• Tuesday, Jul 05, 2022
  • Last Update : 04:24 pm

OP-ED: The family goes back to basics

  • Published at 03:37 am July 8th, 2021
Green fields
Back to the village DHAKA TRIBUNE

Life requires renewal in these dark times

This is rather personal. With the coronavirus pandemic ravaging lives around the world, the sense grows in many of us, indeed in millions of us, that life ought to go back to basics. And that is the consequence of the unreality we observe day after day on television screens, with thousands of our fellow citizens here in Bangladesh making the long journey back home to their village homesteads. There is the lockdown; there is the paramount need to stay home. There is an absolute necessity of keeping the virus at bay.

All of this is true. But when you hear the lament of a rickshaw-puller, waiting in the monsoon rains for people he wishes to serve through his ancient three-wheeler and so earn his daily bread, when you speak to a factory worker who does not have a job any longer, it is images of an old, lost world, which well up in our disparate visions. 

Out on the streets and the highways and on the ferries operating across our riotous rivers, it is a procession of men and women making their way back to the homes they left long ago in search of happiness in urban squalor. 

It is the sad sight of little children, with tired, swollen feet, walking with their parents and quite confounded why they must walk, that leads you to the question: Shouldn’t the authorities have not done the wiser thing of letting all these people return to their rural circumstances on public transport before ordering a sudden ban on vehicular movement throughout the country?  

We expect all these hapless citizens to stay home, in our towns and cities, to beat back the virus. We do not remind ourselves that in these towns and cities these men and women, with no jobs and therefore no income and no food on the table and yet burdened by the responsibility of clearing their monthly rents for accommodation, cannot and ought not to be expected to give themselves over to the pandemic as its prisoners.

And so they walk home, in the hope that someone’s personal car or a rickshaw van will be spotted at some point and they will at a bend in the road find kind souls to help them approach the familiar humble home, with its old, weather-beaten tin roof or the spread of rain-dashed hay giving it the name of a shelter. 

Still, it is home. And home is where my siblings, their spouses, and I have been focused on, in the grim knowledge that life will never be the same again. No, it is not Edward Grey’s “lights are going out … they will not be lit again in our lifetime” moment that works in me today. 

But, yes, there is in me, in my siblings, and among our wider clan, the feeling that a return to basics, to the roots of familial existence, is today an imperative. My brother has taken measures to inaugurate a new phase in the family economy through going for tree plantation in our little village, on a plot that has been ours for generations. A row of mahogany saplings now dots the field where over the years we have had a fitful growth of rice or jute. These mahogany saplings will grow into remarkable trees over a period of a few years, a reassurance that the family can always fall back on them in times of crises.

But the moments of crises are indeed upon us today, collectively speaking. Middle class families like ours are today in enormous need of economic ingenuity, which is why thoughts of developing patches of vegetables both in the home courtyard and beside and beyond the pond where we played and splashed water on one another in childhood take root in the mind. Over the years, we have had tomatoes and some other vegetables grow in the fields. 

At home, we have had aubergines and green chilli and okra and gourds induce happiness in us all. In these pandemic times, we will simply have to expand the area for and volume of these delectable elements of nature for family consumption. A few weeks ago, my brother, sister, and sister-in-law planted some fruit saplings in the courtyard of the village home, a happy addition to the coconut and mango trees and date palms that are there, a tribute to our grandparents’ contribution, decades ago, to the health and economic well-being of the family. 

Life will not be the same. In these days of ominous uncertainty, life simply requires remoulding and recasting. Perhaps, in addition to those mahogany and fruit trees and vegetable patches, we will mull the beginnings of a family farm, with milch cows and goats and chickens and ducks to supplement not just family income but family health as well. 

The pond is well-stocked with fish, but digging a new, smaller pond nearby, with family fisheries underpinning the project, will be a sure way of turning our village home into a permanent family base. We have all worked, without respite, for a living for decades on end. It is time to be on our own. The pandemic has been deeply unsettling, but it also gives the family the opportunity to redefine itself.

And that redefinition might as well extend to a region beyond the immediate family. My thoughts are focused on the beginnings of a small cooperative system that will provide a measure of economic security to our neighbours in the village. Family economy must branch out into community economy, which is where we siblings have directed our thoughts. We have a large brood of uncles and aunts and cousins and nephews and nieces whose ideas will be drawn upon as we move to reshape life by this “back to basics” endeavour. 

The pandemic makes us reboot our options in life. As the monsoon rains pelt the tin roof over our heads in our hamlet, I dare to envision a future where a rural library, its shelves stocked with books from me and others, enlightens the village young on the wider universe beyond the pastoral world we share.

Going back home matters, for life requires renewal in these dark times. And life is in the ancestral homestead where we must forge a new family economy.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.

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