This column is not about…

 Published in: The Daily Star on February 25, 2015
This column is not about…

MAHMUDUR Rahman Manna. It is not about he who invested over four decades in politics, and jumped off the cliff because of two conversations that turned him into a villain. This column is not about a man who, till date, is referred to as “bhai,” even in talk shows where he is being critically dissected and against whom thirty cases have already been filed while I pen this column. This column is not about a man who is a once-upon-a-time icon, a current day leader at the forefront of most of the talk show discussions, and one who has fallen overnight. Whether Manna indulged in evil ploys of power grabbing or not is not in discussion here. This column is about how often leaders fail the faith of the people.

We breathe life into myths. Sisyphus, a mere mortal, had tricked the gods and was condemned. As for this myth, one watches the effort of a body to raise a huge stone and push it up a slope a hundred times over. The face is tense, the cheek stays tight on the stone, the shoulder braces the mass, the foot wedges it, and arms are stretched to drive humanity to the peak… only to watch it rush down in a few moments toward the bottom from where he will have to push it up again. The myth of Sisyphus apparently is a sad commentary on futility.

In this land of ours, the mass happens to be Sisyphus and the big rock that the masses push to the peak is only an accumulation of the dreams of the citizens of the country. Every time a political leader disappoints and betrays the real cause of democracy, regular people in this country start their dismal journey downhill, and prepare to climb up again. For most people in this country, there’s no choice but to rise again. The next journey may mean eternal futility yet again, and there may not be any silver lining in the grey clouds that cover us. The people are almost caught up in a human hamster wheel, ceaselessly toiling at a pointless task, without pleasure, reward or promise of justice.

With Sisyphus’ rock peaking in Bangladesh, little Imon Hossain, a fifth grader in Azimpur, picks up a cocktail, mistakes it for a stone, targets a fruit, throws it and gets hurt. While the rock of democracy starts rolling again and Sisyphus is all set to begin his climb, Nur Hossain from Jinjira, a Chhatra League leader himself, gets arrested for being in possession of petrol bombs and cocktails that puts a fresh spike in the process. But good news is that even incumbency is not a consideration for the government. Good news, also, is that last weekend in Moulovibazar, AL and BNP representatives agreed to work together to eradicate vandalism. While, with this news, Sisyphus is assured and is taking baby steps upward, in Rajshahi, on the 22nd of February, Shibir activists are chased away by local residents for trying to light a pile of bricks with petrol. Sisyphus is even happier now watching three young men being beaten up by locals when trying to set a car on fire as an infamous miscreant, Abdul Wadud, dies in an encounter. But how does Sisyphus react when, in Faridpur, someone from the police guised in plain clothes strangles Asadul Howlader, a young man? Reports indicate that regular people staged demonstrations and actively stopped the police from entering the area. What does Sisyphus do when two days ago in Science Laboratory, Kajal, a twenty year old is apprehended by people while trying to snatch a gold chain from the neck of a lady, tried on the spot and sentenced to one year in prison? “Where is the judge?” Sisyphus wonders. Keraniganj surprises Sisyphus even more as he watches one single household breeding two different philosophies. In that house, Nur Hossain and Md.Kamal belonging to AL and BNP respectively, are arrested on the 20th of February for being in possession of four petrol bombs and five cocktails. Violence and greed are not loyal to blood, Sisyphus thinks.

Yet Sisyphus pushes the rock. In spite of all the political oscillations, Sisyphus in Bangladesh will not give up as he smells hope. Sisyphus’ hope does not stem from failed leaders who preach and practice separately; Sisyphus does not align himself with promises of upholding fairness and justice from ones who seek support from those who have gone astray.

Yet, in this land, Sisyphus has a reason to peak with his rock. He has reason to believe in the promise of the young. In a private television initiative to encourage young entrepreneurs in agro products, I had the privilege and honour of watching five extra ordinary start-up initiatives. The winning team pitched a low cost building material made with coconut shells and cement and called it a Cocoboard; others had offers of commercial production of mushroom pickles which is a boon to pregnant mothers, paper products made from rice, an organic pesticide, and a bag made from banana trees. The very next day, this English daily covered another report on the excellence of a young man, Ian Kazi Shakil, the chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Augmedix. He has set up an office at Panthapath where 45 young Bangladeshis are building a solution to allow patient documents to be entered into the US government-mandated electronic health records (EHRs) without manual data entry by doctors. All that needs to be done by the doctors is wear Google Glass and speak to patients while someone listens and documents the whole patient history at the back end. Ian plans to employ 7000 Bangladeshis in this project! Unlike commentaries on cocktails, petrol bombs and failed statesmen who dash the hopes of the common people that push Sisyphus’ rock on a regular basis, news of the agro entrepreneurs and Ian Kazi Shakil give us a reason to believe, yet once again.

In 1940, the Nobel laureate for literature Albert Camus wrote a brief essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. In that essay, Camus writes: “If the descent [i.e., Sisyphus’ returning to the bottom of the mountain to start pushing the rock upward all over again] is sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy,” and “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Sisyphus in Bangladesh is also a happy man. In moments when the rock drops to the bottom and Sisyphus sinks toward the lairs of the lesser gods, he remains superior to his fate. He becomes stronger than his rock and so does Bangladesh.