Bengali hospitality and generosity have been two of the hallmarks of the resilience that we are famous for. From natural disasters to the tumultuous and scary days of the war of liberation, helping hands were extended quietly and at times at great personal risk. These names haven't really been listed nor have they clamoured for it. Post the 1987-88 floods and the 1991 cyclone, self-motivated individuals and groups braved the conditions and pathetic circumstances to ferry relief goods and cash scrounged from public donations. During the floods, Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) cafeteria became a manufacturing factory with volunteer students rolling out millions of rotis. Households were asked to prepare extra rotis to add to the numbers, that were then taken to the affected people along with molasses and puffed rice, thereby aiding the government measures that are never adequate enough. Medical students headed out with whatever medicine, saline and water purification tablets that could be managed. It was a spirit of indomitable empathy.
Where has it all gone? Over 150 people have died in the hill collapse in Rangamati, and apart from the trickle of reports in the press we just know that food is scarce and when available, monstrously expensive. Broadcast media have shown more interest in covering the London Greenfel disaster along with first-hand reports of the heartbreak of the missing. Citizen reaction has been almost unthinkably numb, especially in the fasting month of Ramzan. The lavish Iftar parties continue merrily as does the latest addition to a pompous attitude of Sheri parties. Not one hotel or restaurant has announced that they'll donate one day's food for the hapless hill dwellers.
When the Prime Minister was away from the country, it was almost as if ministries didn't know who was to take the lead. The government has plenty of coarse rice in stock that would have been welcome by the poor, hungry Rangamati citizens. Political parties have been amazingly slow to react and indeed take action with no major leadership having visited the area. Communication connectivity has been affected, fair enough. But where, oh, where are the fleet of helicopters that are up for hire to whisk corporate executives to Chittagong and other places of the country? Somehow it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
The corporate social responsibility (CSR) flags of corporate bodies hang limp, business chambers are strangely quiet and the multitude of private universities appear to have done nothing to help. It's almost that we've lost the ability of feeling for and hurting with them. Parliament passed a condolence motion but could we not have expected a parliamentary committee to be set up and despatched to be beside the voters who send the MPs to the sumptuous Luis Khan Sangsad? It's all been forgotten. The days of donating a day's salary, MPs donating a day's allowance, opening up gruel kitchens - nothing. More will be needed for those who have survived but lost all belongings. This includes restarting their lives, building homes anew and setting out with gainful activity. For once when there should have been noise, the silence is deafening.