This is an apology. It was meant to be a professional op-ed prefaced with a short apology -- and failing to do that is the first item on the list of reasons for this apology -- but I realise that what is required is an unreserved apology.
Before I can go any further, there are two more features of this piece that have already reared their heads, two cardinal sins, for which I must apologise: Firstly, I neither believe in my own greatness nor am full of myself, nor wish to be exclusive, subjective or informal, hence I refrain from writing in the first person.
Secondly, I am not in the habit of writing open letters or referring directly to the readers because I do not wish to preach or insult their intelligence. But I find myself making an exception.
Hypocrisy is the bane of human existence. I fight to keep its tentacles from entrapping me, but the recent inactions of contemporary Bangladeshi writers, myself included, have been either flying too close to that particular sun or wholly consumed by it. Since the existence of the written word, writers have had a duty to the truth, with which there can be, and must be, no compromise.
It is the sole responsibility of the pauper’s profession, for which the pen weighs heavy. In Bangladesh, writers want the glory of the title without bearing its burden or the pains that come with it. The contributions of writers and thinkers in our independence struggle gave birth to a unique class in our society, that of buddhijibis, the intellectuals.
Nostalgia has nurtured the existence of that class and allowed it to thrive. Oxymoronic social businesses, the civil society, and outright entrepreneurship are the illegitimate offspring of this self-important class. Therefore, the ability to string two quasi-coherent sentences together gives us writerly pretensions, and, both in our own egotistic minds and society’s collective conscience, we become elevated to a higher, culturally appropriate status.
We do not deserve it. We are an insult to the title of “writer,” and the comforts we enjoy are our sins multiplied. We censor ourselves to avoid censure from the government and from pretenders to the throne alike, knowing full well that if we do not, editors and publishers will. Whosoever in that chain fails to censor faces the consequences, and they are grave.
Censorship for survival -- if we do it, we must apologise; if we consider it, as I have, we must apologise; if it exists in our society, we must be ashamed and apologise. We operate in a restricted space, but using that as an excuse for not speaking the truth, so that essential truths are erased and eradicated, is the gravest of sins.
Our present deplorable reality is not the product of the actions of a few unfortunate souls in the past few years; it is the accumulation of over four decades of all our sins being reaped. We made loud proclamations, lied to be seen to be saying or doing what allowed us to attain stature and wealth, while the truth we once whispered stopped being uttered altogether. If murder exists in Bangladesh, it is because ordinary citizens have become desensitised to it and writers in their ivory towers have not wept enough for it, become enraged enough by it or been truthful enough about it.
There are certain absolutes in human existence, debating and intellectualising which serve only as justification via obfuscation. The killing of a human being by another is one such absolute.
It is astonishing that it needs saying at all: The killing of a human being by another is wrong. Rather than arguing the merits and demerits of actions that injure and kill others, we should be discussing the underlying causes of such actions so that their prevalence may be curbed and they may be prevented.
We need to be inclusive in our outlook, reaching out to those different us, to those most vulnerable, to those who are hurt and angry, because they are Bangladeshis. We need to empathise, constructively criticise, and work together towards sustainable solutions. We are doing none of that, since it is real work, hard work, since it is pain, not glory.
Self-centred writers are mostly silent, and when they occasionally break that silence, they fill the dead air with unconscionable lies. We are apologists for Bangladesh’s wrongs. We are responsible for assault and slaughter being justified, for them being palatable.
We will be tempted to blame the erstwhile, current and aspiring oppositions and the government, the harbingers of violence in our political and everyday lives, for living in a constant state of crippling fear that renders us speechless, wordless.
They have failed, and continue to fail, but we would do better to look at ourselves, take responsibility for our sins that have allowed our country to descend, and take up residence close to hell.
Truth and reason are dead in this subterranean dystopia, but we are the ones who did not fight hard enough for them. We are the ones who killed them. I apologise profusely for my part in it. I take responsibility so that I may do penance for my sins.