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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Under the pale light of dawn

We try to create change, but in the end, words are all we have

Update : 14 Mar 2021, 02:31 AM

It’s around 4 in the morning. Ideally, I should have sent something in five to six hours ago.

I still haven’t written anything. 

I went to sleep just around 12, hoping to take my mind off things. In a way, I’ve succeeded. I wanted to simultaneously cool my head and lift my fatigue, and since I am crossing the 50-word mark, I would say that I have succeeded. But I didn’t get any kind of respite in my sleep, and I felt an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and stress when I woke up. But then again, isn’t that something everyone feels?

It’s around six past four, and I still don’t have a completed draft. I completed around a hundred words, and the things I want to achieve with this piece have come into focus. But then again, I’m kind of following my usual, personal style, and I’m pretty much writing in autopilot. If I knew I would be choosing something personal again, I could have sent something in around midnight. But then again -- as writers -- isn’t everything we write a little personal? As human beings living on this planet called Earth, isn’t everything we do with our limited time just a way to show the embers within our souls? 

It’s 10 past four, and I have a solid grasp on what I’m doing now. Then again, due to the circumstances of the country over the past few weeks, I wanted to tackle some of the bigger questions of our time too. Hell, in a way, I did just that in my last column. But it was too vague, and full of contingencies. Can anyone write anything worthwhile if they are afraid like that? Then again, when one’s voice has been taken away, can anyone attempt to take it back, knowing that death awaits? 

Some have, sure. But after living through multiple weeks of decades in a place where time is a flat circle, does it even matter if we try to do something? Even after that, what can writers like us do anyway? We try to find out the truth, and we want to present it in the cleverest way possible. But what good is our writing if we can’t reach out to the masses? What good are the elegies of Kafka and Ghatak if the lay person is turned off from the idea of even approaching their work? 

The only way to bring out the changes we want is to throw away our books, and rally on the streets. But aside from a handful of us, most of us avoid that life. Then again, what does taking to the streets even do? Aside from throwing away the life we know, what more can we accomplish? I mean, the heroes and legends of old, what have they even accomplished aside from having their names placed in history? 

The emperor was on top of the food chain then, and she is on top of the food chain now. In a world where efforts like this are futile, isn’t it defiant enough to live according to our own principles and leave behind the books that people need to throw away?

I realize that this is a very selfish way of looking at things. But then again, artists are inherently selfish beings. We say that art is important, that it means something. To be frank, all art is for pseudo-intellectual brats like us to flex our thinking abilities, and for other pseudo-intellectual brats to pick on and have a sense of pride over. Then again, a lot of these brats do a lot of good in the world, and art is important in the sense that it gives people like me a respite from the real world. 

But in a world where most of the population don’t even have access to shelter and food, what good is art anyway? In that world, an activist on the street is still better than us. He might be fighting a futile fight, but he is trying. And to try is to make all the difference. 

We artists are really such horrible, pitiful beings. But who am I to judge? Am I even allowed to call myself an artist? I mean, aside from my columns, all I have are half-published stories and some celluloid nostalgia. Under those circumstances, can I even call myself an artist? 

And even then, can I say that others artists are the same? I mean, I was beginning to make an important point there, and now I am wallowing in self-pity. Does that even give me the right to call out other artists, or should I mainly focus on myself? Am I really looking at the greater picture here, or am I mainly projecting? Looking at the world through my own, rose-tinted glasses so that I don’t have to destroy myself and rebuild myself in an objective way? 

But is an act like that even possible? Even if I were to change myself, even if I were to trade in my fear for something greater, wouldn’t I retain some aspect of myself? Isn’t everyone biased in their own way? Or is it again one of my projections?

It’s half past four, and I’m just about to finish. I’ve written a lot of things, and there are a lot of loose ends. But contrary to popular belief, I’m about to put a ribbon on this present. 

Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that what art -- and by extension, life -- is? We start talking about something, and we jump to something else. We try being selfless, but in the grand scheme of things, we end up being selfish as well. We try to make changes, but all we have are words. We think we have done nothing, but in some ways, we have done everything. 

I mean, maybe not now, but given we stick to our principles, we get there, eventually. So, isn’t that worth celebrating? In a cold, uncaring world seemingly plucked out from the void, aren’t moments like this worth celebrating? 

I awoke in my room an hour ago, dimly lit by the darkness of the coming dawn. I was filled with an incredible sadness, but I’m not anymore. I guess, at the end of the day, as long as that happiness is not ill-gotten, it is all that matters. 

Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and a Dhaka Tribune intern.

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