DhakaTribune
Wednesday November 22, 2017 05:06 PM

How we learned to love a country that was never ours

  • Published at 06:40 PM November 13, 2017
  • Last updated at 11:28 PM November 13, 2017
How we learned to love a country that was never ours
The illusion of nationhoodBIGSTOCK

Will the Motherland really take care of you?

What makes a country? As the world tailspins into ideological chaos and nations are erased and reiterated through the words of messiahs, both long-forgotten and freshly born, one wonders: What, exactly, are these nations?

Few people have national pride as Bangladeshis do. From the left-handed “cheeky” sweep of Shakib Al Hasan to the surprisingly astute 18-year-old Miss World contestant Jessia Islam, we live in a constant contradictory state of arrogance and shock: a) How could we, Bangladeshis no less, achieve this? and b) Of course, no one accomplishes things like Bangladeshis.

Yet, most countries are, actually, no different. The perfunctory freedom afforded by most seemingly democratic nations allows us to feel compassion for this land that we found ourselves in, without will, accidentally, a product of mere happenstance.

We have such intense longing for this place sometimes when we are away that we get homesick; we feel so cared for by this land constructed by arbitrarily chosen borders of long-dead kings and emperors that we call it our Motherland.

Mothers and motherlands

While love for one’s own country cannot be explained in logical terms, it has become increasingly difficult for nations to justify themselves as separate entities, which cater to a particular “kind” of people. Since we have lost meaning in differentiating people by race, religion, and language (or, at least, we should), what exactly comprises a national identity?

Is it how much care is given to people who call this place their home? If a nation’s land is to be as caring as a mother’s arms, do we not see how each nation continues to fail? (And was it possible for them to succeed in the first place?)

The source is clear. When will nation-states stop trying to represent certain cultural values, as if their culture is unique and not specific to a singular point in time? When will countries start to face the reality that, for a country to be as comfortable as your mother’s lap, it must, first and foremost, realise that each of her children is not the same?

If you’re from Bangladesh, you must speak Bangla. You’re probably Muslim, too. You should have the infamous Bangladeshi “resilience.” Americans believe in the constitution, in democracy. In guns? The British love fish and chips. Indians love cricket. And so on and so forth.

Give up the illusion: Your country does not exist, nor was it ever yours. It does not matter where you are, in the nook of a brothel-slum or a Manhattan penthouse apartment, your nation and its role in your life are illusory

Stereotypes and generalisations. And thus is born the politician’s struggle. Every speech ever sung by a politician struggles to please everyone and, when it fails, tries to please as many as he or she can. When will nation states realise that the answer to success and happiness isn’t the freedom to be who we are, but in self-awareness and realisation that results in empathy, which allows us to leave the decisions to be taken by those who know better than us.

Our mothers do it for, so why not our motherlands?

Mothers of invention

Look across the land, and communal violence is as common every year as hurricanes. Eventually, these hurricanes will become floods, overflowing the land with hatred. The most recent one in Rangpur, which destroyed dozens of homes belonging to Hindu families, came out of a single Facebook post, one that was ostentatiously fake. Weren’t Bangladeshis tolerant and democratic and secular?

What about the missing NSU professor? How many more are there like him, namelessly swimming in the polluted rivers of our motherland’s veins?

The poor and the downtrodden need not be mentioned: Their existence in our lives is quotidian, cumbersome, monotonous, so common have they become. From whence do they drink their mother’s milk, scrounging for scraps and alms?

Look at the rise of the “alt-right”: It was people’s inability to understand diverse environments that has resulted in its emergence. Do you not see, that your values aren’t your own? Do nations not understand that their existence is artificial, their past created, their will destined from the collective history of oscillating empires?

While the logistics of nations and nationalities are necessary, the way we function within them are not.

Or is even the attempt to unify through understanding diversity a futile exercise? What to do in a nation of contradicting viewpoints? Who, the oppressor and who, the victim?

Spare the “if you don’t like it, get out” statements. Where will we go? Easy to say under the care of a ceiling (and actually present mother) and sitting in front of a dining table. When has a nation ever cared about nurturing its citizens when those in power have not?

Give up the illusion: Your country does not exist, nor was it ever yours. It does not matter where you are, in the nook of a brothel-slum or a Manhattan penthouse apartment, your nation and its role in your life are illusory.

Whether or not you’ve been good to the pale blue dot in the sky is perhaps all that matters. And maybe the pale blue dot will be good to you.

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant in the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @snrasul. 

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