Nayantara, by now you would’ve been two months old. Imagine that – TWO WHOLE MONTHS OLD. You would’ve been wiggling your tiny fingers, your tiny toes. You would’ve looked around in wonder at your parents struggling to keep up with you. You would’ve pecked your mother’s cheek or pulled your father’s hair.
For the first time in my life, I notice nayantara flowers wherever I go. They are so quiet and of the little I got to see you, you were anything but quiet. You pushed your tiny, immature lungs to squeak out a cry, you wiggled your way out of the covered oxygen mask because you just couldn’t wait to see the world. The flowers, in contrast, are content where they are. They bloom under the sun and rain, they sway in the breeze, they burst out into a million colors.
It isn’t fair that parents have to be so strong. It hurts so much. We aren’t born this strong and we try to hide our weakness by doing stupid things, by pretending to be someone we’re not. I have never felt so emotional, so sentimental, so dazed, so terrible in my entire life. I have never felt so little of myself. Sometimes I feel when you left, you probably took a giant part of me with you and all I’m left with is a terribly sad, bitter, vulnerable, completely-out-of-her-mind, angry, emotional me. I try very hard to recover, to not remember, to distract myself from the excruciating pain I feel throbbing between my lungs. I fail every time.
Parents aren’t so strong. They can be courageous for their children, but what happens to them when the children are up in heaven? What are parents left with then?
In life, when there is a crisis, there are two things we usually do. We quietly sit and wait for the tornado to pass over our heads, or we blame it for ruining our lives. I’ve grown up in a place where we were taught to “fight” the tornado. And all my life, I’ve believed my actions have been just that – a struggle, a battle, one victory at a time. When I was in school, everyone thought I was a meek, unfashionable person. As elitist as it may sound, everyone in my class seemed to have better cars, better houses and better summer vacations than I could possibly imagine. I fought through that, became academically comfortable – if not “elite” – and eventually found my way into going where my heart wandered. I learned to dance, sing, draw, write, manage and lead. Through university, I learnt to balance, rebel, negotiate, deliver and live.
I fought my way through everything.
I was always under the impression that to be happy, you need to do what you love the most. You need not compromise, rather you pursue your heart’s desires and one day, you will be find yourself standing on the 19th floor of a skyscraper and pat yourself on the back for your success. I have always chosen career over family, dreams over desires, ambition over love, and immortality over simplicity. I lived by the day because making plans never worked out for me. I learnt to forgive, to be politically correct, to see the bigger picture. And “the self” is extremely minuscule in the presence of fate.
However, it wasn’t until recently I realized all that I had thought and stood on meant nothing. Inside me, I carried a life I couldn’t value in the chaos of career, ambition, my life. I spent nights weeping and blaming my misfortune, I spent days wallowing within myself and I was a complete mess. I am not a cruel person, or at least, I believe I am not, yet during those times, all I can remember is how cruel the world was to me – or in fact, how cruel I was to myself, how I misunderstood simplicity. We get tied up in the complications of life, of how much we love our jobs, of all the magnificent plans we’ve made, of all the adventures we claimed that we often forget the real adventure, the real magnificence was in front of our eyes. We were merely blind.
I put my entire life to a halt and I blamed fate for it. I thought I could leave my baby to pursue what I was “destined” to. I used to get angry at the smallest details, at imperfections, at the success of my contemporaries. I used to mark days on the calendar and wait for the “worst” to pass. And I thought all my anguish came from the fact that my plan had deviated and I had to fight from the scratch to return to it.
Fate however, decided to give me exactly what I thought I wanted. It made things “simple”. It took away the “deviation” and suddenly, all I am left with is a plan with no purpose. When my baby was dying, I cried and begged for forgiveness. I didn’t want her to suffer, I was ready to suffer for her. Life, as she reminded me, was more than a degree, an nice couch, a loyal following, a few pieces of writing and loving your job. It was about rediscovering, happily compromising plans along the way. It was about people whom you loved. It was about the little moments when you turn in your sleep and hear the love of your life snoring next to you, or the comfort of knowing when you come home after fighting the world, a gentle hug and kiss are waiting – just for you.
I realized, for the first time in my life, that I wasn’t angry because my plans had deviated. I was terrified of losing what really mattered to me deep inside my heart. It was the beauty of being together against all odds, of knowing when your home isn’t empty, that you and your love can watch your child grow up together. I wasn’t afraid of my unplanned career, I was afraid that my heart would be separate across two continents and I couldn’t bear to have it.
I am heartbroken. I am angry at myself. I feel foolish.
