The recent death of artist and award-winning filmmaker Khalid Mahmood Mithu in a tree fall on a road in Dhaka has stunned the city's cultural world. His untimely death shocked all and sundry. It almost came as a bolt from the blue. The weather was pleasant, with no storm or rain. Mithu was travelling by rickshaw when the massive tree came crashing down on the rickety transport, badly injuring him and the rickshaw-puller. Mithu later passed away at a hospital.
It was later found that the brief downpour accompanied by gusty wind the previous night had weakened the roots of the old tree. On that fateful day, the tree perhaps couldn't withstand the impact of even a mild breeze.
Deaths like this are interpreted as ill luck. People are often killed in this city on being crushed under trees during storms. As fatalists view it, these persons were destined to meet such sudden deaths. Many might disagree, calling these occurrences accidents happening in an adverse situation. With the adversities removed, the accidents may not have occurred. And lives would not have ended this tragically. In the case of Mithu's death, the adversities centred round the condition of the tree and the soil on which it was standing.
There are hundreds of such precariously standing trees in Dhaka. It's veritably a monumental task to identify all the vulnerable trees. The authorities concerned can just single out the trees along the important roads only. Even that may not be done smoothly owing to limitations including lack of manpower and technical support. However, it can in no way justify letting the aged and worn-out trees stand on roadsides to the serious hazards of road users. Remedial measures have to be in place.
The shocking demise of Khalid Mahmood Mithu reminds us of similar deaths of young geniuses like Tareque Masud and Mishuq Munier. They died, along with three others, in a fatal road crash in 2011. It's hard to forget Monajat Uddin. The famed roving reporter slipped from a motor launch into mid-river Padma and drowned two decades ago. The river was too wide to swim across to reach its shores. The other passengers on the launch's deck witnessed the accident. Monajat was taking photographs of the scenic river apparently oblivious of the possible hazards. He was standing on the roof of the rear-most cubicle of the vessel. As part of photography work, he perhaps stepped backward onto the edge of the slippery roof without being aware of the danger. Within moments he slipped and fell in the river. The onlookers could have tactfully alerted Monajat to his precarious condition. The crew of the launch could have come forward and politely asked him not to do photography in that way. None had acted. In a difficult and weird situation like this, we conjure up fate or destiny.
Man by nature is a great inventor of alibis when the question of dodging duties arises. It gives us great solace if a pretext relieves us of the pangs of conscience. We have failed to effectively warn Monajat of the danger awaiting him on the launch roof. Perhaps this would have spared him from death in the prime of life. That didn't happen. Death is inescapable. But sudden deaths are puzzling. Materialists remain unfazed. Uncertainties have no appeal to them. To avoid dangers they prefer caution to leaving one's life to chances.
Whether the life of Khalid Mahmood or Monajat Uddin would have been saved in a favourable situation might prove a futile debate. People believing in fate will dismiss the idea. And those practical will stick to their stand on responsibilities. It's a great dilemma.