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The country that was, the nation that is

  • Published at 11:14 am December 18th, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:47 pm December 18th, 2017
The country that was, the nation that is

How does one weigh the value of a single life? It is indeed a difficult and tricky thing, perhaps somewhat immoral, to put on a scale the loss of one life against another, to pit one individual’s contributions and achievements against someone else’s.

Sometimes it’s easy. That is why, when a child is lost, we feel it the most. Their vulnerability stands out, and their bodies and souls brim with potential. And when a child is orphaned? Then, too, it is not necessarily the loss of the parents and guardians we feel, but how an entire child’s future has been stomped out under an uncaring boot, be it of circumstance or of individual cruelty.

What we feel most is the loss of what could have been.

Bright stars

Forty six years and nine months or so ago, Bangladesh, a foetus, was formed, out of necessity more than anything else, in the belly of a screaming mother. While there are issues manifold in the gendered roles of motherlands, for Bangladesh, there was, at least at the time, no other way to put it.

They had taken away the language our mothers had taught us. They had cut off our tongues to ensure it stayed that way.

And 46 years and four days ago, when they realised that this could not be done, they saw Bangladesh, a screaming new-born, brimming with potential, but vulnerable to the forces of circumstance and cruelty, and saw how it signified a loss they could not fathom. They looked at a nation of the future, one which had far surpassed their retrograde beliefs, and they had to bring it down to their own level.

And thus came the orphaning of Bangladesh. There is no wish to compare the lives of the countless people sacrificed at the altar of freedom, but the murder of Bangladesh’s intellectuals, the brightest amongst us, those who would push the country forward, remains one of the most brutal acts of war that has ever been carried out.

Again: There is no wish to minimise the impact and suffering of the countless killed, raped, obliterated, the torched and burned down, the children who could have been. But, if there ever was a concrete representation of the culling of a future, it is this.

It is the assassination of hope, the extermination of potential, the slaughter of a generation’s chances of  survival in a post-WWII world. There can be nothing so methodical as the thought processes involved in planning and executing an act so diabolical.

The murder of Bangladesh’s intellectuals, those who would push the country forward, remains one of the most brutal acts of war. If there ever was a concrete representation of the culling of a future, it is this

The weight of history

While one recognises the impact of history, and sees it as a single line of cause-and-effect from the beginning of time (the Big Bang or Original Sin?), for Bangladesh, and the way it is now, the fulcrum is December 14.

Those who complain about Bangladesh, its ugliness, its corruption, its wretched underbelly (and I am as guilty of this as anyone else), do not understand the burden of history on its back.

Every year this comes around, one is reminded, not by history, but by an imaginary future. Its impact is immeasurable in a way nothing else could be.

We see our politicians and our leaders, and we wonder who could have set the groundwork for a more organised, a less chaotic government.

We see our own people throwing garbage on the streets, fighting each other over scraps, raging over the meaningless borders between neighbourhoods, nations, and religions, and wonder who could have taught them otherwise.

We see our children coming home to talk about the ruins of Ancient Mesopotamia but ignorant of their own history, and we wonder who would have ensured that we had not given birth to a generation ignorant of their own past.

Knowing this, considering this, in many ways, this imaginary future haunts us. Though we have struggled and strived, though we have fought against the odds, though we have, somehow, somewhat, reached out from a quickening sand and grabbed hold of a lonesome branch, and looked forward into a newer and more different future, filled with newer and more different potential, every year when this comes around, it is so important to witness the alternate history etched on to the Bangladeshi skyline.

It is a gorgeous view of green and blue, against the blackening smog of a struggling nation. It should sadden us and enrage us, make our blood boil, so that we may make it reality.

In this, we will never succeed, but the closer we get each day, the more we pay homage to the country that could have been.

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.

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