And I am so relieved. I am relieved because for the first time in my life, I don’t feel what I supposed to feel – I feel what I genuinely feel. For the first time in my life, I believe there is no battle to be won. There is a third way to face a crisis. It was to embrace it and live life, remembering it.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
স্কুলের খাতায় তোমায় না দেওয়া চিঠি
বুকপকেটে ভালবাসার আহ্বান,
আমার ছেড়া স্যান্ডেলে জমে থাকা
তুমিহীন পথ হাটার ধূলো, অম্লান।
আমায় তুমি দেখনি কোনদিন
জানোনা জন্ম কবে,
ভাল লাগে বিটলস, ওয়ারফেজ
তোমার জন্য না গাওয়া গান, রবে।
জানি তোমার চুল কেমন কালো
মেখেছি তোমার প্রিয় রং,
চায়ের সাথে এক চামচ চিনি
ভাল লাগে না কোন ঢং।
তুমি দেখেও দেখনি আমায়
তোমার টিএসসির মোড় বড্ড বড়
এত ভালবাসার ভীড়ে
আমার প্রেম ভয়ে, জড়সড়।
হয়তো চিনবে কোনদিন এভাবে
পাশে তোমার সাজানো ঘর,
আমি বেখাপ্পা হৃদয় তখনো
তোমার কল্পনায় কাতর, অদ্ভূত ঝড়।
You were tiny. Your round dark eyes were like two drops of coffee on milk, your hair was a forgotten forest of night, and you were perfect. I couldn’t believe my eyes, my thoughts. How could I own something like you? How could you be mine?
You made me promise I would never let you go. I would never let you grow old. My very existence was about protecting you. When you were riding unicorns or stealing heart, I would guard your castle of dreams, shield you from the horrors of reality. I lay my life to do it.
In return, you kept me alive.
When I was crying myself to sleep, you would crawl inside me and whisper stories from the strangest lands. When I was tired, you would show how to fly. In pain, you were joy. In age, you were youth. You became my shelter, my place to hide – and all I had to do was ensure no one could steal you away from me.
I’m sorry I let somebody do that. I can still feel little parts of you. Your round dark eyes are staring back at me, almost in disbelief. I’m sorry I let you down. I am trying to hold on, I am trying to remember. You’re the very core of my being, and I am lost without you. You’re the only one who can save me from the monotony, from being somebody else. Let me protect you, one last time. I’m not ready to lose you, not just yet.
Only a week back, as I settled myself on a plane en route to London, the relatively aged woman next to me tapped my shoulder and said, “Excuse me, if no one sitting on those seats, can you please move?” On first instance, I thought she wanted me to exchange seats with someone she knew, but staring at the rather forlorn looking seats at the other end of the aircraft that she pointed at, I figured there was no real reason behind her asking me to move unless she badly wanted to put her feet up and sleep tight. Give it thirty seconds and my brown face, Bangladeshi passport and religious idealism seemed to give a broader and clearer picture. Sadly though (for her), someone did end up taking those seats and with perfectly good intentions, I smiled at her and said, “I guess you’re stuck with me.” In response, her expression was that of a rabbit who was just spotted a fox and doesn’t know where to hide.
Interestingly, and this is the part where my belief in karma got reinstated for the umpteenth time, halfway through the flight, I was the one running from one end of the aircraft to the other, looking for an air hostess who would provide hot water for her flu-struck son. A profuse note of thanks immediately followed and perhaps, a tiny shred of faith into the Muslim mankind reestablished.
It’s been ten years since 9/11 and it’s difficult to measure how tangibly the world has learnt on interfaith tolerance. The Muslim majority world has seen its fair share of wars, apologies, more wars and more apologies – but as we stand on the crossroads of an epitome resonating Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village, we ask ourselves – “Have we really taken any lessons home?”
Interfaith dialogue, next to terrorism and political leadership has been one of the most conversational topics across international media over the past decade. Numerous talk shows, documentaries, special news reports and so on have been released – many of which, supposedly trying to strike a fine balance between fundamentalism and “safe livelihoods”. I remember on a weekend night in Toronto a couple of months back, I caught a bunch of serious looking people packed with credentials discussing on late night CBC: “What is the moderate Muslim?” There seemed to be all kinds of discourse and deconstructions on screen, and like any talk show, bottomed down to a point of zero compromise and intolerance of philosophies. Assuming that is a subtler, more acceptable form of intolerance, we move on.
Question is, must we move on? Should we take a second glance, form a more informed opinion or hide under the liberty of indifference because this just isn’t my problem?
No no, I haven’t abandoned you – dear 18. You’re just as precious, as integral a part of me as ever. I’ve recently created a blog where I can compile all my work on human rights, development and education, and keep them organized.
I’ve been writing songs and children’s stories lately. If things work out, one of the children’s stories will be published for next year’s Ekushey Boi Mela (book festival).
I have always been deeply moved by the initiatives and strength of my generation and those that follow. The fact that they are conscious enough to begin a movement, to reflect upon their choices and make sacrifices – however small it may seem – is amazing and this, like every other bit of good work, is another reflection where love and happiness breaks all boundaries to create a better world.