The bullet that pierces

টিউলিপ's picture
Submitted by fstulip [Guest] on Tue, 26/03/2013 - 11:20pm

“Seems like these a**h*les are Bengalis. They want separation. Make them stand in a line.” We tried to pledge with them in a mixed language using Bengali and Urdu, “Please take us to your officers. Don’t kill us here. If we are proven guilty in a trial, we will not argue that decision.”

But they refused to give an ear to all our pleas. One military charged with his rifle’s butt held high as we were still not forming the line. Seeing no other alternative, we three stood in a line in front of a bed. One military took position to fire. That was on March 26, 1971. I was a student of then East Pakistan Arts College (now Charukola Institute or Arts Institute).

Our Arts College hostel was located in the west side of the post office at New Market. Most of the students left the hostel for their respective villages, realizing the situation in the city is deteriorating. But I thought if a war is inevitable, villages and towns will be all alike to face its horror, there is no point going to my village. So I stayed behind, alone in my dorm room. The mess in the hostel was shut down as the hostel was all but empty. I had my diner in a restaurant at the backside of New Market, and then walked up to the Balaka movie theater to feel the pulse of the city. It was 8:25 pm by then.

I met an old acquaintance on the road, who was a security officer at the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR). Their camp was beside our hostel. He used to come to our hostel every now and then. He was surprised to see me, “Why haven’t you left for your village? You should have. I have sent my family to safety in our village. The situation in the city is getting quite ugly. Every night, military from the West Pakistan is landing in the airport in secret. Go back to your dorm room, and be very careful.”

I met another of my friends on my way back to hostel. He came to Dhaka from my village in search of a job after passing B. Com about two months ago. He was staying with her sister. But he wanted to stay with me in my hostel, as her sister’s house was quite small. Since I was alone in my room, I gladly agreed to this proposal. I thought to myself that at least I will have a companion. Since we were busy speculating about Bangladesh, Bengalis and what might be in store for us, I forgot to change the date in my desk calendar. I turned the page from March 23 to March 25, and told my friend to freshen up. I myself also washed up and stood in the balcony in front of my room.

My dorm room number was nine. One of my roommates bought a cassette player using the money from his scholarship. I was standing in the balcony watching people in the street and listening to some songs in that cassette player. There were a number of banyan trees in front of our hostel. Some people were cutting those down to build barricades on the road.

Suddenly the electric lights all around went out. Only our hostel and the surrounding houses had electricity. It was about 10 pm. The sounds of firing were heard from the EPR (now BDR) camp by the hostel. Within moments, the war started.

I hurriedly got inside my room and closed the doors and windows. But it was such a heavy firing that I could not close one window at the rear side of my room. I could feel that bullets were pounding our hostel building. The soldiers in the EPR were fighting with the West Pakistan military. We could not hear each other through all the sounds of firing. I was thinking about going to the window ducking my head and closing it. Then I thought a bullet might pierce my hand if I risk that. The window remained open.

Suddenly our room was lit by a searchlight through the open window. We panicked, thinking that we have become the target. We had nowhere to hide. The fight outside had become more intense. We could hear the dogs yelping from the graveyard in front of the hostel, and realized that it was not safe to go outside.

We could hear the shouts for help from the slums surrounding our hostel. We raised our heads a bit to find the slums were burning. The searchlight flooded our room again. We thought we were doomed. We took shelter in the wall closet where we usually keep our suitcases. As there were bricks on both the sides, we thought it might protect us from the bullets.

When the searchlight went off, we were exhausted from the stress and became reckless. We lay down on our beds not caring for the bullets anymore. We wanted to sleep, but sleep eluded us.

The night went on through rounds of firing. In the end, the dawn started to break. We could hear the sounds for the Morning Prayer from the mosques.

When the sounds of firing subsided a bit, I changed the desk calendar to March 26, 1971.

