How many of these flames can we put out?
When the last Bangladeshi winter came, that of December 2018, and stayed for longer than most of us had initially expected, each pleasant-weathered day seemed a blessing. Even in the beginning of March we found ourselves (perhaps somewhat forcefully) donning light-skinned jackets during the night as cool winds brushed against our heated skin and scalps.
Little did we know though that, when the winter left, it would also bring with it a summer much hotter than any of us had expected. Except the heat that bore down on us was not from that of a sun that had refused to set, but of the flames with which we had begun to set ablaze the land which we called our home.
From Chawkbazar to Banani to Feni (and many more places in between and on either side of a tragic timeline), fire engulfed us, blood drowned us. Sometimes, it feels like that is all we understand: Fire and blood.
Let’s turn back the clock hands 48 years only to face fire there too: Fire which fuels the rage which burns our hearts in agony, and blood which is spilled from the veins of our enemies. But such fire and blood can be glorified, be it in the name of nation, God, justice, or language.
Look at a new-born and the reasoning will be made clear. That is the nature of birth, and no birth comes quiet, as we did, kicking and screaming, our faces scrunched up by the confusing experience of pain and joy and love and freedom all at the same time.
But perhaps we have become too enamoured with turning back the hands of time. And with it, too, we have become obsessed with moving them forward.
Can you blame us? How else would the pathways towards progress and development be paved? How else can we ensure that roads are built, the train tracks are laid, the youth get jobs, the export basket is diversified, the SDGs are met, the ICT parks are built, et cetera, et cetera.
But does a fire burn there too? Thousands of crores worth of land lie sprawled across the capital’s north, from two-floored shopping centres to one-roomed slum-dwellings, and the only solution for that too seems to be fire.
It seems that we have collectively decided to take a clear stance when it comes to the value of a single human life. After all, we have enough human lives to deal with (and don’t get us started on the Rohingya).
One doesn’t need eight telescopes and a group of overachieving Harvard scientists to see the massive black hole forming in the heart of our country. And yet, maybe, we choose to ignore it. Or, maybe, we don’t notice it at all.
What else can you expect from a nation moving at the speed of light?
Few can escape the gravity of the deal we’ve made: The work we do, the sweat that oozes out of our pores, the lives we sacrifice, all speeding towards a singular dream where every need will be provided for and everything will be alright.
The straight-talking kings in the north can delineate and discuss all they want about Bangladesh’s true identity, and the sweet-talking kings in the south can promise all they see fit for our glorious potential future that may never come, but the fact remains that, in moving the hands of time back and forth, we have failed to pay enough heed to the present.
The flames which caressed Nusrat’s skin and the smoke which burned the plummeting lungs of the men and women from FR Tower both danced to a familiar tune, a song of hope and waiting.
Hope for the future, hope for a better tomorrow, just wait, you see, and justice will be served, things will change and what will appear across the horizon will be a new dawn, a new summer, a new era, when women will be treated equally and with respect and the safety of the people will be prioritized over the currency exchange rate, when we will no longer be sorting things out but we will be as we were meant to be, as our potential had so far promised us.
But we have danced to this song long enough. Isn’t it about time that we let the music stop and played something new?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be found everywhere @snrasul.