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    Volume 9 Issue 34| August 20, 2010|

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The bird will not sing

Syed Badrul Ahsan


Boredom has something of the enervating about it. There are times when listlessness takes over the mind and the heart appears to have lost the throbbing it is generally home to. And when you consider the unvarnished truth of age creeping up to you, to whisper to you that the twilight beckons, that the end is nigh, there is something of resignation that takes over. You walk up to that mirror in the bedroom, observe your sallow skin that only the other day was flush with the excitement which comes with an enjoyment of life. You observe, in all the profundity of sadness, that shiny spot on your head where once there was a luxuriant growth of hair. You recall that there was once a time when you related your baldness to that of other, more historical men and somehow felt an affinity with them. Today, in your sheer boredom, you do not like what you see.

Time, you tell yourself with that shrug and that grimace, has been taking its toll on you. You move to the window, watch the monsoon clouds sail by, and suddenly recall the youth which in an earlier time was yours. There are faces you recall, there are the beautiful eyes in seductive women you remember. In your twenties, poetry was all. It flowed from you like the waterfall cascading down a majestic mountain up in the far north. In that era of unmitigated innocence, the world was yours to master. The country, you told yourself, was waiting in patient expectation of your arrival. You would come home and the land would burst forth in good cheer and laughter. The woman you loved would rush into your arms and stay there for an eternity. Your children, you imagined in the deepest of emotional longings, would share your passion for reading and for your songs in the light of the midnight stars.

In your fifties, none of that matters any more. It is no more a question of the flesh and the spirit cohabiting in a state of willingness. The flesh is not willing and the spirit is truly weak. The world goes by, a new generation of men arises out of the mists to speak for their nations. You are unimpressed; and you tell yourself, almost cynically, that in your time you have seen more accomplished men ready to tackle this business called statecraft. You have been part of the De Gaulle generation. Nicolas Sarkozy does not, therefore, arouse enthusiasm in you for new age politics. You who have been witness to the outbreak of the space era are not quite sure what comes next. You are bored. Which is why a space station these days does not quite match the thrill you once felt when men lifted themselves off Earth to go looking for mysteries beyond Earth.

Call it the malady of being in the fifties, but it is there. A few moments in the company of a ravishingly beautiful woman, whose warm hands you hold and whose passion you feel as she rubs her cheeks with yours in the gathering darkness of the day, lead you to an immense question: where was she all those years ago? The question hangs over you like a lowering monsoon cloud. There are always questions that pelt you as you go through your fifties. The men you revered as the heroic figures in your life, men who taught you all about sensibilities, are all gone. You do not have heroes any more. And the world teems with the mediocre and the complacent. Momentarily, you think of exceptions, of Amartya Sen. And you feel a trifle happy. Why should there not be more like him, men of grace and humility and wisdom? You think back on Buddhadev Basu and ask yourself what might have prevented him from scaling the heights of intellectual greatness.

In your fifties, you try remembering the faces of the friends who died young, who stopped breathing when they should not have. You have lived too long, you who once thought you would not cross the mid-forties. And yet you would like to live a little longer, the better to relate to the world the story of all that you have seen, of everything that you have touched. But that again would be making a casualty of yourself through letting the self take centre stage. It would be pomposity. It would be a sign of you turning into a humbug, like so many other humbugs you know.

A slim volume on Genghis Khan sits on your desk. Your father, he who long ago led you by the hand into snow-battered bookshops in mountain-draped towns, has a fixed look in his framed presence. Your mother’s spirit hovers in the room. You think of their distant graves, the rain shooting down on them through the summer night.

There is so much that could have been done. And there is so little time to do it. What was it Shyamol Mitra sang once? Ah, gaane bhubon bhoriye debe / bhebe chhilo ekti paakhi... The song of the bird will not reverberate through the cosmic spaces of the universe.



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