How do I hate myself? Let me count the ways
The holiday lethargy has caused me self-loathing. Let me count some of the factors as to why I am beginning to hate myself.
I hate myself for living in an age that still sees religion-based racism overshadowing motherhood. I hated it when a sweet social media post on Mother's Day on May 9 turned bitter when actor Chanchal Chowdhury, a household name in the Bangladeshi cultural scene for over two decades, posted on Facebook a photograph of his mother wearing vermilion over her forehead. This was followed by serious backlash as some bigots attacked the Aynabaji actor for his religious identity. This narrow-minded crowd felt "cheated" since they had crowned the versatile actor with a Bangla name that lacks any religious tag as "one of their own" for such a long time, only to find out that he was "actually" their religious "other", and they did not have either the sophistication or the civility to hide their bigotry. I shall hate myself further if I have to stoop low enough to engage with such arguments. Suffice to say, a mother in whatever hue is sacred and beautiful. By the same token, an artist is an extraordinary individual who exists outside our daily drudgery, who tries in his or her given capacity to make the world a better place.
I hate myself for seeing the same crowd defending the rights of minorities in other parts of the world where the role is reversed. Their frustrations and helplessness are evident in their ad hominem, fallacious attacks and invectives aplenty as they realise that they do not have any control over the truth or untruth propagated by the powerful other, in which their own kinds are minorities. They resort to verbal violence. They do not realise their poorly constructed arguments and abuses hurt our national pride on an international setting. Their supposed bravado paints the country they represent with the wrong brush. Potential tourists, for instance, will think twice before visiting our country if they feel that the people here are hostile to different colours and creeds. Their case, which is valid, can be presented in a rational and logical fashion. For that, we will need a culture of constructive criticism and fairness. For that, we will need a general mood of empathy—something that we failed to extend towards actor Chanchal Chowdhury.
I hate myself when I fail to render support to someone who wanted to expose the system where individual benefits are prioritised over collective ones. While I was glued to the TV seeing a tower building housing media outlets being bombed to clouds of dust, I realised that someone else was choking the voice of media in our own backyard. A senior female journalist has been accused of stealing government secrets from the Ministry of Health. Her bail has been denied, and she has been sent to jail. Rozina Islam is an investigative journalist for the leading Bangla daily Prothom Alo, who has published a series of reports on the alleged corruptions that are eating away at the health sector. I hate myself for writing "alleged" as I was taught by my seniors when I started my career as a cub reporter three decades ago. Even after all these years, I am handcuffed to such journalistic protocols. But Rozina Islam wanted to go beyond simple accusations; she wanted proof. Those of us who are eating the "corruption" pudding, we instinctively or circumstantially know where the proof lies. The proof is out there in the open when a canopy hospital appears like Aladdin's palace in the middle of nowhere and disappears when the evil vizier steals away the lamp containing the genie. The proof is out there when the middleman appears as a saviour figure at the start of the vaccine hunt and then disappears when the shipment is delayed. The proof is out there when the doctors are forced to be silent, and the empty pitchers of the admin officials start sounding.
I hate myself when I hear schools and colleges will reopen once everyone concerned is jabbed. My jaw drops while counting the number of ampules that need to be imported and distributed before education resumes. Ah, the scheme and the number game: who cares for how long our children will stay away from books and classes! Let the vaccine orders be processed and let Covid-19 morph into Covid-21! We will have more "auto pass", while our corrupt officials will get more "free pass" to abuse the system. I hate myself for seeing our local businessmen, politicians and corrupt officials indulge in shopping sprees abroad, or invest in post-career settlements or second homes in overseas countries, with the money that they have milked or skimmed from our system.
I hate myself for seeing a bureaucratic system that is at odds with our democracy and all our democratic norms. I hate myself when my academic colleagues disgracefully leave their offices, accused of misappropriation of funds, negligence of duties, nepotism and what not. Our incompetence allows people from outside the civil society (both BCS and ISSB certified) to take over our jobs and offices. Conversely, our national incompetence allows the so-called "experts" from outside to drain away the bulk of the hard-earned currency that our low-skilled labourers are sending in from abroad.
I hate myself for being an educator in a country that has no respect for education. I hate myself for being in a country that allows an education system that runs amok in at least three different strains and fails to include the issues of racial intolerance, intellectual and moral bankruptcy, human rights, and transparency in its curricula. I hate myself for being in a system that fosters discriminations and discrepancies. But I shall hate myself more if I fail to be part of a strategy that offers to create a counter-system; a system that teaches empathy, humanity, fairness and honesty.
P.S. The title alludes to Elizabeth Browning's Sonnet 43, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."
Shamsad Mortuza is Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), and a professor of English at Dhaka University (on leave).