I looked from the rear window and found that some of the other students who stayed behind in the hostel, Lutful, Jahangir and Poresh, were fleeing. Lutful had a briefcase in his hand. From the window in the front, I found some military jeeps running around in the streets. The sounds of firing never really ceased. But I thought this is the moment to look for someplace safe. I started to get ready and told my friend to do the same. At that time, Shahnewaj, another older student who used to live in room number two in the first floor, came to my room. He said he had some breakfast ready in his room and we could join him. He forbade us to peek outside, “I heard it in the radio that if anybody tries to peek, he will be shot down.” I asked him if he knew any news from the outside. He was always funny, so he jokingly said, “Joy Bangla, Thela Shamla (You hailed Bangladesh, now pay for it)”.

The three of us decided this was the time to leave hostel, and got ready. But as soon as we opened the door, we found four armored tank stopped at the east gate of the hostel. Each of these tanks had an artillery gun and about fifteen to twenty military camouflaged in leaves from trees. The barrels of the guns targeted at our hostel. Some of the military people were trying to take a look inside the hostel through binoculars.

We were looking through a window. But remembering the announcement in the radio, we quickly ducked under the window. Then we heard the sounds of boots approaching in the stairs. They were coming to the second floor. We got underneath the beds so that they would not see us through the window.

We breathed in relief when they walked past our room but did not enter. The sounds of boot went directly to the rooftop. It seemed like a number of booted people were in the roof. Sometimes they were pounding the water tanks there. Then it all became silent. We were really confused.

We got out and peeked through the window to find some people throwing some kind of powder in paper bags to the neighboring slums. Then they shot several rounds of bullets, and the slums caught fire. When the people from the slum got out fleeing, they opened fire. They cheered as people dropped down dead, “Dead, these stupid Bengalis are dead!”

We looked at the clock, it was 6 am. The military got down from the roof. The sounds of boot came near. They halted in front of our room and started banging the door, “Who is inside? Open up!” We again got under our beds so that they would not see us. We did not respond to them and held our breath.

The room beside my room was also locked, but it was empty. The military broke down the door of that room, searched and came back to ours again. We feared that they might break down our door, too. Thinking the situation might get worse if they found out we were hiding there and did not open the door for them, Shahnewaj opened the door.

As soon as the door was opened, one of them pointed his rifle at us. We were sitting in the floor two feet far from the rifle. The man did not say anything, only grunted.

We said using Bengali and Urdu, “Please come inside, have a seat. What is happening? We are really scared.” We did not know if they understood our mixed language. But it felt like at least the man who was pointing his rifle at us, did not understand anything, as if he does not understand any language of man. The rest of them were standing at the door. One of them said, “What do you do?”

We again replied in our mixed language, “We are artists, we paint. We live by the money we get by selling those.” They asked again, “Speak the truth, we will let you go.” We said again, “We paint.” Then one of them said, “Seems like these a**h*les are Bengalis. They want separation. Make them stand in a line.”

We said, “Take us to your officers or to your cantonment. If we are proven guilty in a trial, so be it.” “Shut up and stand in line!”, one of them charged the butt of his rifle. After a brief conversation like this, we were forced to stand in a line. We stood side by side in front of a bed, facing the door. All of the military came inside and stood against the wall, but they did not come near us. One of them was standing by the door. He started loading his rifle with the bullets from his belt. Then he cocked the rifle and fired. My friend tumbled in the front.

One of the military came to check him. The bullet has hit him in his right chest. The rifle fired again. Shahnewaj fell on the bed this time. When he cocked his rifle again pointing it at me, I realized it was my turn.

I turned my face to the right so that I would not see it coming. I was not afraid, just felt great sorrow that they would hide our deadbodies.

When I turned my face, my body from the waste up turned as well. But from my waste to feet was still facing them. Then they fired. The bullet hit my left rib cage. I could not feel the bullet or the pain, just a hollow feeling inside my chest. Since I was prepared, I did not lose my balance. As soon as the bullet him me, I sat down on the bed. Then I thought, they have checked my friend before. If they see me sitting on the bed, they might come check me as well. So I pretended to fall down on the bed by Shahnewaj. I do not know how I managed to think so straight at that moment. It is as if everything was happening on its own.

