By Khabir Ahmed
In our boyhood days very often we fell prey to seasonal fever and flu. This had especially happened in the summer season when we took the pleasures of bathing and swimming for most of the times during the day. Our domestic doctors came, dispensed some common medicines and said that men should suffer from such mild fever and flu at least once in a year. He tried to make understand this through an allegory. As a vehicle needs servicing once a year to gear up the engine, similarly our human body needs a mild illness and medication at least once in a year. This boosts our immune system and leaves our body refreshed, the doctor said.
Before the outbreak of COVID 19, this maddening modern world and our life in it had started moving in such fast track mood that we did not have time to stand and stare. Events in the modern world move faster than the minds of men. Nobody has the time for rest and respite. Every one had to run faster and faster to remain in the same place.
But to the utter surprise to all, the COVID-19 had brought a sudden u-turn in our life. The whole busy world had come to a sudden stand still. The long lock down brought a deafening silence every where. As if the COVID-19 and the subsequent devastations in the world had brought back that old great message to the mankind: that the life of a man ends where it begins. Though man claims that he has conquered the nature, but in fact, he has not. Whatever man has made in the name of so called developments and constructions, these are in fact, destructions. Victory of mankind is not victory, it is retreat, retreat from the basics of Nature. Perhaps, no species has caused greater wrongs to this beautiful planet of ours than the unscrupulous mankind. Everywhere the mankind crossed the limitations and when one crosses the limitation, indirectly it indicates his doom. And hence is the present situation.
The long lock down was the time for introspection and soul searching for every sensible person. This situation made one recall the theme of the famous poem ‘Ozymandias’ by P.B. Shelley. Ozymandias (Pharaoh Rameses-II) was a mighty king, who reigned during 1279-1213 B.C. He was a tyrant, a dictator who said ‘my name is Ozymandias, the king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Ozymandias had huge ego and thought that he was magnificent and great. He also thought that the empire he built would last forever. He made a statue of him which was 27 feet tall. But after centuries of onslaughts of wraths of nature, when the travelers visited the place they witnessed that nothing had remained beside. ‘Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/ the lone and level sands stretch far away.’
This poem tries to convey two aspects of life. One aspect is the short life span of power and glory of human being. And the other aspect is the invincible and unconquerable vastness of mother Nature. Man’s search for conquering Nature and its wrath is not only futile but also impossible.
Searching my library during the lockdown, I also brought out Victor E. Frankl’s famous book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Frankl was a professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School. He was also the founder of what has come to be called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. His writings have been called the most important contributions in the field of Psychotherapy since the days of Freud, Adler and Jung.
In this book, Frankl has revisited the issue of man’s eternal search for meaning of life. During the Nazi attack of Austria, Frakl was also thrown to concentration and extermination camp in Auschwitz. The travails of the inmates in the Nazi concentration camps need no repetitions. While hundreds and thousands of inmates in the camps died and were killed, Frankl survived miraculously. But this book is not about his sorrows and sufferings, trials and tribulations in the camp; it is about his strength to survive. Once Nietzsche said, ‘He who has a Why to live for, can almost bear any How’. In this book, ‘Man’s search for Meaning’, Frankl has many times quoted this sentence. Frankl has described that many prisoners died in the camps and they died less for lack of food and medicine than from the lack of hope, lack of something to live for. Frankl kept himself alive and kept hope alive by recalling the thoughts of his beloved wife and the prospects of seeing her again. While in the concentration camp, he was also dreaming that once the war was over, he would be lecturing about the psychological lessons to be learned from the Auschwitz experience. Hundreds and thousands died in the camps but Frankl’s concern in this book is less with the question of why most prisoners died than it is with the question of why anyone all survived.
Not to speak of the concentration camps, every body suffers more or less in our worldly life. And hence life is a struggle. But such suffering has no meaning unless we give some meaning to it. And we give meaning to our sufferings in the way we respond to our sufferings. Frankl writes that during the time of extreme crisis in life and self preservation, most of the people forget the human dignity and become not more than animal. But on the contrary, men may also be brave, dignified and unselfish and even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.
This book is a remarkable tribute to hope for the mankind and this attitude has made Victor Frankl one of the moral heroes of our times.
Can we cherish such hopes amidst these glooms of COVID-19? Has the world fallen sick temporarily for a rest and respite and to boost its immune system ?
( The writer is Editor-in-Chief of the influential Assamese daily newspaper, Dainik Gana Adhikar and former Director of Education, BTR, Assam. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and over phone on mobile : 99540111 )