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On history

  • Published at 04:28 am June 10th, 2017
On history
History gives birth to me on a rainy summer, spitting me out into a world of possibilities. I blink into existence, screaming in agonising impatience. On a bronze platter, I devour the fruits of life. 30 years back, my father is doing the exact opposite. He will not cry; he does not breathe. My grandparents and their brothers and sisters wait for the first son of the family to screech his first sound. A few minutes later, my father screams, and opens his eyes, and witnesses East Pakistan for the first time. The world heaves a sigh of relief. I’m in school, tapping my pen on a blue Sunnydalian bench. My book is turned to the page of Ancient Mesopotamia. I learn of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, of their advanced technologies washed away by time. I learn of the ancient Greeks, who would call their markets agora.
A few centuries back, Napoleon is at war, in debt, and is forced to conduct the Louisiana purchase, selling a huge chunk of the American continent to the as-of-yet-to-form United States of America. Desperate, he walks into Russia. Overconfident, he thinks he can own the world
In Bangla class, I read stories of Bir Sreshthos whose names I’ll forget in a few years’ time. I fail to see my father in the pages. A little over 30 years ago, my dad is hunched back on the roof, tracing the fighter jets in the sky, and their contrails of destruction. He hides for they will shoot on sight. Later that night, he sits around a table, in a room where the curtains are drawn closed, under the auspices of a solitary candle. He breaks bread with my grandparents, and his cousins. A few centuries back, Napoleon is at war, in debt, and is forced to conduct the Louisiana purchase, selling a huge chunk of the American continent to the as-of-yet-to-form United States of America. Desperate, he walks into Russia. Overconfident, he thinks he can own the world. His soldiers perish in the brutal Russian cold. They die of pneumonia and starvation, among other diseases. Napoleon is defeated.
60 years in the past, a great orator is climbing the political ladder in Germany. His words seduce and woo, convince an entire continent to wipe out a race. He thinks he can conquer the world
In the 1980s, my father is studying Physics at Dhaka University. He loves the subject but by the time the decade comes to a close, he has given up his dreams to follow my grandfather into the jute business. This is before the environment and climate change, before the obsolescence of the plastic bag, and the business goes bankrupt. I am born soon after, demanding the world. My father looks on in muted happiness, carrying the world on his shoulders. I am fifteen and I hate my father. I get myself a diary and write almost every day about how I wish I could run away. My “O” levels are a massacre and the hurt on my father’s face is palpable. Somewhere in between, in consecutive years, my mother dies, my grandfather dies, my grandmother dies. I call it a hat-trick to a friend of mine who’s one half of a twin. He scolds me for making light of the matter. My father and I find ourselves alone inside a two-bedroom apartment in Jhigatola, not knowing what to do with ourselves. 60 years in the past, a great orator is climbing the political ladder in Germany. His words seduce and woo, convince an entire continent to wipe out a race. He thinks he can conquer the world. Overconfident, he walks into Russia. The bitter Russian cold bites into his soldiers, leaving them paralysed and beaten. He is defeated, having achieved everything but failing to look a few centuries in the past, and learning his history. 2001. My grandfather tells me to call my father. I go to my father and say, “Abbu, baba wants to see you.” He shakes his head in frustration and annoyance. I cannot forget the hatred on his face. In school, I have a crush on a girl because she’s as fair as an angel and wears cute rectangular glasses and writes with her left hand. She has a masculine name. She never finds out. I move back and forth, to and from places I can barely call home, and find myself in a concert where my elbow grazes against another girl’s. I continue to have literal and figurative grazes of the elbows with her for the next two years. She never finds out.
History kills me in silence. Unlike my birth, my mouth is shut, my hands are tied, and I don’t even know I’m dying
When I go to school, they make us recite Surah Fatiha and sing the national anthem every morning. A decade later, I lose my religion, but not my memory of Fatiha; I can’t remember the national anthem, but I retain some sort of nationalistic pride. In 2009, I fall in love for the first time. I have my heart broken. In 2013, I fall in love for the second time. I have my heart broken. Never again. In 2016, I fall in love for the third time. I have my heart broken. Never again? Will I never learn? Backtrack a few years. My father quits his job because he hates it. His lack of ambition and his principles get in the way of companies and their ability to make money. He delves into business. A few years later, he goes bankrupt. One day, my father comes up to me and does the hardest thing he’s ever done: he asks me for money. At work, I feel strings tugging at me from every corner of the globe. I squish a little girl’s cheeks in between my palms in muted happiness, and I feel the world rest heavy on my shoulders. History kills me in silence. Unlike my birth, my mouth is shut, my hands are tied, and I don’t even know I’m dying. 2017: I look at my reflection. Lines of repetition have formed on my face. I see my entire future, mirrored in the history of our collective lives, doomed to repeat itself. Do we never learn?
SN Rasul is a fiction writer and journalist.