an ode to someone i don’t think i’ll ever know

we’re like two sailors marooned on a plush abandoned isle, you and i. instead of being content with the peace that we could enjoy on the island, we keep venturing out into the cold, turbulent waters, in a hope that it’ll be the solution to all our problems. we both know that this is not where we want to be right now, that we’re marooned on this island, but for some reason the turmoil of the ocean seems to provide more of an incentive than the peace of adjusting to our new home.

but is new the correct word? we’ve been perched on the thin line between conflict and happiness for over seven years now, and although we’ve frequently fallen off on to the side of conflict multiple times since, we’ve now arrived at this uncomfortable truce, this balancing act that we must maintain to ensure we don’t fall off again into one of our epic conflicts.

why, though, do we need this balancing act in the first place? why can’t we reconcile ourselves to trying to at least be happy? why do we insist on blaming each other for being in this situation in the first place, when clearly it was always beyond our control? why do we keep poking at this uneasy truce, trying to incite a fight, especially since it comforts neither of us?

i wonder if it would have been different if we hadn’t been separated by this gulf of age – these countless angry years that lie between you and me. fifty is a lot of years of history and experience that you’ve gained that i can only hope i have when i’m your age, and it’s also a long enough time for the entire world to have changed before your eyes many times over, so that those habits of mine that you wouldn’t even have considered at my age are actually normal. yet, while these are things that we tell everyone else to explain why you and i walk this thin tightrope day after day, they are things we haven’t ever been able to appreciate ourselves, and so they serve as a convenient facade to society to explain away our differences.

i think a lot about what i will do when you die. let’s face it, the time is near. you’ve lived a long, full life, but our heredity and life expectancy and other related factors don’t present a very reliable possibility of you living to be the world’s oldest living man. yet, perhaps, you could, in fact, do it. you pulled yourself out of a very modest family background to rise to the pinnacles of power in this country, and had your age not interfered and your ambitions not been dashed, you may have had the power you’ve always desired. so nothing is truly impossible for you. but while death may be a welcome last chapter in that autobiography you’ve been writing for ages, it does impose certain responsibilities upon my shoulders. and i’ve been trying to figure out how i feel about accepting those responsibilities in the first place.

for the longest time, i thought that i wouldn’t be sad if you died. that i would somehow get through to the societal obligations that are incumbent upon me, and move on to a different chapter of my life. for a very long time, i was convinced that your death would not elicit a single tear from me, that i could just deal with it and move on. but i haven’t been able to do that with the death of one parent already, so what makes me so sure?

i was wondering if, seven years down the line, i would be able to remember the sound of your voice. i realized recently that i can no longer remember the exact sound of my mother’s voice anymore, even though that was the soundtrack to most of my youth. and that disturbed me greatly. will it also be the case after you’re gone? more importantly, what words of yours will i remember when you’re gone? will i remember the sparse compliments that you bestowed upon me, or the frequent abuse that hurled from your lips over most of the past seven years? will i remember the cringing feeling that i feel now that foretells when you are about to send more hurt in my general direction? or will i feel nothing, knowing that your words are dead and buried with you and can no longer hurt me?

while i’ve been thinking about your eventual death a lot over the past few months, the sheer possibility of it struck me with full force only recently. it happened when we were having dinner one night, sitting in front of the evening news broadcast as usual. when the prime minister was shown loudly proclaiming in one of her recent election speeches the successes of her government over the past five years, you started yelling back at the image on the television about how everything she was saying was a lie, and how the nation was worse off than before. lately, with the election drawing near, the frequency of such speeches has increased, and with it our dinner time conversations have degraded into a yelling match between you and the loud television over the state of the nation.

initially, i thought of this as an interesting insight into how a person who was once in a position of power deals with retirement or withdrawal from that position; how every thing could have been better if he had only been in the same position. but then i realized that it’s a bit a too late for that. you haven’t been in a position of power in fifteen years, and had this yelling match been just a reaction to withdrawal from the addiction of power, it would have developed much earlier, because the downward economic trends aren’t a recent phenomenon.

