‘How is your father?’
There are always different kinds of ups and downs in the world. We all lead our daily lives by accepting this eternal truth.
Remember when the world's superpowers bombed a hospital as we watched a live video of it on the internet? I saw body parts of an unnamed patient scattered across the hospital floor. The floor was covered in white ash and cement. It was not possible to distinguish between the fingers and the toes.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed hundreds of worshipers at a mosque. A young girl was murdered after being raped in Bangladesh.
In the wet sand of a beach, I saw the frozen corpse of a refugee toddler named Aylan Kurdi. Aylan was fleeing from the war in his country.
The montage plays on and in the next moment, I am dancing to a hit Bollywood score in a wedding ceremony. Soon, colourful kites cover the skies of Old Dhaka during the yearly Shakhrain festival. The sky was also an explosion of fireworks. We observed the glory for hours in absolute awe; countless dances of lights and sounds happening all around as life continued on its own.
Many of us are privileged to have had such moments in time among these harsh realities.
Then came the terrible year 2020; it was such a horrific year. At the start, the whole world was panicking over an invisible and intangible threat to society as a whole.
We have never experienced such a thing in our lives. Nothing could stop the world for a single day, until now.
The good news is that at the beginning of the year 2021, Bangladesh became the 54th country to launch a vaccination programme against this virus. The vaccination and the pandemic also brought to fore the fact that the common people do not trust the government. The people's reluctance to adhere to their rulers, even at the risk of their own lives, is proof of this.
In Bangladesh, the scenario is opposite though. If we doubted the vaccine, would our leaders have expressed so much confidence in it? That's another discussion.
Amid all of this, among so many issues, people continue to ask me, "How is your father?".
It's an uncomfortable question. I do not know what to say. Sometimes I feel like screaming at the innocent people who just want to know how are we doing.
My photojournalist father, who went missing in March 2020, was forcibly disappeared for 53 days. Then he spent the rest of the year in prison until he got bail in mid-December, after thirteen failed attempts to secure his bail.
Just as the world has changed this year, so have we, my father and us all.
I know everything changes over time. When I started the "Where is Kajol?" movement, all I wanted was to get my father back with us. Now that he is back with us, I look at him and wonder if he is the same person who went missing on March 10. Perhaps a deviation from his normal life due to post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to him being a totally different person.
I know we will never get back to our previous lives. I am not sure if my father will ever be able to be his old self.
My father never played video games before. Now he plays games, made for kids, for hours on his phone. He will ignore an emergency meeting while being lost in the video game.
Where many say to me, "Brother! Alhamdulillah! You got your father back alive! Many will not even know the whereabouts of their fathers for years. Be thankful for everything."
Don't get me wrong, I am thankful. But, there's so much more to this than just that.
A friend, who was annoyed by the very recent scandal on Wall Street in the United States, had to sell his shares because of the stunt the hedge fund guys pulled. He told me that if they did not do this corruption, he could have made his first million.
My friend delivers food through a delivery app for eight hours a day. He works from morning to afternoon for minimum wage and his capital had tripled in the last two weeks.
But he sold his shares too early out of fear. I told him there was no need to be angry as he had made a tidy profit. He thought for a while and said, "You know man, this is what they want. They want us to be satisfied with what we have got. I can't take it anymore. Why would they get away with corruption year after year?"
He said it was not about how much he had made but about the millions who had been wronged. He sighed and said he had missed out on a fortune because of the wrongdoing of others.
He said, "I am angry that they can get away with anything."
I thought for a moment and told him that he was right. If you are forever satisfied with what you've got, the worms will continue to rule.
My friend is still fighting with whatever capital he has left. It is David versus Goliath. And it's not just my friend. Seeing the news, I realised that there were many others like him.
So yes, people are right that there should be nothing more to be grateful for than having my father back alive. He is with us, walking, talking, eating rice with beef.
But I noticed that he does not think like before.
What will my father do now after six months of continuous imprisonment without trial, his fragile physical health after 53 days of horror, and with his changed characteristics?
I remember the fight I put up for him. At one point, I stopped my movement when I realised there would be no bail without going to the High Court. The oppression would continue no matter what I do. Then I had to kill my movement.
Many of you may agree that this movement is very significant for various reasons: we talked when we were not allowed to. But I want to say repeatedly that the movement had deviated from its original goal.
I wanted my father back. But I look at my father and think, did I really get him back?
There are still draining issues like appearing in court regularly as he out on bail. There are still three Digital Security Act cases hanging over our heads.
In the last few weeks, I have realised that Kajol, my father, may never be the same as before.
I still want my father back.
It seems that he will have to work hard to be himself again. Until then, if you ask me, "How is your father?", I can't find any answer except to stare ahead blankly.