I still believe in man in spite of man

 Published in: The Daily Star on July 13, 2016

Are the waiters ok?”

I asked my daughter from miles away. She would have been there had she not left town for her vacation. There’s a common joke that runs in the family about our youngest daughter being a Holey addict. If I were to say that she visits Holey at least twice a week, I would not be mistaken. In fact, it could even be more. The latest pastries that they had introduced are irresistible. The bread, the weekend breakfast and brunches, the smile of the chef across the counter and obvious, predictable complimentary one dish coming our way . . . all have now joined the “were” club. This is how man’s brutality to man changes tenses and kicks back the future to the darkest, irreversible pothole of yesterday.

Sleepless for over 60 hours, I write this column with an appeal of not to be judged. There are questions and curiosities that irk my mind. Watching the whole episode from thousands of miles away has its disadvantages. Distance impacts reaction. One becomes desperate to search for more news. Sprawled all across the floor, the pieces of the puzzles become harder to put together and one despairs far quickly than expected. My only access was through the online streaming of the local channels, popping up in the mini windows in cell phones, where the tickers down below were getting increasingly more and more difficult to read, just because there were at least three scrolls crowding almost every other news channel that evening. Let us remember that at the time of any crisis, the hands of a minute clock runs at its slowest. It becomes difficult to digest patience or strategy. The helplessness of watching anything on a mini screen often adds to the frustration. The police and RAB seemed slow with their reaction. Every time the cameras panned, they seemed to be talking amongst themselves. From a distance, one wondered if they could have been a little faster than they were that day.

One wondered why they had captured Shaon, the Holey Bakery staffer from the road, where he had no clothes on him and seemed irrational. One wondered if they could have been a little more careful and not shown the picture of the assistant pizza chef as one of the assailants the very next day. But of course one wondered about mostly everything one did not have control over. How would we know what it takes to conduct an operation or how counter offensives were planned to address a fluid situation? In reality, we know nothing except that 20 lives have been lost, many of them directly known to us or connected to us in some form or the other. But of course, we know nothing except what we are being told by the media and the authorities, in bouts of occasional gestures of information sharing sessions. Somehow July 1 brought back haunting memories of 1971 right back to many of our mindscapes. The uncertainty of terrorising boots and bayonets smashing our doors, the tragedies of watching our own being brushfired in a bush, the horrifying sound of our mothers being raped in the next room . . . all were part of a kaleidoscope effect from the past, being streamed to many of us watching the episode online. Could it have gotten worse on July 1? No.

Young kids, whom we may have watched growing up in front of our own eyes, having strayed from the usual family practices is not an unusual thing. There is a time when parents are bound to be strangers to their kids; there is a time when almost every kid stays confined in their own rooms, hooked to cell phones and computers and rarely do we ever know what’s being plotted in their tiny minds. Even as adults, we often watch our peers going through radical transformations that we cannot explain. Changes happen. People do evolve in different directions. But to spot the changes and to make a mental note is something we often forget to do. All across the US, one used to hear: “If you see something, say something”, right after 9/11 happened. Similarly, the culture of reporting and sharing has to begin.

At this point, I feel guilty of not tracking a kid one of my daughters used to go to school with. I vividly remember the day when she came home distraught and shared that her friend seemed different. A brilliant boy in class, apparently, he had started speaking the language of a newly radicalised young Muslim. I regret not having ever shared this with anyone, thinking it was no business of mine to probe into the life of someone else’s child. That is what happens every time we turn the other way and decide to be indifferent. This is how we are losing the proud flag of secularism at our end. This is how this year Brussels Airport was struck in March, how Istanbul got hit in June, how we were blown over on July 1, and that is how three Saudi cities got rocked in less than 24 hours. That is how we are losing our sons and daughters to the insanity of fanaticism.

Time to tell the truth: I was only 18 when I was being invited to a “social” dawaat to listen to religion being discussed in a “homely” circle in Azimpur. It took me five sessions to realise that I was their next victim to be indoctrinated. I ran away from that last session in that dingy flat in Azimpur, never to return. I narrated the whole experience to my mother, who herself wore sleeveless blouses all her life, recited the Quran every morning and chanted Ayatul Qursi every night, following it up with her claps, in a virtual cum spiritual effort to secure the four corners of the house. Today, I do the same, only with a difference. I cover myself with an anchal of my sari every time I am out in the public, just because I don’t feel secure anymore. Many of my friends have taken to purdah because it’s simply safer to go to the bazaar and shopping malls and not be grilled by the male gaze. Many have even opted to do this just to save the salon bills and hassles of drying their hair. Many of my friends’ children have gone to Malaysia, just because we did not want the oceans to distance us, thinking that Malaysia was just one air-hop away, not realising that the choice to want children to go to specific places did not guarantee the apt practice of religion. It is conscience that guides faith; it’s frankness and transparency that builds character and it’s certainly familial kindnesses from the community that nurtures a child.

For the last few days, I have been answering frantic calls from buyers all across the globe, asking me whether all’s ‘ok’ at our end. Instead of violently defending our situation, it was for the first time in the 20 years I have been in business, that I blurted out the truth: “No. It is best to revisit your travel plans.” Unless we recover from this inner helplessness, we have no right to assure others. But then, let us also remind ourselves that while we mourn the death of all the foreigners, and Faraaz, Abinta, Isharat, let us also not lose hope in our resources and strength. After all, we do “believe in man, in spite of man”, as the Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel once wrote.

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