“One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. “You’d be destroying what makes it special,” she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.”
Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle
It is not just the Joshua tree that gets its beauty from its struggles. We humans are also elevated through our struggles. There is an old proverb- “What doesn’t kill makes you stronger”. Every day we face challenges some big and some small. We face those challenges in our own ways. Some people will bend or surrender to the slightest adversity; others will put up some resistance but will then quit if the going gets tough and then there are those individuals who have an indomitable spirit. A spirit of never say die. To keep going and persevere against all odds. To never surrender.
The Finns have a term for this character. It is called Sisu. In the English language there is no literal equivalent to the concept of Sisu. The Finns describe this concept as a stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery and hardiness. The Finns associate their national character to the concept of Sisu. In 1939 the Soviet Union attacked Finland with an army three time the size of the Finnish army. The war waged on for three months in the brutal winter with temperatures falling to -40deg celsius. But the Finns persevered and after massive losses by the Soviets the war ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty. This was a real life David and Goliath battle. The awe inspiring might of the Soviet army against tiny Finland. Though the Finns did not end up winning the war, the world suddenly looked at Finland with a new respect and recognition of their grit and bravery. The Finns explained their bravado as a natural national characteristic of Sisu. Sisu is more than grit and perseverance; it is what you call upon when you feel that you have nothing left.
Because Sisu is a Finnish term I have narrated the above anecdote of tiny Finland’s war against the mighty Soviet Union. Though we may not have a similar word in the Bangla lexicon our national character is no less admirable. Our struggle for freedom is a monumental testament to our grit and courage. Over centuries our people have remained undefeated by plagues, famines, floods, cyclones and just about every conceivable natural disaster. We have lived through subjugation, tyranny, torture and genocide but none has succeeded in subduing the relentless spirit of the Bangali. Today we stand tall as a prosperous independent nation respected by the entire world. It is important that we as citizens of this country recognize our achievements and our proud heritage and use it as our strength to fight against any adversity that we may face.
While those of us belonging to the Baby Boomers generation or Generation X have been hardened by the experience of our great war of independence, the genocide and the post independence turmoil, the Millennials and the Generation Z of our country have lived their lives in relative comfort and stability. Covid-19 is the first big challenge facing these generations. It is their baptism of character building. Like in so many adversities of the past where our indomitable spirit could not be subdued, this time too in sha Allah our nation will remain standing tall. Of course there will be casualties. Some of us will lose our near and dear ones but when the storm is over we will rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
History also gives us reasons for being hopeful. Apart from our own phenomenal recovery after the war of independence we can also draw encouragement from the progress of other countries which suffered disasters. After the second world war, Europe was virtually destroyed; yet within ten years it was back to its full glory. Japan had 66 major cities completely destroyed and 350,000 people were killed during the same war; within 15 years after the war Japan had completely recovered. During the Vietnam war, the country was subjected to the most intense bombing in history; it did not take Vietnam very long to become a prosperous nation. The fact is that economic rebound is a natural phenomenon after any catastrophe as long as the country has a functional institutionalized governance.
As a result of this pandemic many people will lose their jobs; many companies will become bankrupt and some will close down completely. There will be those who will lose hope but there will also be those who do not know how to quit. Battered and bruised they may be but never defeated. These exceptional people will pick up the pieces and redefine themselves and their businesses. It will be a new dawn which will see great prosperity for those whose vocabulary does not have the word “surrender”. Those who have the spirit and tenacity of the Bangali.