Today, after many years have passed, I have nothing left out of that beautiful dream except painful memories flapping like invisible wings around me, filling the depths of my heart with sorrow, and bringing tears to my eyes; and my beloved, beautiful Selma, is dead and nothing is left to commemorate her except my broken heart and tomb surrounded by cypress trees. That tomb and this heart are all that is left to bear witness of Selma.
The silence that guards the tomb does not reveal God’s secret in the obscurity of the coffin, and the rustling of the branches whose roots suck the body’s elements do not tell the mysteries of the grave, by the agonized sighs of my heart announce to the living the drama which love, beauty, and death have performed.
Oh, friends of my youth who are scattered in the city of Beirut, when you pass by the cemetery near the pine forest, enter it silently and walk slowly so the tramping of your feet will not disturb the slumber of the dead, and stop humbly by Selma’s tomb and greet the earth that encloses her corpse and mention my name with deep sigh and say to yourself, “here, all the hopes of Gibran, who is living as prisoner of love beyond the seas, were buried. On this spot he lost his happiness, drained his tears, and forgot his smile.”
Ay that tomb grows Gibran’s sorrow together with the cypress trees, and above the tomb his spirit flickers every night commemorating Selma, joining the branches of the trees in sorrowful wailing, mourning and lamenting the going of Selma, who, yesterday was a beautiful tune on the lips of life and today is a silent secret in the bosom of the earth.
Oh, comrades of my youth! I appeal to you in the names of those virgins whom your hearts have loved, to lay a wreath of flowers on the forsaken tomb of my beloved, for the flowers you lay on Selma’s tomb are like falling drops of dew for the eyes of dawn on the leaves of withering rose. (Khalil Gibran, Broken Wings).
I belong to the race that ranges from the Indus in the West to the Karnaphully in the East. I am South Asian. The history of my people is rather a sad one, images of blood, bodies, dishonor and many horrors I feel ashamed to pen down here flash immediately. This is how court historians painted our minds. The colors are thick and deep, looking nearly impossible to remove from the canvas of our minds. We have been forced to believe that we fought to liberate our wings so that the bird of freedom could fly high. We blamed the other wing for whatever went wrong. The blame game just repeats year after year. What does it matter, I ask, if I blame my right hand or left hand for my crimes? We killed ourselves, we humiliated ourselves, and now we blame ourselves for what we did to ourselves with our own hands. What could be more pathetic than this ridiculous suggestion for our future generations as a way to know their history.
In Khalil Gibran’s classic, Broken Wings, he paints a picture of a lovely woman Selma, a prisoner of priests and rulers due to her circumstances. Selma is the poet’s metaphor for our beloved country, as is the Indian sub-continent for perhaps almost a billion people. The murderous campaigns of death committed upon Selma of Hindustan in the last one hundred years scream in silence beneath the smoke of nationalism, socialism and other isms crafted by the priests and rulers, local and foreign.
1905 Dhaka, birthplace of the Muslim League, the party founded by British loyalist Sir Agha Khan to act as a “bridge” between Muslim community and the British imperialists. Did Selma know that this was the beginning of the Priest-Politician syndicate? Selma’s lover (read common people) was fooled by the slogans and the Royal certifications and peerage given to him by his slave master – the British Royalty. The lover was dumb enough to believe that the founding fathers of the Muslim League were really looking after the Muslim community’s interest, as opposed to the British Royal imperial interests.
British loyalists told the lover to separate Selma from her family (Hindustan) for good. Why? Because her family disallowed eating Beef amongst other things. Leaving the family, the lover was told, would be in the best interest of Selma and would ensure a bright future for her, Selma would get her Freedom, her right to self determination, and it was for Selma to make that happen by abandoning her past, that is, a very long past.
Selma separated. Left a 1000 year inheritance behind. Left her people, her admirers, her protectors, her jewels, her fortresses, her monuments, her history, her culture, her Taj Mahal, because her lover believed this was exactly what was needed for Selma for her happiness. Her screams got louder yet only her tears heard them, her eyes looked back at what she was leaving behind, the legacy of her family built on the sacrifices over a thousand years, all vanishing before her. No worries, the priest-ruler syndicate reminded, we will build hundreds of Taj Mahals, bigger and shinier than the old junk left behind.
Selma gained independence granted to her by the imperial masters (read owners) at the price of cutting herself into two. She did that. So did her lover. Two Selmas and two lovers. Hearts of lovers must be jealous hearts. Each wing wanted Selma all for itself. Once again, Selma was told, by the priest-ruler club to cut her wings into another two. Only one lover could have Selma all for himself. The other had to die. This was in Selma’s best interest, she was quickly reminded, again. So it was, just as planned, by the priest-ruler camp, Selma was cut into two. One lover died. But this time, so did Selma. Selma died out of grief. The dagger that killed Selma was made with the steel of pain, sharp as her spirit’s screams and pointed like her tear drops.
The lover that survived manages still to live with the memory of beautiful Selma. He built a mural in her honor, drops roses in her name and visits her tomb annually singing praises and hymns about Selma’s virtue, eminence and elegance.
The question that Khalil Gibran might want to ask his dedicated readers is this.
Who do you think truly loved Selma? Or did she ever have a true love?
A true love in my eyes is one who makes the self sacrifice for his beloved, not the other way round. The priest-ruler class loved Selma for their own selves, for their own self centric ambitions. True lover of Selma would have gladly sacrificed his desires to keep Selma spiritually together, to not cut her up into pieces again and again, to protect her history, her honor, her culture, her legacy, her smiles, her happiness and to ultimately protect Selma’s family and her people. That would have been true love for Selma, to fight for her, to remove the iron chains from her neck, and if necessary to offer Selma the lover’s ultimate sacrifice.
The legacy of blood in the Indo-Pak-Bangla sub-con reminds us of our history of betrayal by the priest-ruler classes, over and over again.
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