Yet another Pahela Baishakh, the 1424th in fact, with lots of fanfare, merriment and of course hullabaloo came to pass. But one matter was confined in deafening silence for the second year running – the 20 percent bonus (of basic pay) for employees of all government, autonomous and semi-autonomous institutions disbursed as per a gazette. Some private.org, dare I say a few, may also have abided by that particular gazette, although not binding on them, and yet they do afford other festival bonuses in line with the government practice.
The 'thank you' was not implied before or after the annual panta bhaat even in the media, which only recently went fanatical with a 'more important' development - that of a celebrity, his wife and their, albeit hidden but cherubic, baby. My fault that I came to know of the lady only after she faced the press, hoping simultaneously that my prior knowledge about the existence of our own SK does not start another domestic fracas.
Well, frankly speaking, we can't really expect the beneficiaries to print beesh satangsho on their punjabi, saree or their forehead - some prefer the cheek - to express their gratitude to the government at a Mongol Shobhajatra. Regrettably though, the appreciation (if any at all) did not show on the face of many of the quiet recipients, presumably being slothful at home all day and wondering what the fuss was all about. How can one be so glum on the first day of the year is not a relevant query for those who remain so for the entire year. Those of us whose files they handle are bitterly aware of their disposition.
Interestingly, the Bengali Nababarsha bonus was not the culmination of any popular demand. Nor was there a massive mass movement on the streets or in the corridors of the Secretariat and state corporations. In fact, the first time I heard about it was when news of it was made public. It came too easily at the behest of the Prime Minister, who perhaps wanted to share the joy of our own New Year with those who help her keep operational the State structure. To find out if recipients were delighted, she will need to employ extra detectives. They should not mind the additional work because they too benefitted from the gratuity.
We are first and foremost a thankless nation. This prokot idiosyncrasy, although universally acknowledged, came to light again in 1948 when we (by the way, I wasn't there) dumped Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy on the pretext that he was born in Midnapore (West Bengal). Although as a Muslim League leader, and later as the Prime Minister of (the whole of) Bengal (1946–1947), he did everything to carve out a province for the Bengali Muslims (albeit as a wing of Pakistan) at the time the British finally granted independence to the divided people of the subcontinent.
Our track record of expressing gratitude to freedom fighters is cursory at best because thousands, especially those in villages, have lived in abject poverty since after December 16, 1971; the better among many have toiled 'valiantly' as day labourers and 'courageously' as petty vendors. We have written poems and novels, sung songs and made music, enacted events from the nine-month war in television plays and movies, painted and sculpted our heroes, but have looked the other way when some of them needed succour.
I have not heard this featured in talk shows at all (how do most of these 'talkers' know about everything, starting from apple to zebra?), nor seen it in print or social media, and so on behalf of the freedom fighters and their families, I will take the liberty and this opportunity to thank the Sheikh Hasina government which, in recognising the poor conditions of many freedom fighters, has raised the FF monthly allowance by 150 percent, effective from January this year.
There is this person ahead of us who holds ajar the door. Do we utter a little thank you? Someone offers a seat on a bus. Do we consider that seat our birth right and ignore the kind person for the rest of the journey, lest he becomes 'too' friendly? A car stops or slows down to let a group of people cross the busy road; I know jaywalking is an offence. Do any from among the lot wave to the driver and offer a smile? After all, he is a driver. A teacher goes out of the way to help a sick student. Do we remember Sir/Madam in our prayers?
We cannot imagine how much we have to be thankful for. Last week a son's body was being brought back home by his parents after futile medical efforts in India. On the way to the border, the father collapsed and died. Do we thank Allah on a daily basis for being with our parents, and our children? It's not automatic. And one not-so-good day, they are gone, sometimes forever.
Desperation, returning would be as deadly as going over, is compelling thousands to pack like sardines onto rubber boats unfit for Mediterranean crossings to attempt the perilous journey to Europe. The dead are lowered into the sea they have never seen before.
Boko Haram has been commandeering hundreds of girls away from their parents and home, school and friends, and subjecting them to torture and abuse day in and day out for years. They too dreamt of education, a job, and a better life with their parents.
Syrians find no place to hide, no building to call home. For seven years their houses, schools and hospitals, and children (almost in that order of significance) are being bombed and gassed by militaries which do not speak one word of Arabic.
Are we grateful that we are sipping tea on a rain-soaked veranda?
The writer is a practising Architect at BashaBari Ltd., a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.