“So we beat on…”

 Published in: The Daily Star on May 23, 2018
“So we beat on…”


I spent eight hours on the road, trying to go to and return from Banglabazar in Gazipur. A few months back, Bashir, our ever-smart driver, took 40 minutes to reach Banglabazar. Yesterday he took 3.5 hours to reach the place, and another four hours to return. For both the trips, he deserves to be placed in the Guinness book of records.

However, after I reached our factory, while I apologetically greeted my customer at the door, quite unexpectedly, he stood up with a smile and said: “In spite of the time that it took us to get here, we are here now and there’s nothing like an in-factory experience.” In response, when I again stressed the time issue and offered to do a real-time virtual tour next time, he again looked at me and said, “But no! We like being here!” Thus, Hope returned to base and I smiled in absolute ease.

There are about a thousand reasons why we don’t give up Hope in our part of the land. There are about a thousand other reasons for despair. But at the end, it’s just smarter to be an optimist. So even when I am behind a hundred trucks on the Gazipur Chourasta, and while I spend time reading the ridiculous messages on the trucks and buses like, “Ami choto, amakey marbenna” (I am small, so please don’t hit me), all hanging above the number plates, I laugh and see the humour in our transport logistics. You see, at the end, we all choose to see what we opt to see. And at the end, most of us opt for hope.

The past couple of days have been insane. It’s been difficult to keep pace with what’s happening. After all, how many newspapers can one read? How many online subscriptions can one skim through? How many channels can one surf? After all, the base message has been the same. It’s a world filled with “bully pulpits.”

While the US and China are weighing the costs of a looming trade war, the US Treasury Secretary is out there announcing the suspension of tariffs on USD 150 billion imports from China, yet adding that they can be imposed at anytime. While the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatens Iran to halt all uranium enrichment and its ballistic missile programme, Iran has not lost any time rejecting the same. And while the “will they” or “will they not” bets continue about the Singapore meet between Trump and Kim Jong-un, little Layla Ghandour, the eight-month-old green-eyed girl has died choking from a cloud of tear gas in Gaza. For Hamas, she has immediately become the symbol of revolution, for the other side she was a child with a heart condition who needn’t have been exposed to the hazards of a protest…

While the US embassy shifted to Jerusalem instead of Trump using it for leverage to advance the peace process, balanced critics like Thomas Friedman called it a “diplomatic pornography” relating to “two bald men fighting over a comb.”

Meantime, Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president used access to food and money as a weapon in Sunday’s election and “won” it. In a country where only 10 out of every 100 can afford to eat, and where a minimum-wage worker buys just three bags of rice with the salary, state television cameras had cheering voters, eager to be seen by the government officials in order to ensure their next box of meal. In the land of the hungry, votes don’t count and truth doesn’t matter.

Talk about the vigilante murders over cows in India. The latest victim, Siraj Khan, a 45-year-old tailor, died from an attack in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh state last Friday. Where has the vision of Gandhi from 1942 urging Banaras Hindu University to collaborate with Aligarh Muslim University vanished? Why has the 2014 election in India changed the basic tenets of co-existence?

I almost sound like an onscreen news presenter without visuals. But that’s exactly what we have been reduced to. We watch news, stomach it with distaste, and dwell on the atrocious universal uncertainty of peace.

But there are moments when the screen also provides us with comic relief. The latest came from the Royally Unexpected Wedding, with the most entertaining bit coming from Most Rev. Curry from the US breaking the stiff audience steeped in protocol. But to have Curry rambling about how the “controlled harnessed fire” made his plane fly and how he didn’t have to walk across the Atlantic Ocean (like Jesus did) to get there, and his further a references to Fire making it possible for us to text and tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and “socially be dysfunctional with each other” evoked a new sense of perverse freedom in many of us to say whatever, wherever.

Wow. One can actually say whatever one wishes to say if only one has the authority. One can actually threaten if one holds an importance office or a title. One can actually threaten to annihilate an entire nation if one has the power. The Voice of Many doesn’t matter anymore. The “many” is utterly powerless while One is Supreme. So, in case you have the chance to bully, seize the moment, ignite wars, poverty, harassment and in the process, use it as a link to the welfare of the people.

Just like Trump. And as for free speech, just follow Curry and pick an element like Fire and link it to the energy of love or whatever and justify your content.

With so many international smoke screens popping up as our daily reality checks, where is Hope in it for all of us? Shall we look upon Hope as bane rather than boon like the Greeks did? Shall we follow Euripides and call it a curse on humanity? Shall we see it as a Byronian “hollow-cheeked harlot”?

Or like Kierkegaard, shall we too consider Hope to be a charming maid that slips through one’s fingers? In reality, in spite of a world which was probably created by God in one of his dyspeptic moods on one of his off days, where we continue to suffer from dire consequences of his creation and end up suffering from pains of an occasional eight-hour travel time in a day, perhaps it still makes sense to hang on to Hope. After all…in the range and scale of insanity that goes around our globe, it’s perhaps wise to look for the “green light” within our own borders with the hope that “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby).

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