On the Attacks in Dhaka

For a few hours now I’ve been trying to dissect my reaction to yesterday because, if I am honest with you, my mind took me by surprise. It responded differently from other gory incidents I’ve seen on television, even the Bangladesh Rifles Mutiny of 2009.

Back then, I could have never conceived such a thing could happen to our country. Still, I processed the reality that people were dead and many still dying within Pilkhana. A community center was now the site of our national tragedy.

This time around, the attack wasn’t a surprise at all like Pilkhana once was. Subconsciously or not, we all knew this was what we were in for. But yesterday my mind was imagining that it wasn’t Dhaka where gunmen marched into a bakery. In fact, a part of me needed to pretend that the scenes were coming from elsewhere.

Just not Dhaka. Just not home.

A creative writing teacher will tell you that true suspense is not the absence of knowledge. When writers want to fill you with fear they tell you exactly what is going to happen—and then create situations that give you hope for a different outcome.

Braced with the inevitable, the mind does something strange: it constructs that gruesome ending in vivid detail and then tries to reject it. This is its last-ditch attempt to make sense of the world.

We all knew that the slaughtering, the hacking, the stabbing would metastasize. We’ve known that it would consume our politics and outwit our politicians. We’ve seen it happen in other societies, in other countries, in other booming capitals. Crack open a history book and you’ll find, despite all we know, history repeats itself over and over, making spectators of us all.

On an ordinary day, I can talk calmly about the ambitions of the superpowers of the world placing a country and people with zero imperial prospects in their crossfire. I can argue that we are losing as a state and are lost as a nation.

Still, when it finally happened to my city, my mind revolted. It refused to believe what my eyes were reporting, pretended that we were still only slid-ING into anarchy, present continuous, with the possibility of reversal. Not dead center in an existential crisis, the biggest we’ve faced as a free people. Not one we won’t survive unscarred.

This is instinct, a bulwark against despair, proof, even, of the privileged bubble of my life—but it won’t stop the course. I know I am not alone. How long before we collectively forget Gulshan so that we have a Happy Eid? How long before July 1 becomes another day when something terrible happened that we actively cropped out of our memory?

We are losing the psychological battle. We are chasing comfort of the instant-noodle variety—pretending morning will deliver normalcy. But we all know this: we cannot afford delusions.

The conclusion of this story will not change because we closed our eyes and dreamt otherwise. It’s true that we are adrift—but if we don’t say it out loud to ourselves over and over, if we don’t put into words how deeply we fear the future, we rob ourselves of even a chance.

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