Dwellers near waters are helpless
If you have read Manik Bandopadhyay's 'Padma Nadir Majhi', I presume, you have apprehended how harsh a river can be. How it destroys a dream within a few seconds is still a dangerous experience you have probably gone through reading a book. The land, however, we live in is going to be lost in the river in a few minutes, how would we feel in that situation?
Like every year, another picture has come viral in social media where an old man is ready to say bye to a grave where, apparently, his close one was resting peacefully. Before that, at least once, and for the last time; he is standing next to the tomb. He is roaming around the grave and witnessing how the violent wave is going to rush down his last memory into the river. I do not know about the picture specifically, but what I surely know is, when I am writing this, the grave has plausibly gone away or went a long ago into the hole of the vicious river.
The famous American author Ernest Hemingway penned 'The Old Man and the Sea' in 1951 where he displayed a struggle of old Santiago with a huge marlin fish in the sea. The statement, "A man can be destroyed but not defeated", says all about the mentality of that old man, but from the perspective of a place like Bangladesh, if someone even has a strong mind, he cannot defeat the violent wave of the river because it comes naturally vicious.
A situation when someone's ancestral home is going to be destroyed in a few minutes is completely different from a sea voyage where people go for an excursion. People have strange perspectives regarding seas and water. When sea, river and water are dangerous to many, Pablo Neruda wrote in his autobiography that the sea is like a young 'woman' to him, because he felt his first sensual encounter at sea. A Bengali poet wrote that the sea is a 'man' because the waves of the sea threw him down and then it spread foam and sand all over the body.
Lands, however, near to seas and rivers in Bangladesh are not romantic rather sensibly filled up with a sad tune of destruction. Every year, several cultivable lands, houses, schools, health complexes get lost in the river. Daulatdia, Goalanda, Jajira, Naria of Shariatpur, Shibchar of Madaripur, Manikganj, Chandpur, Noakhali, and even the costal parts like Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat are extremely in danger whenever a storm arises. The life and perspective of people there are enormously different from those who do not live there personally.
I can remember how a helpless woman from Naria of Shariatpur was sharing her story to BBC in 2018 when she lost the house that was kept by her father, "In the house where I grew up, we had a beautiful bamboo bush behind it, a flower garden, a yard. In thirty seconds everything disappeared in Padma River in front of our eyes." It is like Syria or Palestine in one way. Everyone is about to have dinner at night, suddenly, a bomb came flying from the Israeli border and smashed them in ten seconds. Although the contexts are different-one happened by the human being, another by nature; still, the way is the same to dissipate the house in an eye blink.
The grave of the parents is about to disappear in the Padma, so the son is visiting them for the last time. This was a sad story of a businessman named Yunus Ali Sheikh who became viral in social media in the same year when his praying picture touched the hearts of the million people. At the end of the visit to the vulnerable graveyard, he said to Prothom Alo, "Elder brother, uncles-all used to live here. I got the news of the breakage and came running. I think everything will go in the rivers today. I may not be able to visit my parents' grave anymore. So I came to visit the grave for the last time."
In the same way, in 2019, a picture touched our hearts when three brothers came to see their mother's grave for the last time before it was going into the river. The grave next to the demolished house was going to be lost into the river at any moment, so they came running. This happened in Goalanda of Rajbari.
People who always squander their houses still want to survive and strive to make another house like birds whose nests have been destroyed in natural disasters. Manik Bandyopadhyay, specifically in 'Padma Nadir Majhi', painted that picture very skillfully in the strain of his real experience. He showed how the inhabitants near water are always helpless.
Interestingly, Manik Bandopadhyay also described the beauty of the Padma river. In the rainy season, when the time comes for catching Hilsa fishes, he has resorted to symbolic metaphors in depicting the form of Padma at night. In his eyes, hundreds of fishing boats float around the river are like light fireflies. In the darkness the light is sometimes obscure. When the whole world is asleep at night, the lights are unlit. The immaculate eyes of Hilsa fishes become like transparent blue gems.
But, this beauty becomes dangerous when the same river roars at its anger and destroys thousands of dreams into destruction. The struggling life and people who cannot make them stable and well-built; are always at risk. When a storm comes, many people cannot take pictures at that crucial moment, so they remain unnoticed. The adventurous life of settlers near water is always vulnerable.
People in coastal areas, specifically near water, have no joy, no dreams, no desires in their struggling life. There are boundless pain and high risk at every stage like food, communication and education, after all, about their lives. Even if they work hard, they are not able to make a stable house, as it might be destroyed by natural damage at any time. They spend their days in tautness and anxiety. The cries of the children, old, basically everyone in those areas never stop. Who dares to listen to them?
The writer was a Fulbright TEA Fellow, Montana State University, USA