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Soul searching in the time of Corona - lockdown

Published : Saturday, 28 March, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 440

Shahriar Feroze

Shahriar Feroze

A typical middleclass Dhaka dweller, as I, have a short list of urban demands.  A shiny bright day, empty streets, birds chirping out in the open, clean air, no traffic jam and a tranquil silence. And it's all here, though it has come at a terrible cost.

For a newspaper journo it is the perfect time for soul - searching, reflecting back to the losses and gains, pains and pleasures of life. For my life had been completely enveloped with whatever has been happening around the country and the globe for well over a decade. Writing, editing and approving opinion pieces coupled with pondering over editorial topics have noticeably taken its mental toll on me. A break from the demanding regular routine seemed essential to check out what has been happening inside.

Perched lazily on my grand dad's wooden couch while sipping green tea with lemon, I begin reflecting on life. Suddenly my feelings become numb in less than a minute, I keep gazing towards the reducing skyline of the city. Dhaka has lost much of its expanded skyline because of rampant and reckless construction works. Open playgrounds have become a rare sight. I begin to desperately miss the expanded skyline and the smell of grass. Unless out in the open fields, the city no longer allows to gush out that overpowering raw smell before the rains set in.

I begin to connect the dots between me and my Dhaka. My city has become parched, insensitive and robotic as this writer. Sandwiched between two massive concrete beasts, our three storied old redbrick house facing the road only echoes the agony of a dead city. Elephant road, otherwise my neighbourhood has become spread with lifeless concrete apartment blocks. Greenery has taken shelter in miniature forms in close by balconies. Out of the blue, I discover the robot in me trapped in a stereotype world.

I feel trapped in a cage, I feel like a prisoner in my own city. And as the empty road keep mocking, a crow keeps hovering over. Cawing irritatingly, it flies in my direction and sits on top of my balcony railing - completely denying my presence - in the likes of an arrogant monarch looking down upon his regular crowds. Rather defiantly, he releases his payload on my balcony floor, stops cawing and keeps staring at me.

He flies out, triggering a passion to pore over Edgar Allen Poe's "Raven" and I rush back to my bedroom. Locating the volume of his collected works, I pull it out of the shelf, spot the page from the index list and start to recite it loud.

The following passage reminded of the crow in the balcony -
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered-not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before-
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Lost in contemplation, I looked at my shelf absent-mindedly, for most of the books have become camouflaged with a thick layer of dust for years. It is the same with all my scattered bookshelves, and yet I call myself an 'avid reader'. Especially the top row, stashed with my dusty decades-old stamp albums posing a scornful look like 'betrayed lovers'.  And why shouldn't they, since I can't remember when was the last time to have opened one of them.
They have been neglected enough, now it is time for me to apologise and take care of them. Many of my books are attached to fond memories. The furthest book on the left of the second row is Khushwant Singh's "Malicious Gossip" is linked to an old flame and the furthest book on the right "Autobiography of an unknown Indian" was a birthday gift from mom. Famed journalist and War Correspondent William Shirer's "Rise and fall of the Third Reich" paperback edition in the bottom row belonged to my Grandfather.

He bought the book during an official visit to England in the late sixties. In the middle of the same row stands another novel, "Carpetbaggers" by Harold Robins, unsurprisingly my dad's favourite American author. The paperback edition of Tolstoy's "War and Peace" rang a bell of my first visit to London in the July of 1995. Jules Verne's "Around the world in eighty days" only echoed of my uncompromising adventurous mind. The book was a gift from grandma in recognition to my primary school scholarship, attained way back in 1988.

Fortunately enough, that inestimable lady is still alive , lives on the first floor and keeps dreaming to see her grandson married to some 'Princess of a faraway land '. Her Sakhawat Memorial Govt. Girl's High School matriculation certificate issued by the Calcutta University in 1936 implies, she is a year and half older to the founding father of Bangladesh.
However, I decided to clean my books with a piece of old rug, but couldn't help gazing on the sporting trophies placed on top of the small shelf next by. It reminded of both friends and bitter sporting rivals.   

I was manifestly overwhelmed with nostalgia.
Needs be mentioned, the term lockdown has little meaning for a journalist holding an official press ID, and especially for an in-charge of an editorial section of an English daily newspaper, with or without being branded esteemed.

 I will have to reach office in a couple of hours. But before I leave, I have a message to deliver. Please stir up your nostalgia in the time of lockdown, revisit your past and try to trace the lessons you have failed to learn. The time is worth it.

Nostalgia not only counteracts loneliness, boredom and anxiety - it makes you more generous and tolerant. It tells you who you were and to whom you have become. The worldwide Corona-lockdown this year is likely to shape the future of many, provided how best or worse you make the use of it.

Being nostalgic occasionally, in my case has improved my mood, increased my social connectedness while providing an existential meaning. However, the Corona- lockdown in Dhaka this year taught a priceless lesson to this writer - try to find a meaning to your existence and how are you impacting the lives of others.

It brought back fond memories of those almost forgotten faces and how those individuals had shaped the making of me, for who I am today. The lockdown is also removing the unkind and unresponsive side of me.  

It is indeed strange, how we hold in the pieces of the past in our subconscious mind as we keep waiting for an uncertain future.

The writer is assistant editor, News & Editorial, The Daily Observer

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