Coming face to face with a man-eater all of a sudden or stumbling on a cobra generates a lot of fear in all normal people. In situations like this, some get scared to death. Getting panicked is one of the inborn traits of man. But the mental state of people in a small town brought to a standstill by a psychopathic serial killer does not fit in with reflexive fear. Of course, the inhabitants of the town feel panic-stricken. They are afraid of moving in the deserted roads. Places lacking sufficient light keep them terrified at night. A pall of cold eeriness descends on the town. This fear is insidious, and also invasive. It gives many goose-bumps. The panic of this type is different from the one created after encountering a frightful object. One also experiences this fear over a prolonged period like the one narrated in Albert Camus' novel The Plague.
The novel explores the existentialist state of man through its protagonist Bernard Rieux living in a French-Algerian city, attacked by plague. Although the author remains focused on the issues of destiny and human condition, the ravages left by the disease pervades the work. The situation is one of dread and foreboding. The locale and story-line of the novel invariably reminds one of the Great Plague of London that swept through England in 1665-1666. The pestilence is considered a part of Black Death, the 1347-1750 European plague.
Lots of literary works, paintings, etc. were based on this much-dreaded disease in the Medieval Period. In fact, those dealt with death. While narrating the terrifying spectacles of plague-ridden countries, the authors and artists in different periods eventually found themselves engaged in portraying how man behaves in the face of death. Being stalked by death could be dubbed the most dreadful of nightmares haunting man. The situation is replete with insidious fear. In the event of its long stay, it turns hideous, and starts crippling humans.
The fear and terror engendered by aggressive invasions, wars and pogroms have made man pass through harrowing times through ages. Those are frights that take hold of people at the mass level. The fear of being attacked by hostile forces affects the average man. It is also a universal rule. But the fear that creeps into man in fraught times has a unique place in life. This is not the panic created in humans facing a snarling tiger or a poisonous snake. Nor is it the one caused by ghost tales. This fright makes its presence felt in a time filled with mostly invisible and unexplainable factors. During the Nazi sieges at the time of World War II, many occupied cities had a taste of this nightmarish fear. In the later periods, the countries governed by dictators or totalitarian regimes had to endure this dreadful feeling.
George Orwell's novel 1984 offers an imaginary picture of stifling state surveillance of its citizens. The fiction revolves round the fictitious land called Airstrip One, a province of super-state Oceania. Its tyrannical rule is symbolised by the Big Brother, the mysterious yet omnipresent party leader. Published in 1949, the grim predictions about this despotic rule have not fully come true. However, in the post-World War II period a few states showed signs of following this authoritarian rule. Insidious fear in every movement of the citizens became part of life. Midnight knocks at the door, the omnipresent state police, spiriting away of suspected dissidents, deportation to state-run labour camps, etc. became day-to-day realities in these countries. With the all-powerful state coming to an end, its system with the draconian rules and laws became redundant in no time. A leftover of this ironfisted, brutal rule exists even today in a handful of countries. Fear permeates societies in these states run by their despotic regimes.
Bangladesh has had a brush with frightful times during its Liberation War in 1971. The air smelt of death and horror. In a span of four and a half decades since the country's independence, violence and hostilities have remained stuck in its socio-political realities. Perhaps this is what the nations having a turbulent past made up of conflicting socio-political and cultural currents are generally destined to. The halcyon time of even the semblance of peace and harmony appears to be leaving us fast. The very thought that people in a free, sovereign country should live in fear is sickening.
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