The word 'Diaspora' is not simply specific to the study of the colonial and post-colonial discourses. The word has a historical association with the Jews and their narratives of displacement from the holy land of Israel.
In literature, of course, the word has a wider dimension- writers tell us tales of men who migrated from their homeland to settle in the imperial cities of the West under circumstances made compelling by the ever-increasing colonial need for capital and labor.
Great works of literature record tragic emotions of these people in the throes of spatial displacement and their accompanying mood of despair, of being exiled and abandoned in the interstices of lands and cultures. Diaspora, in this sense, is associated with a state of men whose identity tends to be ambivalent and their sense of belonging problematic.
The study of the post-colonial literature and discourses is very popular in the universities of Bangladesh; the popularity is a testimony to its undiminished relevance to socio-political condition we live in. That is why, diaspora is not just another discourse-term with all the critical buzz about it; the term designates a rich and varied area of experience for the people of Bangladesh, fraught with poignant and, often, unsettling tales of displacement, of voyaging away from home to destinations unknown. These tales, when heard, seem to us moving; but the worst thing is they remain unheard in most cases.
Take the example of the government employees of Bangladesh -many of them are born outside Dhaka in the semi-urban or rural setting. The trajectory of fortune, at one point, brings them to the capital, a place that takes care of their education and starts them on course for a good career.
The career path, in an ironic twist, has many of the employees leave Dhaka again for posting in the remote parts of the country. What follows then for the government employees is a life of peregrination, of endless moving in and out of cities, of rendezvous with strange people and their strange ways, of many rounds of parleys with people they know and do not know.
Home, Sweet Home. What sense of 'home' do the government employees retain in their mind as they go through the packed itinerary of professional life? Is 'home' a place of birth they feel forever rooted in? Or, is not the idea of 'rooted-in' itself revised as they 're-root' themselves in new places and climes as required by the service?
"Quit thinking of going back to Dhaka; you have got a degree from Dhaka university, got yourself a government job; now focus on your career; no point in looking back." These are the very words spoken to me by the Principal of a government college on the day I officially joined the Education Cadre.
It was my first job; I was fresh from the university; I had left my family back in Dhaka. Not surprisingly, the words of the boss seemed unkind to me and I left his room debating with myself whether I was too late to reverse my decision or not.
As I recollect the words of the Principal after five long years, the words seem to have more wisdom than I initially thought. Hidden within the seemingly cranky expression was the cruel fact of the bureaucratic life in Bangladesh- people die to stay in Dhaka; some of them succeed in their endeavor; many of them cannot; so it is better not to complain.
There is still another reason I reflect on my memories of that person now. Nothing would test his composure hard than the restlessness of men like me for whom Dhaka is the 'second' home (if not the only). The sight of pining faces of the university-graduates fretting over their remote posting would have him at the end of his tether. "How can Dhaka be home to you, a place so ugly and so steeped in dog-eat-dog ethic?"-he once asked me. I didn't answer him, though I had one.
"In the beginning it is like trampling on a garden. In the end you are just walking on ground. That is the way we have to learn to live now."- says Indar in A Bend In the River where he compares 'home' to a garden; the implication is clear-people cannot live in their garden forever; at some point, they will walk away from it and go on their necessary errands to meet the world beyond. Flowers will be destroyed, trees mowed down, sanctity of the place violated; a garden may be enchantingly beautiful but its spell is savagely broken as soon as the walls of necessity from all sides encroach upon it.
The saying goes that all roads lead to Rome; but, where career is concerned, all roads in Bangladesh lead to Dhaka. Dhaka is a place we hate; Dhaka is a place we love. The paradoxicality of the place is a sheer antithesis to the concept of home as garden. Dhaka may conjure the visions of abysmal ugliness of a cityscape, of a grotesquely burgeoning poverty, of huddling masses living in filthy hovels but it is also a place where we learn to be adaptive, receive education and finally earn our meal tickets. Dhaka never turns its back on people; it accommodates men and their many ambitions.
No wonder that people may get to love this place after all. Over time, our vision of an idyllic home fades out, gets blurred, only to be replaced by one less picture-perfect but way more practical and useful. New emotions grow; a new romance begins with this 'new' home. So, when the government employees leave Dhaka (new home) again on their unaccustomed ride to the distant parts of the country, their reaction is not necessarily one of relief but of bafflement.
Do not the government employees find themselves, in a 'shadow line', so to speak? Shadow Lines is the famous novel by Amitav Gosh, a story where characters, situated at the crossroads of cultures and civilization, live in a zone of political and psychological in-betweenness- a state where light and darkness, metaphorically speaking, interplay and cast lines of shadows across an expanse of brightness. 'Ambivalence ' is the word that perfectly sums up the condition of these characters and Homi K Bhaba would approve it.
Is this ambivalence also not the fate of many government employees bound for a service life outside Dhaka? When these men take the last trip to Dhaka on Thursday to meet familiar faces and report to their workplaces in the early morning of Sunday, you can take it for granted that the general mood of these men assumes a taut balance of polarities; they feel it both ways- they can as much appreciate the bucolic charm of a lazy country afternoon as they can tolerate Dhaka in its 'beauty-beast' Janus-faced incarnation.
This ambivalence makes them pay dearly. To their bosses, they are late-comers, to their colleagues job-shirkers, to their families sorry tales of failures, but they are, in reality, the most misunderstood of men in employment in today's Bangladesh, living out their diasporic life without a modicum of sympathy from people they work and live with.
My answer was complicated and the Principal had no time to listen to it; so he gave me no further attention, happy to believe that I had been won over already.
The writer is an Assistant Professor of English -----Yasif Ahmad Fysal
at the University of Barisal