Bangladesh, if you look closely, tells a story of everything. Our short, 44-year-old history holds all that could ever have happened, and all that will. If you try hard enough, if you are really willing to see it, Bangladesh, in all its minuteness, encompasses the entire world.
What does that mean though? We are a country of contrasts, conflicts, and contradictions. Regal chariots bearing German emblems whizz past the bulbous kwashiorkor of infants. Masterful orators speak three million untruths, while thousands of little truths are martyred for the betterment of singular lives. Denizens bleed the past dry to spill blood on the remnants of the present. And our mouths cater to a history of war and freedom that has long forgotten us.
But that is not all. There is the ever-increasing bracket of problems which include what Bangladeshis have grown tired of reiterating: Traffic, heat, corruption, pollution, electricity, poverty, et cetera, et cetera. These we can talk about again and again, and we do.
The talk around the water cooler is filled with these; so are living rooms, and the litter-boxes we call streets. Talk show hosts and panelists discuss these again and again with fervour, as if a solution not only exists, but one that is likely. If only the entire country would take this one single ex-something-or-the-other’s opinion seriously, then all our problems would dissolve into the air, much like the mistakes of the powerful in public spaces.
With problems like these, why is patriotism still a thing? Why must we, in all your un-endearing flawfulness, love you, Bangladesh? I guess we could be better off. We are not Sudan, where the war in Darfur has resulted in extensive ethnic cleansing. Nor are we experiencing some severe level of oppression which would necessitate something in the vein of a “Bengali Spring.”
We aren’t even facing any kind of serious ostracisation, where our friends are being taken away and put into internment camps, much like the Americans did to the Japanese during WWII, and have done to a lesser extent with Muslims during the War on Terror.
Not anything we, as children of privilege, are aware of, at least.
There is, it seems, always something to appreciate about Bangladesh. After all, does beauty not lie in the eye of the beholder? And if you hate this country so much, get the hell out. Love is unconditional. You love it; that’s that. There’s no logic to it. Who are you to criticise and complain and moan? At least, if you want change, do something about it. Right?
But there’s a nagging tap at the back of my head, an annoying plethora of voices which don’t let such thoughts lie. Headline after headline speaks of the country’s stupidity (nay, idiocy -- stupidity is too kind), and the myopic vision with which it looks to the future. The recent subsidence at Karwan Bazar is the epitome of this. Fill the khaals, get the money, make people happy for now; what happens down the line, we’ll think about it then.
Since our inception, all we have had is a blurry history we don’t want to taint with too much truth. It almost reads like a fairy tale: “Once upon a time, there was the greatest of leaders. There was a war for freedom. People martyred themselves for us. We won the war. With a little bit of help from India (as a very small footnote).”
After that, it all really turns to mush, to riding on the coattails of a past askew. But we’re basically all slum kids, jumping from one rubbish pile to another.
Just because my mouth utters words of criticism, does not mean that I do not love you. Actually, I don’t need to; what does it matter if I love you or not? I have that right. And you must earn it.
And I see my fellow citizens as worthy of kindness and empathy not because they are my brothers, Muslim, Bengalis, or Bangladeshis, but because there must exist some concrete definition of humanity amongst us. If not permanently -- because morality is fluid, ever-changing -- but for the moment, for this jagged instance in time.
But your sons and daughters continue to disappoint. Walking on the street with a female friend is still, still, something I think of with foreboding, wary of the eyes which scrutinise, the minds which I automatically presume to be thinking of raiments left on the floor; going from Bashundhara to Dhanmondi after a day’s work or a day’s class, there is dirt inside the grooves of my fingerprints, and sweat sticking to my skin like tattoo; and before I say anything, I think twice, thrice, multiple times, making sure no one takes it the wrong way, for no one seems to realise that the right to be offended goes hand in hand with the right to offend.
And, hunched back, shoulder down, one cannot help but feel betrayed.
But despite that, most adore you, despite the microcosm of constant conflict that you are. Some may hate you, but they’re a minority, suppressed under the necessity of patriotism, as if criticism and nationalism were somehow mutually exclusive. But Bangladesh, with each passing day, and each passing tragedy that you commit or allow, each time you don’t protect us or even try to, even though we may love you, it becomes harder and harder to like you.