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                Volume 10 |Issue 37 | September 30, 2011 |


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In Praise of Solitude

Syed Maqsud Jamil

A celestial light is gently lifting the shroud of darkness. There is nothing sinister in darkness that comes with Nature. Only that it is time for it to make way, the light has arrived. The birds are chirping heralding a new day. The early birds call it a blessed time when the mind has put the load and tranquility has settled to every pore of the body. It is time for the faithful to go to the mosque or to lay the prayer mat for submission to their creator. For the sprightly jogger it is time to have tea and few cookies and wander out for health bestowed by the heavenly power. Mankind has such a friendly society in Nature. It is all around us yet there is space in the togetherness. Solitude is when you are in such a comforting company. There is no melancholia or loneliness in solitude. It is the mental equivalent of a fetal position when the mind is no longer cluttered with all its senses still.

Photo: Lubna

The world is waking up. And soon there will be sound. And busyness. Every one of them, wherever they are, is to perform a job. Solitude or a time of one's own, even in small measure when the body and mind is one, momentarily makes a dervish of everybody. There are some who wait for the morning daily with a cup of tea. The daily is bristling with bizarre news. Yet it is like settling into a hammock under a shady tree. As the sun rises higher, this city of ours takes on a different face that of intensity unbound where liberty is stretched. People from all walks of life and pedestrians issuing forth from everywhere, riding boarding and walking as they like, throng the city roads and streets. The medley vehicles and transports will hurtle, honk and hustle down the road. The city has stirred to high beat life but the Nature has been trifled and ruffled.

There was a time of a redbrick colonial building with a pediment bearing the inscription '1904' where I went to for my school education. The playground in the front was a green turf with trees in every corner that used to put forth yellow flowers in summer. When the summer breeze or a norwester used to blow away the flowers, they fell in such abundance. The wind rustled through the trees. Behind the main building there was another smaller playground ringed with Indian Fir trees (Devdaru). There was a luxuriant growth of grass all over the field. The whole field remained covered in shadows cast by the Devdaru trees. In the mid-noon the beams of sunlight filtered through the Devdaru leaves. My elders used to caution me against straying on to the field in the late afternoon for it was where the evil spirits dwelt. But I found so much innocence and tenderness in the company of the Devdaru trees. The kites and the vultures used to build their nests in the trees. In the courtyard at the back of the building that led to the smaller field there was a smaller tree. In the morning the tree would shed small delicate white flowers with a violet tint at the stem. Small girls around would gather the flowers to make wreaths and they braved the heart stopping hollering of the upcountry 'derwan'. In winter the kites used to fly higher in the blue sky in a circle when the boys hustled out with their school Tiffin. Lo! They dived from the blue to snatch away whatever little that was left from unmindful kids.

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

The city was small, all the din and bustle ended near the old railway track. And the colonial mansion of the Engineering College Principal who happened to be my friend's father was an idyllic landscape with its building, large courtyard and trees that had seeds that spurted water when squeezed. There was so much of love in the Nature that gave you the tranquility of solitude. And the river Buriganga! Where we used to sit on the Buckland bundh a silence overpowering us. Or we would take a boat ride. That was a company so beneficent so encouraging. That was solitude.

How is the '1904' school building doing? Its facade is grimy. The playground in the front is a dust bowl and the trees are gone. And the smaller ground in the backyard has brick chips and sand in place of grass. The few Devdaru trees that remain are in poor condition. The vultures have rightly or wrongly lost their habitat. The kites no longer circle overhead in the blue firmament of the sky. The city has extended beyond Gazipur and has a population of 12 million people. The togetherness has no space. With such a number even the best of company may not be companionable. However benign, overwhelming company may bring ennui, because people get in each others way.

Every piece of land is coveted for high rise apartments. They are too valuable to be left for trees. Dhaka has lost its natural landscape. Most of the colonial eucalyptus and raintrees have perished. In its place artificial landscaping has planted weeping willows on the road dividers. How goes the river? The Buriganga! A ghoulish black layer of muck has made the river an abominable sight of desecration. If it has Nature as a companion, solitude is loosing its supportive environment.

Solitude is a mental state of deeply involved nature. It can be when somebody is working or thinking that is what Henry David Thoreau says. By that definition the garment workers at work have the tranquility of solitude. Even the student who is burning midnight oil to study is in a state of solitude.

My father even in his advanced age used to get up in the middle of the night and light up a cigarette in the veranda and smoke it with gusto gazing at the wood apple tree and the sky. That was the time he looked so much at peace with himself. The look transcends time and space. That is what we all do, gazing and wondering what is this all about, life and death.



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