A time to write

Posted in activism, Freedom of speech, Rights by jrahman on October 11, 2019

Back in January, Facebook encouraged users to post their 10-year old photos against a current one.  Being rather inactive in social media, I didn’t partake.  As it happened, I was in Dhaka at that time, just as I was a decade earlier.  I couldn’t help but sketch out a long essay in my head — ‘Bangladesh: the 10-year challenge’.  Unsurprisingly, the unwritten piece would have covered how things had changed since January 2009 — unprecedented prosperity, previously unimaginable political repression, mutually contradictory social changes…. you get the idea, the piece practically writes itself.  Perhaps it would have been too cut and dry with numbers and factlets, so I would likely have peppered with personal anecdotes — ups and downs, trials, tribulations, and let’s not be ungrateful, the occasional triumphs, the vicissitudes of life…  Or perhaps not — that kind of writing was never my natural, and I don’t think I would have started now.

In the event, of course, nothing got written.

Why not?

Ostensibly because I was busy.  But let’s be honest.  When we say we are too busy to do something — write, or call someone once near and dear, or play with our kids — what we really mean is that we don’t consider that something to be valuable.  In the current context, the answer to why wasn’t this written comes in the form of a counter question — what’s the point of writing?

There are multiple ways to answer that.

Let’s start with a bleak proposition, that life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  In a world where Donald Trump may well be re-elected, and Hasina Wajed may well govern longer than Alauddin Husain Shah, futility of writing, particularly political writing, isn’t hard to argue.  Add to that personal travails that anyone in their 40s might be expected to face — depressing stuff like death, divorce, career dead ends, burden of debt, you get the idea — and it’s all too easy to ask, yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai?

There are two paths from that bleak starting point.  The first ends in the despair and self-pity attributed to the Last Mughal:  Jo kisi ke kaam na aa sake / Main wo ek mushthe gubar hu / Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hu.

The other path starts from the nihilistic crescendo of jala do yeh duniya to end in Omar Khayyam’s rubai: Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire /  To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire! / Would not we shatter it to bits – and then / Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

Which path do we choose?  In a culture where Deb Das is the iconic hero, the romanticism of what’s the point of it all seems appealing.  Against that, here is the harsh reality as put by a blogger friend: We grew up in peacetime – we and our kids don’t know what insecurity is – At this point it is unthinkable that someday me and my family will have to run with life / become refugees – or become victims of genocide – But I no longer believe in the word unthinkable!

If we want the fatiha recited, flowers laid, and lamps lit, it’s clear which path we must choose. And it’s not too late, because, after all, in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.  Write, we must, while we can, jism o zabaan ki maut se pahle.

(For Abrar Fahad, who wrote).

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