Those Suffocating Days - Selina Hossain

যাযাবর ব্যাকপ্যাকার's picture
Submitted by Jajabor.Backpacker on Fri, 19/04/2013 - 6:17pm

I used to live in the ‘Maneesha’ building of the Science Laboratories back then, with Mirpur Road on one side and Elephant Road on the other. I could hear slogans from the streets till 11PM on 25th March. At midnight I opened my doors and went outside.

There were noises all around and heavy vehicles were moving on the streets. There was a loud noise from somewhere nearby and I went indoors. The next day, March 26, I kept moving to and fro between the balcony and roof all day. There was a Curfew and we couldn’t go outside. Dhaka was burning, black smoke rising to the sky. I was restless to go outside. It was hard to guess what was going on out there, or realize the importance of the incidents. I was particularly eager to know what went on at Iqbal Hall. During the 25 days of Non-cooperation Iqbal Hall was the centre of the Movement. I was agitated all day. I went out as soon as the Curfew was over on the 27th. The first thing that I noticed was that the house of A. R. Bhuiya near the Science Laboratory was blown away. The lonely house was just a rubble. The furniture and everything was in chaos. I shivered as I began to realize the severity of what was happening and felt a deep sense of emptiness in me coming out of the ruins of that building..

As I reached Elephant Road, I saw people fleeing. With bags and kids everyone was running for some safe haven. For most of them the destination was undetermined, the safety of the road unknown. I walked with the crowd. I didn’t think for a moment that I could leave Dhaka even when I saw the people running frantically. The only thought on my mind right then was to go see Iqbal Hall. I permanently moved to Dhaka at the end of '68. The People's Up-rise of '69 had began by then. The heart of the city was furious with the people's rage. Processions excited me everyday. The result of my M.A had just published back then and I was applying for jobs. I had been politically involved in my student life, as a member of the Student Union. And my soul found its establishment in this city of processions. Where was I to go leaving this city? I could go to the village, but I hadn't. And I didn't think of going across the Border. In the days of our Liberation War, I experienced Dhaka in it's actuality with my own eyes. I thought whatever bad that may happen, let it be here. If there is anything I can do, I'll do it right from here. I had joined Bangla Academy in the July of 1970, where I could meet authors and artists and hear different news.

There were a few cars and rickshaws in the streets. Coming near the bazaar section of Newmarket I saw the demolished bazaar. The vegetable seller was face-down on his vegetable baskets with a bullet through his back. He didn't fall off when the bullet hit him, he remained in his sitting position when he died. Several other dead bodies were lying around him, face down or face up. I felt as if someone was clutching on to my heart, I couldn't breathe.

We came to Iqbal hall by a rickshaw. During the Movement of 1969 the students changed it's name to Sgt. Jahurul Haque Hall. During the Movement Sgt. Jahurul Haque who was an accused of the Agartala Treason Case was shot dead by the Pakistan Army. On our way we saw the Babutala Slums burned to the grounds, nothing left but charcoals and ashes. And I found Iqbal hall in ruins of bricks and stones as well, with dried dark blood stains on the staircases. I climbed the stairs avoiding the blood as much as I could. Everything was dead still, the haunted silence was pressurizing to the soul. Every single room was deranged, windows broken, beds and pillows thrown, books scattered. In a room a copy of the Quran was on its wooden stand and in another a rifle. At the end of the corridor was the room numbered 303, the door read “Jafar, Chittagong”. There was dried blood on the floor of the room. The dead body was not there. One realized that the dead body had been dragged through the corridor and the stairs. A lot of the rooms were like that. Later on I learned from the descriptions of 'Doms' (professionals involved in burial and disposing of human remains) how 11 dead bodies were burned with petrol by on the banks of the pond in Iqbal Hall. I stood holding the door of that room for a while, and saw that a little away from the blood lay a plastic doll on the floor. Who knew for whom the student had bought that doll for?

Crossing the corridor I went to the roof. There were three more dead bodies near the water-tank. A middle aged man with a boy of 9 or 10 years old and a girl. The boy lay with his head on the right arm of the man, his chest criss-crossed with bullets. There was a large hole on the man's thigh, and around it the muscles were scattered like threads. He was staring open-eyed, with the most dreadful expressions in them. The girl was shot in the abdomen, her intestines came out. Large blue flies flew around them. The bodies smelled from the rot. I stood there dumbfounded for a while. I thought, this is my country where people's flesh are torn apart resembling flowers!

