Dhaka's Gulistan no longer grows flowers. And these days scent of flowers in full bloom can't reach those confined at home in the metropolis. Yet, the name Golestan (The Rose Garden), a creation in the 13th century Iran (Persia) by Sheikh Mosleh al-Din Saadi Shirazi, does captivate human minds with an enchanting aroma transcending age, language and geographic boundaries.
While in desperate need of medical treatment, vaccine and money to survive the pandemic, society needs fresh drive to make breakthroughs and for making the drive, its people need generosity in thinking and in bestowing the same on fellow humans. Oblivious to messages of inspiration contained in books, mankind now finds itself in a quagmire.
Saadi's message crafted in Golestan was different: "If you are unsympathetic to the misery of others,/ it is not right that they should call you a human being." This poet of 'the cheerer of men's hearts', as Ralph Emerson called him (according to Joobin Bekhrad), inspired great minds like Voltaire, who collectively contributed to the growth of modern civilisation.
Homer had influenced Greek conqueror Alexander, through Iliad. By presenting The Art of War, Sun Tsu has shaped thoughts of military strategists around the world. Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum, a defining novel of the 20th century, was praised, in the Nobel Prize citation, as his gift for ''reviewing contemporary history by recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers and lies that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them.''
The words used by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence of America in 1776 set the foundation of democracy of people: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Scientific knowledge and inventions, various literatures, socio-political theories and revolutions of more than a thousand years culminated in the world of the 20th and 21st centuries. And generations of leaders and powerful actors have exploited these innovations, often in meeting parochial interests and satisfying ego.
Thus, most of us don't know the spirit of the liberation war, spelt out in the proclamation of independence made in Mujibnagar on April 10, 1971: "[We]...in order to ensure for the people of Bangladesh equality, human dignity and social justice, declare and constitute Bangladesh to be sovereign Peoples' Republic."
The wisdom of the great people has been broadly undermined of late, thanks to nationalistic conflicts and evil knowledge applied by some influential people in domestic and foreign policies. These elements have become followers of Kautilyan and Machiavellian traditions devoid of moral precepts.
Social thinkers and litterateurs act as either puppets of regimes or dissenting voices without much impact. Society shows utter failure to produce ideas and dreams for fighting out wrongdoers despite having massive wealth and affluence.
The innocent majority, made a hostage by hostile and restless minds, see no end to the corona-induced crisis. Such reality may be analogised with Sheikh Saadi's lines in Golestan: "The rose has been destroyed and the thorn remained./ The treasure has been taken and the serpent left… It is incumbent to sever connection with a thousand friends/ Rather than to behold a single foe."
The global mood, prior to the pandemic, was overwhelmed with consumerist spree and preoccupation with information technology. That suggested, as if, the world had scaled the peak without gifted resources of selfless men and women. It demonstrated certain disconnect, in the age of connectivity, from knowledge and wisdom of centuries.
Some people nevertheless can't but try to rediscover the beauty of life in the messages many have refrained from reading. It's not possible to build a bridge between the present and the future without the experience of the past.