Jahir Raihan's Hajar Bocor Dhore is a book of love; love that transforms into a symphony of agony and separation. The backdrop of the novel relates the conventional rustic life of village people where people are simultaneously plagued with poverty and blessed with a simple life. Along with these characteristics of rural life, the novel delineates the devastating and harrowing nature of a disease named Olabibi (mainly Cholera) that outbreaks as a pandemic and consumes trails of lives.
Oladevi or Olabibi is considered as the goddess of Cholera and worshiped especially in Bengal and it is estimated that during 1817-1831 nearly 18 million people and soldiers died in this deadly contagious disease. This plague mainly springs up due to water contamination and, research tells that even on those days many ponds and waterways, which were commonly used for drinking water, were shut down. Superstitious people did not believe in any such thing as contamination of water whereas they took it for granted that it is the curse of Olabibi and the result of the sins they have committed against her.
On one occasion readers encounter that the entire family of Ambia, a neighbor and one of the beloveds of central character Montu, wipes out because of the outrageous and demonic nature of Olabibi. Nobody dares to bury the dead bodies. People believe that if they touch any infectious body Olabibi will curse them. Most of the cases, people remain unattended and dies alone. It is Montu who dares to bury those corpses. Montu's love for people and his humanity makes Ambia falls for him. It is humanity that brings people together. However, people are seen to show their utter selfish attitude in this moment of scarcity and crisis.
García Márquez, on the contrary, in his novel Love in the Time of Cholera, deals Cholera in a very different way and, surprisingly and weirdly, juxtaposes 'Cholera' and 'Love'. Love stands for Cholera here- an obsessive love- which makes people suffer and kills them too. Florentino Ariza, the lovesick lovebird suffers from chronic intestine problems and vomits. Florentino pursues his love Fermina all of his life while Fermina lives an unhappy forced marriage life. Though, at last, Florentino gets Fermina in his life but they have their journey on a river of floating corpses. When Florentino kisses Fermina for the first time, he is disgusted by the old and decaying flesh of her. The menace of death lurks everywhere like the menace of Cholera.
But whatever the situation is these two characters who are bound by love march forward. Though life is tough and rough now, they can recuperate their past, good memories, nourish their present togetherness, and can think of living a life of their own. The struggle of the man is paid off at last and the woman gets the real touch of love which refreshes her and makes their existence meaningful whatever tough it might be. Love might sometimes bring maladies but it conquers all.
In this present Corona pandemic what we require is love. From social to personal level love could be the essence of living. Extending hands to the needy and ultra-poor people is a must work for us. Physical distancing is important. It is to be maintained to save ourselves and to save others. So, in one way, it means showing respect to others. As we are physically disconnected, we are socially disconnected in some ways or other because of our failure to have normal communication like before. But, this ordeal will not last long and being respectful to each other is the vital. To show this vital sign is the key to live a healthy life.
Social media, especially Facebook, is the place where we are taking refuge. Our digital communication has reached the point of a pandemic. Lovebirds are sacrificing their nights of sleep to have their last-minute conversation. Maybe, they smell that they will expire soon, so let's have our never-ending last-minute conversation.
This obsession with social media-based love is silently killing valuable times. Not only the lovers, but the way people are spending their time in social media in this Covid-19 time is also very alarming and very detrimental for actual social life. This outbreak of digital socialization has reached a pandemic stage. Silently and unknowingly, they are inviting danger in their precious lives.
In real life, the precarious scene is that people are not getting their desired love and respect. Loved ones are not even going near to the dead bodies. Sons are leaving behind their old mothers who are diagnosed with Corona. Conjugal relationships are suffering the most in this peculiar time of isolation and quarantine. Sometimes, hospitals are also denying to admit the poor Corona affected people. Old people are getting severe neglect from the young ones and from families and societies.
Underneath this gloomy picture lies the force of love that is saving thousands of people. Albeit social media is disturbing our normal social life, without it our city life would have been paralyzed in this emergency period. Using this social media people are launching many donation programs, collecting money, and sending them to the poor people. Few people have kept them busy for humanitarian purposes only. Individually and collectively people are raising money to save humanity from this catastrophe. They are spreading their love from every possible way.
Trouble is an eternal partner of life. With trouble comes anger. But the real heroes are those who have patience and courage in an awkward situation. Waiting for something with patience is a virtue. Florentino, In the Time of the Cholera, waited along to get his beloved. Montu, In Hajar Bocor Dhore, showed his courage to attend and bury the dead people. Their love has shown them the way. They hare the heroes. They did not bob down in the moment of difficulty rather they patiently waited and responded accordingly what a sensible person does.
Likewise, to overcome this current situation, we cannot be superstitious; on the other hand, we cannot totally ignore the situation indulging ourselves in social media only. Our little empathy and love can save us and others in this crucial period. Discrimination and hatred will not help us and our nation to reach the shore in this moment of disaster. Fostering a conscious and helping mind can do the magic. There is no fairy tale solution to this problem. Nurturing love and spreading it towards the betterment of humanity can sail us through.
Love in the time of Corona will be history once and it will be the history of love and respect that the coming generation will remember, I believe. Florentino waited for Fermina exactly 51 years, nine months, and four days. We need to wait with patience too. By now, we need to create story of love, respect, and care.
Ariful Islam Laskar teaches
English Literature at Daffodil International University
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