Maskwaith Ahsan
Short Story

Dogmatic Seculars live in bubbles, mostly of living rooms, but within talk-shows and selective vigils as well. Secularism today is as romantic as the ‘left’ or the ‘subaltern’ of decades not long ago. Deep down but at par are the genetic desires of caste and class, at least in South Asia. So, for some, espousing secularism is the fastest way to jump one’s caste and class.

In Rabindranath Tagore’s fiction ‘Ghare-Baire’ (In House-Out) we see the secular patriot protagonist or antagonist Sandeep who comes up with the idea of ‘patriotism with pleasure’. We see him loot wealth and justify a ‘patriot’s’ need for wealth and health in order to serve the nation. Exalted by his sentimental effusions of patriotism, the local landlord’s wife Bimola falls in love with him, and eventually regrets her stupidity when his true ‘patriotic’ colors are exposed.

In today’s internet reality Tagore’s ‘Ghare-Baire’ has become ‘Inbox-Out’ where Sandeep is a young man from a small town who speaks his local dialect. To overcome this weakness as he calls it, he starts writing blogs on social media. Within a couple of years, or maybe a few months, he becomes a ‘patriotic’ influencer. Slowly, he acquires a following of other ‘patriots’ like him. To hang on to the cult, Sandeep organizes jury parties where he and his ilk judge other writers and decide if they are patriotic or secular enough or not. Those found guilty are then trolled out of the digital world. The doctrine of “either you are with us or against us” turns the cult members into dogmatic seculars.

Overnight Sandeep becomes a history researcher, the most profitable business in these times of populism. He publishes a book or two, gives autographs at book readings and stands proudly for selfies with his emotional resident and non-resident followers.

Non-resident South Asians love to love the country of their origin more than others. Earth appears magical when seen from the moon, just like the country they left for a better life carries the same magical nostalgia when seen from abroad. And residents love to dream about becoming someone important; in the world of ‘Inbox-Out’ this means becoming either an influencer or being in their association.

A non-resident businessman’s wife, Bimola is infatuated with Sandeep. Wandering the garden of Facebook and its Inbox, he quotes from Tagore and Marquez. She falls for his selective secularism. On the contrary Bimola’s husband when back from hard work takes night’s repose. Life abroad is not easy if he is to give Bimola a queen’s life.

One day Sandeep sends her a sad emoji saying, “I can’t continue my research as I have run out of money. Unless someone is as rich as Tagore, writing is a luxury. I quit.” And he deactivates his Facebook ID.

Bimola calls him over and again on Whatsapp but fails to connect with him. She calls up her elder sister’s husband, a senior bureaucrat, pleading, “Do something for this genius writer ‘Sandeep’. He has written a book on history. Can’t you enlist his work into the government’s buying-list of books?”

“Let me try Bimola, but why are you so concerned? Are you in love with him?” he asks.

Bimola shrugs off the query by saying that patriotism is her love. In the meantime she transfers thousands of dollars of her husband’s money to Sandeep’s account. The ‘patriot’ reactivates his Facebook ID and sends her a love emoji.

A few weeks later, Bimola’s friend, a career woman back home, tells her that Sandeep the famous writer has proposed to her, and sends Bimola the screenshot of Sandeep’s ‘patriotic proposal’.

Maskwaith Ahsan. Maskwaith Ahsan is an international journalist, educator and the author of over 14 books. His columns appear in several Bengali newspapers, magazines and websites across the globe. He also hosts his web TV show E-SouthAsia. With socio-political satire...

Releted Posts