I did not lose my consciousness yet. But I closed my eyes and pretended to be dead. I heard the military talking, “Search their shirts, their suitcases. There might be money in them.” They also broke down the wall closet. They found the record player there and said, “Gramophone! Let’s play it. Where is the handle?” They did not realize it runs on electricity. After making fun like this for some time, they left.

We were left there hurt, without any hope to go on living.

People die when they are shot from afar in processions. And they have shot us in this close range. I did not think we could make it alive. Suddenly Shahnewaj stirred beside me and breathed heavily. But it did not sound normal. It felt like blood has clotted near his throat. Then he became all quite. I slowly put my hand on him, his body was cold. My friend who was shot first has might have died before. Now Shahnewaj was also dead.

I was waiting for my death. Time went on, it was almost midday now.

I became restless lying on my side, so I turned at lay on my back. I felt the warmth blood on the bed and breathed. As I exhaled, I felt air going out through a hole in my back, and blood came gushing as well.

Of course I was afraid. But the thought of doctors or medication seemed far-fetched at that moment. I thought if I breath heavily and let more blood out, I might die quickly. Living like this would be more painful. But even though I tried, I did not die. Only my heartbeat slowed down.

I had sent two drawings themed on war to the editor of the Literature page of the Daily Sangram newspaper in March 1971, I do not remember the exact date. One of these drawings was published in the Literature page of the Daily Bangla after the liberation. I do not know if the other one was published in March 1971 or any other time.

At that moment, these two drawings came to my mind. I was wondering if I have drawn those in vain.

I was feeling uneasy. I did not know how long I might have to suffer. Slowly, the evening came.

Suddenly I heard the sound of boots of the military again. They were coming towards our room. I speculated from the sound that they must be fifteen to twenty in number. I closed my eyes again.

They came inside the room. But I was surprised when one of them exclaimed, “Alas, who killed these innocent people? Why would they do that? There is still God, and they will suffer the consequences.”

Courage filled me up as I heard these words. But still I dared not open my eyes.

Then they checked my friend lying on the floor and said, “He will not live long.” They also checked Shahnewaj like beside me and declared him dead. At last they touched me. I was very thirsty and my lips were trembling. They understood and said, “Give him some water, he might still live.”

Then they gave me some water and blessed me, “Go on living, son!” As they left, I became hopeful.

I pulled myself up to sitting position. I looked at the dead body of Shahnewaj, and then to my friend. He was still alive. I told him, “Let’s find some safe place.”

I found a glass and a bottle beside us. That is the bottle they used to make us drink water. The bottle was not there for drinking purpose, rather it was kept there as a vase to sometimes hold flowers.

We could hear the sounds of occasional firing till then. We got out of our room and came down. Using a opening in the barbed fence, we got out of the hostel.

We went to the room of our teacher Mr. Kabir who used to live behind the hostel. The room was empty. After a while, another one of our teaches, Mr. Jainal came there. He left the hostel in the morning and took refuge in a house nearby. He could see everything going on in our hostel from there. He had watched us coming to Mr. Kabir’s room.

We were totally exhausted by then. We wanted some drinking water from Mr. Jabbar. He gave us the water, but it seemed like he was at a loss. He held the glass from a distant and kept saying, “Here, drink water, drink some.” We could not drink. A little later, he left the room and brought someone else with him, Mr. Selim. Mr. Selim was a bachelor service holder who used to live in a house nearby. The two of them took us to his place and took care of us for the rest of the night.

The next day, March 27, 1971, Mr. Selim said, it is not safe for us to linger there and we should go to Dhaka College, where a number of people has taken refuge. I agreed and started to get up, but fainted.

