Many things happen to us unexpectedly. Even when our lives seem seemingly calm and normal,…..
It was a remote place, where only the whistles of trains running amidst paddy fields could be heard. A school structure and a train station made of bricks stood alone among small huts scattered around.
One day a group of people came to his hut to inform his family of the impending arrival of a British tax collector. In agony, his father murmured of draught-burnt paddy fields and not a single penny left for tax. Money or no money, the farmers were bound to present a happy face to the tax collector.
Someone from the group said something about a loan he could offer.
The British tax collector came, riding and waving, four riflemen marching around his horse, and those amongst the villagers who claimed their connection with the Raj running in front of the horse, clearing the crowd and shouting, Long Live the Queen!
The British tax collector left. Those seen running in front of the Raj horse started building their houses with bricks. Bricks have since been a symbol of success in the village.
One day a group of young men stopped him on his way to school, asking, “Do you want a house built of bricks or you want to die in a hut forever. The Raj is stealing our money and building their palaces, leaving us hungry and deprived. We want Independence. Join our freedom struggle; invite your friends as well”.
He started working for them, or in their words, for the betterment of the motherland. One liberator chewing betel-leaf and another puffing a cigar both cheered with joy, Long Live Pakistan!
The scene remained, only the roles changed. Those who used to shout, Long Live the Queen, were cursed as collaborators. It was now the turn of the neo-liberators to build brick houses. They wanted what the villagers believed to be the symbol of success, the brick.
Out of the generosity of success, a liberator leader offered him a government job and the chance to move out of the hut. But he pleasantly declined. All he ever wanted was to be a teacher to the village kids.
The liberator wasn’t happy with such a state of content. An unknown sense of discontent made the liberator group fear such bliss. Perhaps, it was the guilt of knowing that the teacher remains an eyewitness of their hypocrisies.
So they cajoled, “Become our union board president”.
He again refused politely, “I love to teach, that’s all. I don’t want to be anything but a human being”.
They then ridiculed, “You are destined to die in a hut, then”.
The teacher’s quiet smile, content face and bright eyes again sent shivers down the spines of the “Long Live Pakistan” group.
All the while, there was a farmer who defied the fervor, “Only God is our liberator. Look at ‘Queen’ and ‘Pakistan’ groups; both have brick houses but what of us. We are still living in the same huts.” For his treacherous belief the farmer turned mullah, became influential and received government grant to build a Mosque of bricks. He could see how a mix of nationalism and religion would become the driving forces of politics one day.
Soon came a day when the teacher’s own students stood up,” Pakistani rulers are stealing our money and building bungalows in Rawalpindi, leaving us deprived and hungry. We want independence, freedom struggle has become unavoidable. We must uproot those ‘Long Live Pakistan’ collaborators. And we want your blessing”.
He blessed them but cautioned never to forget that the fight was about equality.
They Cheered, Joy Bangla.
He lost students and relatives during the war of liberation, killed by Pakistan military and their local collaborators. But the victory against colonial rulers consoled him and he survived to see an independent motherland, Bangladesh to be ruled by its own people.
His students came back. Some started building brick houses, for bricks had survived every war of liberation and were by now firmly rooted as a symbol of success. The entire village wanted a part of it. In this rush his students got divided into groups but one thing became clear. The farmer-turned-mullah grew in demand with every division. Because on its own no political group had any ideological or ethical foundation anymore.
But for the teacher, nothing changed. Government officials behaved exactly like their colonial counterparts, police remained as savage as ever, army held the power stick just like before, political yoyo continued, the stink of corruption once again seeped the corridors of courts, hospitals and schools, bank and stock-market looters were free to be at large, killings maintained their routine and being arrested, charged and produced in court was still counted as a blessing instead of being extra judicially killed.
The teacher no more has students. He reads newspaper every morning and watches television every evening. It’s interesting for him to read the articles of neo-narrative builders about the time and history of all that he had witnessed himself.
And in the very funny TV talk shows, collaborators from both parties gather to justify their political crimes and to lay blame on each other; both desperate to establish a fascist one-party system. These collaborators are like time-machine, teleporting the audience to the past every time someone raises the issue of their present crimes.
I never knew old age would be so interesting, he laughs as he watches the “political wrestling” to win elections and build bigger bungalows by stealing people’s money. It’s like being in a casino of collaborators.