When I check into a hotel, the first thing I do is people watch, and I do so with a smile. I play a game with myself to see if I can guess the reason why this particular person or group of people is at that hotel. The guessing game is easier if it's around a big holiday, more so, if the holiday is on a weekend, and bingo, if there are frazzled parents in colourful casual outfits trying to control their squealing kids who are running around like being freed from a zoo. For school is indeed a zoo and a posh hotel in a beautiful country known as none other than a welcoming holiday destination is indeed the farthest a first grader can be from the confines and the rigours of school.
I wouldn't be surprised if others, even the tensed business traveller, take a moment to play the guessing game.
But I wonder what game, if at all, is being played by the man checking in with a heavy backpack. He is not concerned about bills, or the mini-bar, or the spa, or the name under which he is checking in. He probably avoids the bell-boy so as to himself carry his "precious" cargo to his room. I am not sure what kind of a human he is, for he is focused on one thing alone. He is focused on reaching "paradise".
Paradise. That is what we all hope for, regardless of how knowingly we know that what we are doing is plain wrong—lying, backbiting, bribing, cursing, slapping, hitting, spitting, yelling, hurting, stealing, embezzling, favouring, cheating, raping, killing, breaching, corrupting, infracting, burning, violating, breaking, tearing, depriving, abandoning, infringing, shooting, stabbing, bludgeoning, racketeering, trespassing, occupying, wronging, scamming…We still hope against hope that the Creator will forgive and forget and have the ultimate reward for us.
There are a thousand stimuli and a zillion visual clues around him to sway his emotions or to even have a change of heart—little children, aging grandparents, selfless parents, smiling servers… But he remains steadfast. Who knows, maybe he himself has such people in his life, but he is too "selfless" (selfish to the sane) to be swayed by his emotions for them. For he believes, and the belief made possible by who knows what twisted logic, that he will reach Paradise by detonating explosives while in queue at the breakfast buffet, blowing himself and all around him, including those heart-melting, beautiful children who every religion and belief labels as angels, into smithereens. To his unfathomably warped logic, that is the path to his achieving Paradise, while taking hostage a religion that he himself claims to have embraced, a religion that clearly states: "If you take a soul, it is as though you have killed the whole of humanity." Let's not even get into suicide, an act of killing that is worse than killing.
But he is also supposedly "avenging" Christchurch, New Zealand—a country, a city and a community of all mixes to have wept silently, accepted tragedy with grace and even had one survivor having lost his wife forgiving the man who, to Jacinda Arden, is nameless.
One scratches the head as to fathom what has the children at the Colombo hotel got to do with the unfathomable mission of the perpetrators of the concurrent bombings. What have these children done? What has Sri Lanka done? What have the holiday-makers done? What have the peaceful worshippers at the churches done? What has the server at the buffet done?
I personally never knew nor met one particular first grader from Bangladesh who happily went to Colombo only to have the time of his life. But just like the image of the lifeless Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a beach in Turkey that slapped humanity into the realisation of humanity being washed ashore, to me, and to perhaps many a father and mother of little children, the face of Zayan Chowdhury has put a face to the continuing senseless tragedy of humanity being shattered.
The man detonating his belt or backpack at the crowded buffet-line thought differently. But if the pits of hell allow its inhabitants one glance at the innocent faces of those they have robbed of life, let alone of the surviving loved ones who have been thrown into a living hell on earth, I still wonder, if there will be any remorse in those disciples of the devil, who, echoing the PM of New Zealand, shall remain nameless…
Naveed Mahbub is a former engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA, the former CEO of IBM & Nokia Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. E-mail: [email protected]