place to sit
moral of a tale that I have just read goes like this. When
you are dead you are dead.
And there is yet another moral: Make love when you can.
It's good for you.
The book is rare, so I thought I would share these two simple
and profound utterances with my readers, particularly those
past their youth. I am also pretty sure that these two morals
will raise the hackles of quite a few people I know, and
many more I don't. These thoughts turn me to other situations
just outside my compound walls.
I have the privilege of living in one of the best neighbourhoods
in the city even if the houses in which we live in are quite
squalid: there are no traffic jams here, the roads are wide,
the sidewalks newly paved, and ancient poinciana trees give
shade when shade is needed. In the evenings, in the penumbra
of sodium lights, scores of young couples sit side by side,
approximately five metres apart from other couples. I find
this sight quite heart-warming. There are few places in
Dhaka city where lovers can sit and talk; here, just outside
the compound where I live, these young people find some
privacy in a public road. They sit and hold hands, and the
darkness makes it difficult to see more. It would be impolite
to want to see more either. It is simply not my business
to intervene in what is in the nature of youth, to question
what is so obviously good. Or so I think. Surely, youth
cannot be so excellent in itself that it requires no love.
What could be the outcome of such hand-holding and sitting?
In a worst-case scenario, there might be some broken hearts,
some growing-up pains; in some cases, it is possible that
romantic friendships might actually lead to marriage, family
and so on. Certainly, it cannot be questioned holding hands
is better than holding guns. And we are not even talking
of love-making here.
But as I said, such behaviour raises the hackles of some
self-appointed moral vigilantes. I have heard many expressions
of righteous indignation against 'shameless youth' in many
private conversations; and at least on one occasion I have
witnessed straightforward intervention. A posse of three
men, armed with high degrees and higher moral rage and authority
(whence this comes from, I do not know), confronted a young
woman and a young man sitting somewhere in the dark of an
evening, both in their early twenties, with a series of
loud, blustering questions: What are you doing, you shameless
kids? Do your parents know what you are up to? You should
be whipped! And they went on and on, whipping up a fury
of words against these two young lovers shivering with fright.
I was right behind them and I intervened, questioning their
right to question the young couple.
Is there some law against sitting and holding hands on a
quiet public road? Is there a law against lovers and loving?
And most importantly, what gives them the moral sanction
to intervene in matters of the heart, even if romantic transactions,
within acceptable bounds of decency, are taking place in
public? But what is acceptable to one may be utterly unacceptable
to others. I am not sure about the psychology of these puny
men venting their moral outrage against young lovers, and
much could be said about it no doubt. It would be so much
better, I told these men (with whom I live in the same community
and work in the same profession), if they dared to raise
their voices against the real trouble-makers in the area
the gun-toting cadres of different student organisations.
My moral colleagues melted away in the dark as did their
victims of moral rage.
A couple of weeks back I went to the Bakul-tala in the Insitute
of Fine Arts to listen to a Baul singer who had just arrived
from Kushtia. The Bakul-tala is just a wonderful place for
sitting, a raised concrete platform surrounding the foot
of the tree in a wide circle. Predictably, there were many
young people (dare I say lovers again) sitting there; some
came and joined our group with the Baul. When the sting
of the mosquitoes became more than the song of Baul, we
decided to leave, and at the moment of departure I saw an
ugly sign nailed to the trunk of the tree. It proclaimed:
IT IS ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN TO SIT UNDER THE BAKUL TREE.
No one seemed to give a hoot to what the sign said. One
can understand signs forbidding people to pee against a
particular wall, or to walk on the grass, or to pick flowers
from someone else's garden, but to set up a sign forbidding
people to sit in a place designed for sitters is the height
of idiocy. The sign had ceased to signify. Most sitters
happen to be lovers you see.
The Institute could do one of three of things: it could
demolish the meant-for-sitting-platform, or ring the platform
under the bakul tree with barbed-wire fence, making it out-of-bounds
for those crossing the bounds of questionable morality.
Or better still, good sense could prevail. The sign could
be simply taken down. What is the point of an order that
is unenforceable, meaningless, ridiculous, and unaesthetic
to boot? Once again, ponder the morals at the top, ye moralisers.