating back in that time when English debating was not a very patronised interest in Bangladesh. So what was his inspiration?
In answer to that, he said, "It's not like I was completely unaware of debating. I personally idealised many seniors who used to debate and later on did very good with their lives. That inspired me a lot to take debate seriously."
His debating journey started from Notre Dame College, breaking the usual stereotype of only English medium students participating in this arena. For Sourodip, it was becoming the runners up at the novice category of Asian School Debating Championship 2013 - which made him confident about realising his talent for debate.
As Sourodip said, "Winning the runners-up position was my first success at the international arena. But it was not until 2014 when the scenario of entire English debate circuit of Bangladesh changed,"
"That year, a team from Brac University went to the finals of the ESL category at WUDC and won that. We were watching from Bangladesh and just seeing them winning an international tournament augmented our confidence. We were not just a small nation with language barriers. We are in the big league now, only the sky's our limit," he added reminiscing that moment.
People who know Sourodip were not at all surprised knowing his success.
"When I was in IBA, I used to debate across Bangladesh as a great number of private and public universities used to arrange English debate competitions. And our domestic circuit offers pretty good competition. Therefore, it's not a mere accident that a Bangladeshi has won an international debate championship. Our debaters are genuinely very talented and breaking on international tournaments very regularly."
"I truly believe apart from cricket, debate is an arena where Bangladesh is keeping its footprint on such high notes."
Witnessing such achievements, many young students are now inspired and devoted towards English debating from a very early age in dream of representing Bangladesh in international debate. And rather than just passing the torch, Sourodip is now playing a role in creating star debaters of next generation. He is the debate coach of Team Bangladesh of this year's World Schools Debate Championships.
"That more and more students from various backgrounds are pursuing english debate in Bangladesh gives me immense pleasure. In the team I'm coaching, two of the five debaters are from completely Bangla medium background. This is just a glimpse of the future."
Before leaving Bangladesh for Australia, he had a life that many of us dream of having. After graduating from the IBA, he was working as a global graduate at the British American Tobacco, Bangladesh. But leaving all the security and luxury behind, he chose his passion once again of having higher education in economics. And where many of his peers have quit debating and are solely focused on building careers, Sourodip is not even near pulling off the plug. So what's the plan for future?
"After Australs, there is only one thing left - giving a stellar performance at Worlds. This year's WUDC has been canceled due to the current situation but hopefully next year I'll participate and it will be the most anticipating one as it will be my last year of participation."
Before ending the conversation, Sourodip was requested to give some advice to debate aspirants.
"I'll just say one thing: don't debate to win. Participate because you love debating. And don't get upset with failures, because there is no easy way of pursuing this. After 7 years of professional debating, I am blessed with achieving such successes. The journey was not easy, but it's worth it."