April -- in our Lives, in our Souls
Syed Badrul Ahsan
April, said good old TS Eliot long ago, is the cruellest month. When you think of that statement of faith in terms of what we in our times have gone through, you might end up agreeing with him. In a season when new blossoms replace the old, when autumnal leaves are but a memory, April ought to be an embodiment of hope. And it is, anywhere you happen to let your gaze fall. There is a sheer sense of poetry that comes into it; and sometimes the poetry translates into powerful political symbolism. And that happens when you have history getting to be enriched by such monumental events as the formation of Bangladesh's first government, in all the entirety of its long heritage. The Mujibnagar government, for those of us inclined to forget or too busy to remember, remains a seminal point in our collective consciousness. It came into being on April 17 1971; and it was to lead us, through a thoroughly organised war of liberation, to freedom.
So there you have April carving a niche in our souls. But then, there are the points of sadness as well about the month. It was on April 14 1865 that Abraham Lincoln was shot, at close range, by John Wilkes Booth. He died of his wounds early the next morning. Those of you endlessly reflecting on thoughts of what might have been, through the various annals of history, just might ask yourselves how the United States would have shaped up as a nation had Lincoln lived to finish his second term in office. And yet there is that certain feeling that perhaps his martyrdom may have been a whole lot better than a full eight years in office. There is glory in sudden death, especially when the one dying is a man of monumental reputation. The swiftness of the end captures the moment in all its permanence. That image of Jackie Kennedy leaning across the seat of the limousine rushing her stricken husband to hospital in Dallas is one that we have never let out of our imagination.
On April 5 1794, the French revolutionary Jacques Georges Danton went to the guillotine, proof once again that revolutions often consume their heroes. It would not be long before that other revolutionary, Robespierre, would meet a similar fate. And thus we have all the signs yet once more of April quite often getting drenched in the blood of men. In our times, it was Pakistan's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who walked, or was carried, to the gallows on April 4 1979. It was a hideous murder, the monstrosity of a questionable judgement brought about in deference to the wishes of a pitiless military dictator. Eleven years previously, on April 4 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., died from a sniper's bullet in the United States. It was an imperfect end to a perfect life, for King had symbolised the essential goodness which lay in the soul of man. His non-violence, definitely an improvement on the tactics employed by Gandhi in his time, remains a lesson from which other men continue to draw inspiration.
Sudden, swift death has come too to the brigands who have sometimes sought to commandeer history. On April 28 1945, the newly deposed Benito Mussolini was lynched, together with his mistress Claretta Petacci, by communist partisans near Lake Como. Two days later, on April 30, Adolph Hitler, in company with his mistress-turned-wife Eva Braun, committed suicide at the end of what had increasingly turned out to be a disastrous war against Allied forces. In the same month, on April 12, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his fourth term as President of the United States, passed away and was replaced by Harry Truman. And Truman would be the man to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leaving tens of thousands dead and tens of thousands of others, as also their unborn children, maimed.
William Shakespeare, as history informs us, was born on April 23 1564. He died on the same day, in 1616. Miguel Cervantes too died on the day Britain's greatest playwright breathed his last. On April 23 1850, the Romantic poet William Wordsworth saw life ebbing out of him at Grasmere. And tragedy hit the British ocean liner Titanic on its maiden voyage on April 15 1912. The English writer Thomas Chatterton committed suicide on April 24 1770.
Afghanistan took a turn for the better when its communists, led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, ousted President Daoud in April 1978 and inaugurated what came to be known as the Saur Revolution. In April 1974, Pakistan's first military dictator Ayub Khan died in quiet retirement.
But let us round it off in poetic pronouncement. 'Men are April when they woo, December when they wed'. Warts and all, then, April remains a symbol of beauty and of love, in the otherwise dark, contorted passages of our souls.
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