As I was just leafing through Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a feeble attempt to cope with the emptiness and gloom unleashed in my little world by my younger brother Shafique's sudden death, my eyes settled on a sentence in chapter five: '… he died without understanding his own death.' The sentence sums up the utter bewilderment that grips Santiago Nassar, Marquez's hero, as he staggers back home, grievously wounded and bleeding, and falls on his face in the kitchen. This simple sentence struck a chord with me, reminding me of the final hours of my brother. Just the day before I had returned from the small rural hospital where my brother had been whisked off by some locals when he was found lying unconscious on the side of a road at Savar, seemingly hit by a bus or a truck or a covered van and bleeding from the head. I had learned from the doctors and nurses there how my brother reacted as they laid him in a bed. He seemed to regain his sense for a while and was looking at them incredulously, trying to sit up in a way that would give them an impression that he was still fit enough to resume his disrupted journey to his work which he had undertaken in the early morning. Despite being a doctor, he still had no clue to what lay ahead of him. The disorientation from a tremendous shock was writ large on his face and he could not make sense of what was going on around him, just in the way Santiago Nassar had succumbed to his death, not fully aware of what it all meant.
It is said that the heaviest load on earth is a son's corpse on a father's shoulders. In case the father is no more, this load devolves on an elder brother's shoulders as a matter of course. This is how I was compelled to carry the heaviest load on earth to my dear little brother's grave last year. Strangely, that load still refuses to be lightened though he was buried a year ago, and though time is quietly going by. Sometimes I find myself caught in a web of hallucinations. I hear him potter about in our small study and dust off the books or put his shoes in the shoe-rack as he used to do after coming back from work. There are times when I have the feeling that he is standing quietly beside me or whispering something into my ears before I can come to my senses with some effort. I find the shock a bit too much to bear then. A sharp pain shoots through my veins as the cold winter morning snow call up memories of the fatal January 22 morning that brought me the terrible news that he was in a critical condition.
Sometimes I wonder if I ever imagined that he would die so early but do not then see any reason why on earth I should have harbored such gloomy thoughts. In a world where the living, though stalked by death perpetually, often lose sight of the glaring fact of their own mortality, who can imagine that he will never again see a healthy and strong younger brother the next day?
Like all elder brothers, I had the opportunity to see my younger brother from the day he was born. Countless times did I hold him close to my heart, kiss his forehead and carry him on my lap until he ceased to be a baby. A quiet and lovely child, he could endear himself to all who happened to get in touch with him. Then he gradually grew into an immensely nice person. His amiable smile confirmed beyond doubt the rare kind of innocence and simplicity he had. Even after living in this dog-eat-dog world for quite a few decades, he could never learn how to say a harsh word to anyone, let alone do the slightest harm to a human or a non-human knowingly.
My brother became a doctor in a society where there is only one doctor for thousands of people. Indeed, his family and the state had to spend a lot to make him a worthy citizen. He was still diligently trying to expand his expertise by studying more and more. But bang went all his goodness, efforts and dreams in a matter of a minute when a rash driver struck him down. In his short life, he tried to help people by all means – by giving them free treatment, money and whatever he could – but the love and expectations of all those he had helped counted for nothing when he lay dying in tragic circumstances. He always preferred to remain unnoticed when he was alive and, true to form, he passed away without forcing himself on other people's attention.
The gory accident that took my brother's life went completely unnoticed by our media. His untimely death did not, quite predictably, make many people pause and ponder. I wonder if this was the kind of truth that W. H. Auden tried so beautifully to depict in 'Musee des Beaux Arts', where Icarus plunges into the sea with his burnt wings within earshot of a ploughman and before the eyes of a shipload of passengers. Nobody seemed to notice or care that this was a “dreadful martyrdom” running its course!
Sometimes I feel that it would have been easier for my family and me to bear with my brother's death if he had died earlier. After all, in childhood, he had survived a severe attack of typhoid. As a medical student he had to travel a lot to Barisal by steamer amid rain and storms. Would such an early death have left us with much fewer of his memories then the ones haunting us off and on all the time? Would the passage of years have helped us get over his absence easily and live on in more peace? These are some of the silly questions I often find engulfing me these days. I know there is no happy way of losing a younger brother and there is no right time for that kind of death, but one just cannot escape these counterfactual questions when a younger brother so abruptly exits in the prime of his life.
Following my brother's death, someone told me that he had come to this world to live only for the years he spent here. His birth and death were absolutely preordained. One can now imagine that had he not been killed in an accident, he could have lived a much longer life. But such speculations are futile because he duly completed the brief cycle of life that he was destined to. Utterly disconsolate as I was, for a few days I tried to comfort myself with this kind of pre-deterministic wisdom offered by friends and well-wishers. But, alas, in a few days all such consolatory words and ideas started ringing hollow! The questions that were gnawing at me became sharper and I started feeling more restless than before.
I began to ask myself after a while: were all the man-made factors that led to my brother's untimely death just an illusion then? Had not the terrible traffic on the Dhaka-Mymensingh road on the final prayer day of the Ijtema that made him take a detour through Savar to Gazipur– a route which was totally unknown to him -- something to do with what happened to him? And was the person -- presumably a reckless driver -- who hit my brother and ended his life nothing more than a carrier of some superior will? Does not the cold apathy to the value of human life that has become widespread these days set the scene for such a devastating experience? One year after my dear brother's death, these questions and a lot more misgivings keep assailing me remorselessly.
Golam Faruque Khan is a lover of poetry and Rabindra Sangeet.