It's already been several months since we've been hurled into the vortex of the coronavirus. The virus lives among us, silent and invisible. We continue to slip further into the uncertainty of the pandemic. Locked down, our life shrinks and flips. Our sweet homes no longer feel sweet. They feel like asylums. The difference between Fridays and Sundays as well as the difference between days and nights blurs. We are isolated both from friends and foes. The deadly virus wants to re-define our life in every conceivable way. We worry about our jobs, our health and our security. We wonder whether a peaceful, graceful, and fulfilling life will be possible. While I witness tragedies unfolding around me, I feel affected and afflicted. I seem to have developed a pandemic personality, which borders on being a disorder. To gain some control over this seemingly uncontrollable situation, I started three months ago to write to discover hope and healing. These posts below are not factual details of events but reflections provoked by the pandemic.
March 23, 2020
I grew up in Dhaka loving it with an absolute passion. But the Dhaka that I grew up in and the Dhaka it has become--and is becoming--is quite different. It looks abandoned and spooky. Life here is reduced to mere breathing. Where has my city of charming chaos gone? I love its toxic pollution, its impulsive honking, its choking traffic, and its maddening crowds. Dhaka has lost the essential vices I used to love it for. I no longer can stand it. But I can't leave it, either. Bugger off, you stupid virus!
As elsewhere in the world, we're faced with an existential threat here in Dhaka because of the coronavirus. Life is severely compromised. Schools are closed; flights are cancelled; movements are restricted; isolation and quarantine have started to define our civic discourse; victims and death counts are on the rise. Everyone looks panicked and perplexed. Worse seems looming. Everyone believes the prophets who predict perdition. I'm hoping against hope that the situation improves here and everywhere. Hugs to you all. I'm still me, and my tag line remains, "Life's beautiful."
March 24, 2020
We're advised to stay home because of the coronavirus, and I do. My voyeuristic impulse, however, dragged me down to the streets this morning around 9:00 A.M. I sighed. Dhaka is changed beyond recognition. It is one of the busiest cities in the world, and the Bashundhara Residential Area, where we live, is even busier. This small place has several big schools, hospitals, banks, and corporate offices. Life unfolds here early in the morning every day, and until mid-night people are always on the streets and on their toes. The place never sleeps. But today I find it desolate. The atmosphere is eerie. The virus threatens miseries, and we don't know how long those miseries will continue. All I know is that we need to be ourselves again--humane, social, and free--sooner rather than later. The horror is already consuming, but it seems to be the beginning of a long horror story ahead. Wherever you are and whoever you are, always believe that life is beautiful. Hugs!
March 31, 2020
We still have to love our neighbors from afar. We no longer can hug them. We can't shake hands with them, either. Proximity is deadly. Our social relationship is no longer defined by trust. Our neighbors are no longer the neighbors we used to know and mingle with. They have become potential virus transmitters. We must not meet and greet them. This is a powerful background for a horror movie. And the remainder of the movie may be even more horrifying. We're living a horror movie-life here and everywhere around the globe. Race, religion, and geographical boundaries have already dissolved in panic and uncertainty. We're crying and dying. We have not stopped worrying about our neighbors. We're getting diminished by every death anywhere in the world. But our empathy expands. If someone calls the coronavirus an empathy virus, is he crazy?
April 02, 2020
Rain usually ruins my mood. Today, it didn't. It rained here today. Gusty wind blew. Hail fell. All these quirks of nature turned a musty, murky day into a calming night. It feels blissful. My apprehension is replaced with optimism. My instinct tells me that the rain washed away the virus; that the wind blew it away; and that the hail buried it. Perhaps now we can live, laugh, and love as usual. Life beckons us. Brace up. This pandemic is a love test. Stand out and stand by. We'll overcome. This is a tough time, but tough times don't stay. Tough people do. We have done it in the past. We'll do it this time around, too. Hugs!
April 05, 2020
We're locked down, but our minds aren't. They roam around. They tell us that the usual hum of public life is missing. The rituals of our life are reversed. We don't pound the pavement as we used to do. We don't get on and off public transports with abandon. We don't hop on and off planes for far-off destinations. We no longer anticipate lunch or dinner with friends at restaurants. The virus has cloistered people indoors around the world. Eerie silence prevails. That spews fear and uncertainty. We apprehend more deaths, more crumpled economies, and more agonies. The future doesn't entice us. The past beckons us. We become nostalgic. And in the first week of April, we're nostalgic about the last week of March, when life was not so different and difficult in some parts of the world. Nostalgia surprisingly has become an effective emotional weapon to fight against this pandemic. Soak in it a little. Life was beautiful, and life will be beautiful again.
April 10, 2020
The light of the day still lingers here in Dhaka as the night descends. No one rushes to reach home--everyone is already home. We're on the third week of the closure. Amid new cases and clusters of the coronavirus, our government extends the closure till the 25th of April. The prognosis is that the situation will turn worse before it turns better. We can't quite fathom that reality. The virus already has fractured our fortitude. Our optimism has started to ebb. We're becoming emotionally vulnerable, physically clumsy, and rationally wacky. We desperately want to renew our regular routines and rituals of life. We need what humans want: movement, communication, and interaction. Alas!
Hang in there, my fellow fighters. We've weathered viruses, bacteria, and beasts (human as well as animal) in the past. We'll come away from this crisis more compassionate, more united, and stronger. Stay home. Stay hopeful.
May 13, 2020
The night is about to descend here in Dhaka. This lag between a day and a night, however, seems a little confusing. It's not night yet, but it is. It rained here, and it's still raining. The sun is covered with heavy clouds. It's already dark around and is becoming darker. It feels like a twilight around, but no one seems to romanticize it. The virus still whips through us. We continue to slip further into panic and uncertainty. Surprisingly, the air around feels so soothing. Breathe it. Forget about the pandemic. And remember that just six weeks back, our life was delightfully different. That life still beckons us. Wait! Stay home. Stay safe.
May 19, 2020
If you feel lonely and abandoned, please remember that you're not alone. If anxiety and apprehension overcome you, there's nothing pathological about you. All of us are acting and reacting almost alike around the globe. For about two months, we've not been able to do what we were used to doing. We're living like zombies. The rituals of our life flipped. The priorities of our life shifted. Our public engagements almost nixed. We're herded into a big, empty bubble of virus. And we continue to wallow in woes. The virus continues to infect and kill. We mourn. Our confidence plunges. Our optimism dwindles. Helpless as we are, some of us may have developed pandemic personality disorder. Relax, please. Our collective intelligence and optimism are too formidable for the virus to sap. We'll live again, soon. Stay hopeful.
Given my space-constraints, I only cherry-picked some the entries that I posted on Facebook since the last week of March, when our government imposed countrywide closure. The virus is still wild and unforgiving across the country. Infections and death tolls surge. Nonetheless, our government decides to lift the closure following the 30th of May. Countries around the globe are also easing or lifting lockdown. That's understandable. The WHO warns that the virus is not going to go some time soon, or we might have to live with it permanently as we do with the HIV virus. The corona virus has pitted the economy against safety. And after two months of closure, we've discovered that economy is safety. If we stay home and don't work, we'll die. If we go out and work, the virus might kill us. Humans are mortal, anyway. Did we need a pandemic to remind us something so bland and basic?
Mohammad Shamsuzzaman is an Assistant Professor, Department of English and Modern Languages, North South University, Bangladesh.