instead, i was confronted by the brutal signs of your downward spiral into senility. coupled with outbursts against the government, the opposition, the police, the politicians and the people of this country, you’ve also recently had violent outbursts on the topics of israel and america. while i was initially relieved that your pent-up frustration was being spent on a medium that couldn’t answer back rather than on me, i slowly began to worry. although others may claim that your reactions are valid given the current state of affairs in the world, my interest on this issue has caused me to gain sudden interest in other aspects of your life that have given me more reason to worry. from your recent insistence that everyone agree with your stance on things, your inability to remember anything, to your trying to teach your hate and pass on your anger to your grandchildren, to your sudden irrational urges to close all your bank accounts and collect your savings, only to invest them in new accounts, i have to admit that you are getting more and more difficult to understand. all these traits are recent developments that never were so glaringly obvious before. perhaps i am to blame for not noticing, but if your recent activities and emotional imbalances were present before, i would have noticed them.

the reason all this bothers me now is because i don’t want to see you sink deeper and deeper into a human mess of senility, misplaced emotions and lost memories, mainly because it’s not fair to you or to those around you. throughout my lifetime, and the lifetimes of many of the people who know and admire you today, you were always in a position of power. you were always strong, caring, confident, dependable and conscientious, always acting in a manner that would ensure that nobody ever came to any harm. you were always the rock that everyone could depend on, and you were the strength for others when they had no other strength to rely on. nobody has any memories of you as a person who was not always fully in control of every situation, and therefore it’s not fair for their memory of you to see you in this state of despondency that you are slowly sinking into. everyone you know needs to believe that you won’t just fade away, but perhaps just disappear, leaving behind a host of happy memories.

but, i guess, i need to believe this more than anyone.

i wish i could stop your slow descent into insanity. i wish we could have conversations over dinner again, even if most of them disintegrated into a brutal exchange of insults in the past. i wish i could turn back the hands of time so that we could start over and would never have to end up where we are now. i wish i could stop feeling burdened by the weight of this secret that everyone knows. i wish i could learn to take what you have to say objectively, instead of flaring up at each and every comment. i wish i could actually understand your reasoning behind your actions, and stop considering them as betrayals. i wish i could stop taking my own anger and frustrations out on you. i wish i could stop blaming you for everything that’s gone wrong, and stop you blaming me for the same things. i wish i could learn to appreciate the things you do and sacrifices you make for me. i wish i could spend more time with you, not fighting, not shouting, but actually talking. i wish i could learn to open up to you and tell you what’s on my mind. i wish i could identify with your thoughts, your feelings, your desires. i wish i could learn to be proud of you. i wish we could be a family together again. i wish i could learn to call this house home again. i wish i could tell you i love you and actually mean it.

i don’t think we’ve ever gotten to know each other well enough – after all, we started trying way too late. and i guess that has been my main failing as your son – not getting to know you well enough, and not letting you get to know me either. but it’s too late for that now. we’ve both done things to hurt each other, and had our relationship been anything else other than father and son, it would have been damaged irreparably by now. but we’re stuck with one another, and i guess the least i can do is at least try to understand you better.

maybe that’s the only way we can convert this uneasy truce into permanent peace and happiness.


  1. What IS it with fathers and sons?

    It’s exactly the same with my brother and my dad. Separately, they’re perfectly normal individuals, but put them together in one room and suddenly…BOOM!

    I hope things get better for you.

  2. So how much of it was based on fact and how much was fiction?

    BTW congrats on your nomination for the best Bangladesh Blog.

  3. I read your piece one more time.
    I am amazed at your depth of perception and your emotional maturity.
    How old are you? Let me guess, somewhere between 23-25? How can you think so profoundly at this age? When I was your age (a decade ago) my focus was getting in to a grad school of my choice. 🙂
    You are most definitely well read – it shows in your writing. I hope you’ll never give up writing.

  4. somethings change with time, and some just leave the scars behind. we all wish, we could change so many many things abt life- parents, love, and much more. and as years passby, we begin to accept these painful truths of not having a family, or the likes, as a way of life.
    I dnt know if time heals these scars. I myself, have tried to find the answer. but I know u will find home. if you believe in the precious thing, you will find home. remember how, someone said home is where you are together and loved, and an imaginary world. we too, have a home 🙂

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