When I regained my consciousness, I found Mr. Selim pouring water over my head. This is the first time I lost consciousness after I was wounded by the bullet. From this moment on, whenever I tried to get up, I fainted. Then Mr. Selim carried me on his shoulders to Dhaka College.

At 8 am in the morning, the curfew was postponed for two hours. Mr. Selim and Mr. Jabbar took this opportunity to admit me and my friend to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

When we were admitted, Mr. Jabbar left. But Mr. Selim came to us and said, “I will come again. Do not worry, you will get better.” It seemed like he wanted to say something more, but thought better of that. He left with a depressed expression on his face.

I was released from the hospital seventeen days later, though I was not fully recovered.

December 16, 1971 - we achieved our independence. I went looking for Mr. Selim to his house, but could not find him. His landlord, who also lived nearby said, “He left with you guys, that is the time I last saw him.”

If Mr. Selim would not have taken us under his wing and provided the shelter and medication, we might not have survived. We are ever grateful to him, but did not get any chance to express our gratitude. We have taken great pains to find him, but failed to get any news of our life saviour.

We think that he might have joined the war and became one of the three million martyrs, who remained nameless.

May his soul rest in peace in Heaven.


This is from the translation project a few of us are working on of the book 1971: Dreadful Experiences (১৯৭১: ভয়াবহ অভিজ্ঞতা). The book is a collection of witness accounts to 1971 Liberation War and the Independence of Bangladesh by the country's educationists, writers, professionals. The book is edited by Rashid Hayder and was first published on the Victory Day of 1989.

This is the personal account of genocide by Nazrul Islam (Artist, Cartoonist, working in the Advertise and Marketing Agency, Dhaka).

Any suggestion regarding the translation will be appreciated by the translator in the comment section


আহির ভৈরব's picture

Tulip, this is incredibly important work, thank you for doing it. I couldn't recognise the original text, who is it by please? Sorry if I'm being blind and not seeing the reference.

Of course I was afraid. But the thought of doctors or medication seemed far-fetched at that moment. I thought if I breath heavily and let more blood out, I might die quickly. Living like this would be more painful. But even though I tried, I did not die. Only my heartbeat slowed down.

Such powerful lines.

আর কিছু না চাই
যেন আকাশখানা পাই
আর পালিয়ে যাবার মাঠ।

টিউলিপ's picture

Sorry, my mistake! Forgot to add the note that contained the reference. Updated the post. Thanks for pointing it out.

Translating these is one of the few most challenging tasks for me. I cannot even imagine what people had to go through in 1971, and yet it is not a horror story, but reality. While translating, I try to turn myself in a robot, translating word for word, not trying to feel anything, yet after a while I find myself crying.

Off topic: It's been quite a while since I last saw you in Sachal, welcome back!


রাতের বাসা হয় নি বাঁধা দিনের কাজে ত্রুটি
বিনা কাজের সেবার মাঝে পাই নে আমি ছুটি

আহির ভৈরব's picture

Thanks very much for updating, I hadn't actually read the original. Makes me wonder how many stories remain unheard.

I completely understand how difficult a job this is, staying in control of one's emotions while working through the testimonies, which is why you and others who are doing this deserve our gratitude.

Thank you also for the welcome message, how kind!

আর কিছু না চাই
যেন আকাশখানা পাই
আর পালিয়ে যাবার মাঠ।

শিশিরকণা's picture

There seems to be mix up of Mr.Jainal and Mr. Jabbar in the ending paragraphs. Could you check the names again?

* Bachelor Service Holder? probably needs a comma in between.

~!~ আমি তাকদুম তাকদুম বাজাই বাংলাদেশের ঢোল ~!~

এস এম মাহবুব মুর্শেদ's picture

Good job Tulip!!!

অতিথি লেখক's picture

Good Job Tulip. We must inform the world what happened in Bangladesh in 1971. They must know how much we sacrificed for our beloved mother land.

@ Sachalayatan Admin,

I have PDF format collection of this book. May I share the book here?

অতিথি লেখক's picture

I forget to give my name... খাইছে


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