Thursday, June 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Lost, lost, lost

The path to self-discovery is not an easy one

Update : 08 Feb 2021, 01:25 AM

At the moment, I am in no condition to write.

But that’s old news. For friends who have known me, and my beloved who gives me the strength that is needed to fight for another morning, my proclivity for the darker side of things has always been known. And if you follow my columns, this inner darkness is something I have alluded to many times in the past.

In the past, I probably would have shut away from the entire world and smoked myself to death, refusing to do anything that might help with this fog of blue. In the present, I fight on regardless of it, trying to keep myself productive as both a means of keeping myself busy, and wrestling with my inner demons as a way of finding the final solution to this eternal problem.

Darkness beckons

Objectively, I’m in a better, much happier position than I once was. Even now, the thought that I am no longer confined to those times anymore brings joy. During night, a few moons ago, when my dark doppelgänger was telling me that those times might come back, I broke out in a cold sweat. 

Still, when I started watching a new show, and I saw a bitter, solitary university student wasting away with a bowl of ramen, I couldn’t help but feel a hint of nostalgia. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of longing for a time when the things that defined me were depression, destruction, and death. 

And while this is something that can be easily explained away by nostalgia, by a storage system that discards the damaged and preserves the intact, I can’t help but wonder: Is there something more to this?

Aside from the five years of high school, I did not have a happy childhood. From protectors who turned out to be tyrants, to being subjected to one of the cruelest fates one can imagine at an early age -- there were a lot of things that made my childhood -- to my subsequent adolescence, all was horrid. 

While it is no surprise that I miss those years, looking back, I find it amusing to see how similar those years were to the early years of university, and looking at things now, I can see some similarities that are left even now, even though those similarities are rare and fleeting. 

Take class 7 for example. If class 6 was a wild ride of self-discovery, class 7 is marked with a dread for a future that was right around the corner, of doing one’s best and still failing to achieve all that I wanted. 

In the archives of my brain, there is a big file called the “black years” and all the writings of the pages that are within the file are redacted. 

Roughly, the years collected in the file would be the years from class 1-4, class 7, parts of class 8, and my entire college years. Aside from some remnants that have been able to escape the inky blackness of omission, I literally have zero recollection from this period. 

The promise of a tomorrow

But as time goes on, things do come back to me. It is mainly the good, but sometimes, the bad resurfaces as well. But when trying to contrast these periods side by side and trying to seek a pattern, the things, nay, the ideals, that come to mind are the promise of a tomorrow, and the responsibilities of today. 

The reason that I have a longing for the past is not only due to nostalgia, but for a promise of the days that would come. 

Entire nights I would spend, cigarettes in hand and lo-fi playing on the computer. Entire nights I would escape to a dream-like future. Well, the future did happen, but in dreams, we rarely think about responsibility.

The interesting thing here is that from class 8-10, I tried to take on these responsibilities, but I still looked at the future with optimism. There was less freedom then, less flexibility in the way I approached them. But the linearity meant that the outcomes would be certain as well.

Work hard, and you will get reasonable enough grades. Write well, and you will produce things that you are proud of. Even now, just focusing on a singular task without looking at the space around it calms me down, and helps keep me sane. 

If our existence is nothing but a trek through a forest, keeping an eye on the path and only the path helps with one’s state of mind. It is only when the path disappears, and we are forced to comprehend the magnitude of the forest, that we fall into despair. 

And this provides a new way of looking at the past. Alongside the similarities, you start picking on the dissimilarities as well. 

School is like a straight path that takes you to the deepest part of the forest, and once there, you have to find the path for yourself. 

This task is what would be described as ‘finding oneself’ in hackneyed coming-of-age novels and some excellent being-of-age films. But finding oneself is only one key to the whole puzzle. After that, you actually have to trek through a path that only you can create. And like all uncharted paths within the forest, there are some issues here.

When you find your path, you have to be responsible enough to stick to the path. 

Easy in theory -- this means that you will have to make decisions all on your own, where even the most advanced statistical modules would be no help. And once you find your path, it would take years before it takes a solid shape. 

And at that point in time, in a time where the promises and realities of the future make their colours visible, one can easily succumb to despair. Most people would take a ready-made path then, a path designed by century-long entities and papers of green. But for the select few that want to make it on their own, those fools who bear the burden of dreams, this proves to be impossible. 

So, they stick to their ways, and give themselves absolute freedom. And since anything can happen under this treatise, it is just as possible for the best to go beyond your wildest imaginations, while the worst couldn’t even be dreamed up by the most depraved of torturers. 

And as you succumb to this infernal limbo, this place where west is east and down is up, only then, can you comprehend how truly lost you are. And suddenly, a certainty of sadness with a certainty of tomorrow starts to seem appealing. 

Finding calm within

Still, all hope is not lost. Making one’s path is a test of one’s eyes and ears, and like the most skilled trackers, if one focuses enough, one should be able to find the way. Because if eternal damnation is possible, then eternal paradise is possible as well. Both of them will intertwine, just as yin intertwines with yang. But if the future is not lost yet, if all options have not been exhausted, then there might be a cure to this despair after all. 

When I started writing this piece, I was at the height of madness. Unable to calm myself, I cried to find a solution. 

Half way through, I thought I should eat something, and ordered some food. I talked with my partner for a bit, and watched that show to take my mind off of things. Now, I sit to finish this piece, with a renewed strength to trek through the night. 

As such, it looks like the best thing to do after finding oneself, is to stick to the path in a way where only the current ground is visible. One’s mind can always wander off to the forest, and think of what ifs, but by grounding it in the present, and doing one’s best, one can always make something of his condition. 

And even if it is only just a possibility, even if it is just one bad decision away from being taken away, as long as hope exists, then who can say, maybe humanity is not a lost cause after all. 

Still, the forest is deep. And just as hope can be recovered, it can be snatched away as well. From the first time we cry to the last time we close our eyes; our entire life is spent within the forest. And in the shadows, the scariest of monsters remain. As such, the safest way would be to abandon the dark, get on the beaten path, and buy a tie. 

But then, one would be missing out on the stars. The night sky is filled with jewels, and to see them, one must immerse themselves in darkness. And in all actuality, the marble-paved road is more dangerous than the depth of the woods. 

And for people like me, the woods offer the safest way.

“I have no idea what winds are driving me and where. But I chose this way, this way without directions. I chose it myself, so let me continue. I don’t want to look back. Not yet. Or not anymore. Ahead, ahead. I am pushing.”

-Jonas Mekas; Lost, Lost, Lost

Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and a freelance writer.

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