Fear: The new normal in town

 Published in: The Daily Star on February 17, 2015
Fear: The new normal in town

ON the 2nd of February 2015, India’s Border Security Forces killed Nazrul, a farmer who was sowing paddy in his own area along the Ochintopur border of Birampur upazila. Ironically, “Ochintonpur” means an area of the incredible and “Birampur” means the land of the tireless. Nazrul, a resident of that area took an Indian bullet for no fault of his own. The same incident was reported a week back when Amin and Khoijul were shot in Kashipur village in North 24 Parganas, while returning to Bangladesh with their cattle. As a nation, we grieve every time Phelani, Nazrul, Amin or Khoijul are killed by the ‘others’, but what do we do when we kill our own with 300 taka worth of petrol bomb and earn, perhaps, not even 2000 Taka in exchange?

Last week, a unit of a private television channel was covering the news of the burn unit victims. Apparently, a little boy was asked to sit up and the actor, who was playing the role of a journalist, was instructed by the director to apply glycerin to her eyes and interview the minor. The snapshot was captured and covered by the English daily itself.

This was followed by another incident two days ago when a columnist watched a few trucks pass by, filled with young men busy spreading their views on violence and terror. The message seemed credible and strong. But the next few trucks were hard for the eyes to reconcile with. These trucks were laden with corpses and the injured – plastered bodies and people with blood trickling down their faces. For a few minutes, like a fool, I thought that these people were being rescued from a scene of attack and needed immediate attention. A few split seconds later, reality dawned and I understood that it was all part of the stage show. A group of young “peace loving” young men were re-enacting reality in hopes of having an impact on people and garnering support. My shock was in reconciling with the fact that these young men and women had chosen tragedies to be acted out in public, in the form of a moving theatre.

A news item a day later clarified the situation and I am sure that many, like the aforementioned columnist, found it tougher to forgive the “play.” A parliamentarian from Chittagong had led the procession with fifty followers and had landed in front of the office of the BNP leader with a road show showcasing massacre. I commend the lawmaker for his unique sense of service, which lies way, way beyond his own constituency. This mixture of the ‘real’ (the physical location of the opposition leader at her office) and the ‘unreal’ (the ‘symbolic’ protest) is usually a dramatic practice and is best performed by professional stage actors. The unique initiative of the lawmaker to have attempted such theatrics was possibly to impress friends and masters of his own league without realising that efforts like this causes more harm than good to the image of the incumbent in power.

Forty-eight hours ago, I received a call: “Don’t move from where you are. A bomb was just hurled at a bus in the circle of Gulshan 2.” I was eight kilometers away from the spot and was scheduled to go to a place nearby the following hour. My colleague, who overheard the conversation remarked in zest: “This is natural. Please don’t panic.” Yet when the traffic lights stopped us, our heart missed a beat. What if it’s our turn to burn now?

There are too many news items to read, too many calls to take, too many visuals to watch, too many analyses to follow and too much advice to listen to. News being generated in the burn units is plenty; the reports on cocktail bombs are filling many columns and the media, in spite of not fully covering the massacre, is still managing to cover incidents of trucks and buses being burnt at random. Surprisingly, in the mean time, the mayoral election for the city of Dhaka, North and South has been announced.

At a time like this, Bangladesh needs magic realism to barely survive.

One important message that needs to be reckoned is that irrespective of any new national agenda, election or initiative, the regular people in Bangladesh just want to work, live and have four square meals every day. What is true is that every time we hear of a bomb going off, we change our routes and re-adjust our appointments… until we ourselves get hurt.

Fear is the new normal for people in this land. Reportage on burnt victims is killing our appetite and faith. Petrol bombs are burning our men and scarring our economy. No steroids will be able to save this nation later on, even if the aspirants for power themselves manufacture and apply lifesavers on the national wounds.

Almost half a century back, Gabriel Garcia Marquez waved his wand of magic and wove a reality that Colombians badly needed. While Colombians needed to forget their mundane miseries, they also needed a storyteller to soothe their hurt and frustration. In the story, the protagonist, Buendía, finds his utopic city of mirrors and creates his very own hamlet “Macondo,” where magic carpets fly, and ghosts haunt villagers. But in the end, Buendía realises that the city would be wiped out by wind and would be exiled from the memory forever as races like his own “did not have a second opportunity on earth.” Marquez sparingly uses two colours in the novel, yellow and gold (the former stands for wealth and the latter for death.) Towards the end, he leaves us with a realisation and a warning. No illusion can last forever and no magic wand can ever wish-wash our hurt away.

Steeped in danger, cursed by theatrics and burnt in intolerance, this nation today needs nothing short of miracles, magic and prayers in order to not be stifled by ploys of evil and rhetoric.