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Shaadaab S. Bakht: ‘I have a new name, refugee’
June 29, 2018
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This is a page from my diary: As I stand here against the pallor of loneliness and see the busy world drive past, the delightful kids playing, the sweaty and near-emaciated rag-pickers work, I see no way out of this self-inflicted angst, but memories. I, already affected by wee bits of disgust, allow the memories to take over. They keep me steady, which isn’t much of a deal, but necessary.

My friend agrees with what I felt and still feel. When I asked my migrant chum what kept him going he replied, “Memories and hope.”

He went into the rewind mode: I wasn’t born 30. I had a boyhood too. We had a house, a nice one and in an upscale locality. We are three — my sister, my brother and myself. Our parents and we left our country when my house was partially damaged in a bombing with which we had nothing to do. Many houses were destroyed on that particular afternoon. You know what. The most painful part of that destructive action was that the man, under whose directives the bombs were dropped, looks like us, speaks our language, shares our food habits. And, of course, prays to the same God.

That means my country has lost not only the present but also the future. All because of one man’s ego.
Yet, he did what he did and is still doing. Because power, I suppose, creates a monster that can conquer all, or so the powerful feel.

I know for sure that nearly 12 million have been hit by the bloody conflict we escaped. Now comes the rub. Half of the victims are children. That means my country has lost not only the present but also the future. All because of one man’s ego.

I have a new name, refugee. And everybody, openly or privately, feels I am a burden. But no one understands or, at least, tries to understand that I shouldn’t be blamed for being that. Remember, my friend, no one enjoys leaving the land on which he grows. We left our motherland because we didn’t want to die.

Let me show you some photos. This is our house…now it is in ruins. This used to be our garden and this is my college.

I was raised in a vibrant environment surrounded by friends and relatives. Some of them have unfortunately joined the great majority during the war.

Inshallah, one day we will go back and walk the roads, which used to lead me to my friends’ homes, watch movies in the theatres that we loved, eat in places that made us dream about food, sit and laugh in parks where not only the air, even the faces were fresh. Till then let me lean on my memories and invest in hope.

Yes, memories are to grown-ups what toys are to children. More than two decades have passed. But there hasn’t been a week when I have not thought about my school friends, the Calcutta football league, the tea joint near our house, the train journey during our summer holidays, the weekend lunches, the punishing weekly tests and, of course, the made up stories about our non-existent girlfriends.

Our memories are shadows of a life gone by that protect us from the piercing rays of unrelenting reality and that offer us smiles when the chips are down. And that also play the compass when we tend to lose direction. Because our memories often carry in their wombs a million lessons.
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