Sometimes, we tend to forget why we’re here.
I’m not much of a patriot. As Victory Day comes and goes, and I see the red-and-green flags hung atop the radio antennae of cars and the horns of rickshaws and outside of balconies where a maid shakes a blood red “lep” of dust, I feel no sense of pride or achievement.
I have heard reprimanding cries of how this could be because I am an ignorant millenial, a spoiled brat born of a generation of men and women who had given their lives for this country, this country of yours, mine, our, and yet, I cannot change the way I feel. I cannot, for the life of me, see the point in attaching sentiment and loyalty to arbitrary lines drawn by a certain Sir Cyril Radcliffe before the Partition.
And why should I? What purpose does it serve to make something created by someone else your own?
Plenty, it seems. Patriotism, tribalism, nationalism, whatever you choose to call it, has its contributions to society, to progress.
But, try as I might, I cannot force myself to be a fighter for a nation, any nation, that I was, randomly and out of chaos, born into.
But yes, we tend to forget why we’re here. We look around and we see a country falling apart at its seams.
We see widespread corruption, we see violence, we hear the crying of beggar children on the streets, we smell the stench of open trash cans along the pathways, and we blame the people and the government for what it has become.
Imagine a country, then imagine that it has some of the greatest minds the world has to offer. Imagine it moving forward through history, shining in all its glory. Imagine the progress, the books, the conversations, the love unfurled, the potential unearthed. Now imagine that is Bangladesh
Despite this, many of us hold on to the Bangladeshi identity, proud and erect, because we hope and know of its potential, be it on Victory Day, Independence Day, or Whichever-other Day strikes the nationalist fancy.
But amongst the Days and Weeks, amongst the celebrations of some Great Man or Another, the one we tend to forget, or really, not remember with as much aplomb, one that is, indeed, quite a crime to forget, the one that strikes me as the worst thing the Pakistani occupation did during its tyrannical tenure, is the martyring of intellectuals.
Now, I haven’t done enough research to know for certain that this was the only one of its kind, and it doesn’t really matter, but the very notion of picking out the most educated and intelligent minds and systematically assassinating them has to be one of the worst things done by any oppressive state.
Imagine a country, any country, then imagine taking their most brilliant minds away, the minds that would go on to help build it, give it light, educate it, give it the knowledge required to reach a point where they could claim to be successful, or developed, or powerful and then, ask yourself: Does it still stand?
How can it?
That isn’t to say that the uneducated are without value. That is not to say that the raping and pillaging and violence weren’t as bad, if not worse. That is not to say that this is the only tragedy worth remembering of the 1971 War.
But to take these people away is to orphan a child and expect it to teach itself how to read, write, feed itself, to know what the right thing to do in any given situation. It is to expect a rudderless oar to reach its intended destination with just a push out into the sea.
Innocent, ingenious minds, take them to the slaughter, and you’re left with what we have now. You’re left with the corruption and the violence, the poverty, and a lack of understanding of how people work; you’re left with priorities so out of order that it is preposterous to imagine a government even putting them forward as serious notions to be considered.
Sometimes, really, we tend to forget why we’re here. And if you take that into account, a bleeding child left without a parent or a guardian growing up to be even remotely self-sustainable is quite impressive.
It doesn’t boast the intelligence or the direction, the gravitas, the understanding, the lack of self-destructive forces, like most of its peers, sure, but it’s doing, sometimes, pretty alright.
It doesn’t have fellows in the West making decisions, lobbying for its causes, doesn’t have CEOs in Silicon Valley, or proper representation in Hollywood’s Orientalist narrative, but occasionally, your hear a Mark Ruffalo here, or a Donald Trump there say how the Sundarbans need to be protected or how Bangladesh makes the best damned shirts you’ve ever seen, or something along those lines.
See, when a national identity is slowly eviscerated, only those who inhabit that national identity can truly understand what it’s like to have that erased. And national identities, with time, change and adapt.
But when intelligence and thought are killed, the kind of death that entails is not apparent on the surface but, underneath, it kills ideas, progress, development. It kills the very path of not just a nation, but a path a collective group of people were supposed to take together.
Or maybe not. Maybe everything would’ve remained just the same.
But: Imagine a country, any country, then imagine that it has some of the greatest minds the world has to offer. Now imagine it moving forward through history, all the success stories, all the tragedies averted, all the minds enlightened, shining in all its glory. Imagine the progress, the Nobel prizes, the books published, the conversations had, the love unfurled, the potential unearthed.
Now imagine that is Bangladesh. Does that not break your heart?
SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.