I don't know how I had managed to come down the stairs step by step and then to the gate. I was standing on the streets for a rickshaw as I didn't have what it takes to walk a step further in me. That's when a Jeep stopped in front of us. Shahidullah Kaisar1 was in that Jeep with several reporters. He sort of scolded us by saying, “Who comes out in this situation? Go home now.” Without waiting for an answer his Jeep left us. I never got the chance to meet him again in the Liberated Bangladesh.

We took a rickshaw to the Shahid Minar (Monument for the Heroes of 1952's Language Movement). My eyes swelled with tears. It felt as if the heavy weight on my heart was finally lifting. I was breathing hard. It wasn't just the people they had targetted. People's source of inspiration, emotions were targetted as well. They understood our sources of sentiments, that's why they destructed the Shahid Minar as well. I went to Bangla Academy. The front portions were blasted with mortars. On February 21, in the Language Day programs Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had come to this institute that year and gave a speech. Hence the Pak Army knew, the brick walls of this institute is no inanimate object, every inch of its soil and grass were alive! If this place was blown away, perhaps the Spirit of the Bengalis would be crushed!
Lorries carrying the military passed us on the streets. And I felt kind of desolate. I returned home around noon, and lay quietly in my bed.

The days moved on. We kept hearing bad news from all over. We heard my parental home in Rajshahi was attacked by Biharis and everything was looted. But my parents and younger siblings had fled towards the villages before that. My middle sister came from Chittagong to live with us with her two children. They were living in the port areas of Chittagong as my brother-in-law was working as the Deputy Controller of Sea-customs. They had escaped under shooting. My elder sister was a teacher at the Port’s Girls' School. They had fled towards villages in Noakhali.
Young guys and boys were captured and kidnapped, blindfolded and took to the rivers by the army. Then their dead bodies floated in the Buriganga river. The only consolation among all this chaos was to listen to Swadheen Bangla Betar Kendra (the secret radio station that broadcast inspiring the people of the country). The days became all different from the moment the declaration of Independence by was transmitted over radio by Ziaur Rahman on behalf of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. There were inspiring programs and songs on the radio.

I began going to work again and one day late Mr. Humayun Kabir contacted me. He asked for donations and old clothes for the Muktibahini (the freedom fighters). He had also said, these needed to be on a regular basis. I had agreed and helped accordingly. Humayun Kabir was then a researcher with the Scholarship of Bangla Academy. He used to give us information and news.
One day Sardar Fazlul Karim was arrested right in front of our eyes by intelligence in plain clothing. Another evening a lawyer who lived in our neighbourhood, was left dead by the freedom fighters.

The Muktibahini was gaining momentum. If we couldn't hear their bombs, I would feel nervous. It felt as if we were not living any longer. The guerilla operations by them revived our hopes and gave us courage.

It was as if the city was divided into two groups of people. One group moved around in freedom daringly. They had arms, they could do anything they wished. From the night of March 25 that's what they had been doing. And there were the ones that became their accomplices. They sat and ate according to them, helped them in any way possible. The other group of people were those that moved around with the fear of their lives. The streets became empty as soon as it was afternoon. They eagerly waited for the Muktibahini. As if this city had no normal life, everything was deserted. Yet the citizens had been bustling with activity even as late as 10 PM on March 25. It was as if the Bay of Bengal had suddenly risen, and swiped through the corners of the city.

I was on a rickshaw in Elephant Road when I saw the Indian air planes come flying over the city, much later on the afternoon of December 4. People spontaneously rushed out of doors hearing the planes, they were not scared but rejoiced.

On December 14th, I saw the red EPRTC coach enter the Science Laboratory premises from the balcony of the Maneesha buliding. The Al Badr (accomplices of the Pakistan Army) captured Dr. Aminuddin and Dr. Siddique.

A few days after the country was liberated I met poet Sufia Kamal. She embraced me and exclaimed. “You are alive?”
She had confused me with Shahid Selina Pervin, because Md. Akhter of 'Lalana' was murdered in the hands of the Al Badr. He was in charge of 'Lalana' and inspired me to write the 'Sangbarta' column there.

I wasn't surprised at Sufia Kamal's question that night. Because everyone had counted the moments to an unpredictable death ever since March 25. When the Boddhobhumi (mass graves) at Katasur and Shiyalbari were discovered, this was a common question uttered for most.

I inhaled deeply after those suffocating days were finally over, and uttered, “Yes! I am alive.”



  • 1.
  • 2. This is from the translation project some 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 author Selina Hossain, the Deputy-Director of Bangla Academy, Dhaka from 26 March till mid December of 1971.

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


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.