Right Before My Eyes - Ahmed Bashir

যাযাবর ব্যাকপ্যাকার's picture
Submitted by Jajabor.Backpacker on Fri, 17/01/2014 - 8:12pm
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Right Before My Eyes

-Ahmed Bashir
Novelist, Dhaka

On the 7th of April, we came from Moghbazar to Puran Dhaka (Old Dhaka). There was an eerie silence in Moghbazar area by then. It felt like a ghost town - desolate and deserted. From time to time we could hear the sound of Azaan from the mosque next to our house. It felt as if the sound melted itself with the smell of gunpowder.

At that time everyone else was fleeing to their villages. We did not have any place to go, as we didn’t have a ‘village home’ to go to. My family had been in Dhaka for many generations. My dad worried, “I don’t see any other way out, we are the only family in this large area, how can we continue to stay here?” He was right. Where could we go! We decided to at least move from our residence and take shelter among the few relatives we still had in Puran Dhaka, the old town.

We used to have an old tri-band Murphy radio. I had almost worn it out by repeatedly tuning into the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Service and Akashvani Kolkata (India). Moreover, the Chandaa Battery dry-cells were also old. Not a single shop was open in Moghbazar that I could buy new ones from. But on that very radio, on the afternoon of the 28th of March, we had heard the voice of Ziaur Rahman – he declared our independence and called for armed resistance on behalf of Bangabandu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

On the afternoon of the 6th of April, I came out of our house without informing anyone. I had only Tk. 3.50 in my pocket. The air was heavy with the scent of gunpowder in the silent neighbourhood. The curfew had been relaxed till 2 in the afternoon. I came to Malibagh from Moghbazar through the Wireless Colony, to find out if any shops were open there, so that I could buy some batteries. The colony was noiseless, not a single family around, cats, dogs and chickens walking on the roads. My mind started to wander, as I reminisced ... the continuous roars at the Racecourse Ground 1, the helicopter of Tikka Khan overhead, the flag with the map of Bangladesh, the sessions on the elements of bomb-making at the Nayatola house, the drills of the youth at Modhubagh field before the Mukti Bahini was formed … When suddenly...
Suddenly there was a shout, “Halt!”.
I looked up to see a Pakistani soldier pointing his gun straight at my chest, grass and dirt was on his helmet, an ammunition belt hanging across his chest.
“Hands Up!”
I, the 16 year-old teenager who had paraded with the Prak(pre)-Mukti Bahini group (an initial group of fighters before the freedom force Mukti Bahini was officially formed) and had attended sessions about bomb-making gears, stood there helpless, with hands in the air.

I stood there under the unforgiving sun for more than an hour. No one else had come behind the Wireless Station. I had to repeat many times “Pakistan Zindabad”, recite many times “Kalma Tayyab”. I was thinking that they wouldn’t shoot me, but they might take me inside the station. Behind the iron gate there was a truck with a black cover. After a while, I saw four or five Bangalis sitting on the truck. They looked at me with blank looks in their eyes – I stared back at them.

I hadn’t bought the batteries. When I was released I ran straight back to home. The very next day we started for Puran Dhaka. We took shelter in a tattered old house there - it was pretty much an abandoned, run down building. The bricks were chipped, the plaster had come off – undoubtedly, that was the oldest house on Court House Street. The street behind Shakari Potti was red with blood. The drains were flowing red. As soon as our rickshaw entered, my cousins shouted out to see us. We were alive after all!

The environment at Puran Dhaka was different. There were countless people here. Seeing more looting opportunities, the army and their collaborators were raiding houses and looting all day long. People were running away with trunks. The raiders were breaking the locks of houses. There were screams of women somewhere. There was something happening all the time. I snuck out on another day. The afternoon curfew was in effect. But that was on the main road, Nawabpur road. In the smaller lanes, people were running helter skelter – fleeing. I can’t clearly analyze those scenes observed as a teenager, even today... who were those people - those who screamed, who fled with trunks, who looted, that broke into the houses?

At the door of a three-storeyed building at Ramakanto Nandi Lane, I saw a woman shouting in a shrill voice, “Abinash… Abinash dear!” I can’t say whether the lady got to find Abinash finally, because I saw four men with daggers in their hands closing the door in front of the laundry.

Beddings and books. These were the things that no one had taken. I remember clearly: there was a gutter behind our house, and beyond that gutter were the houses of Shakhari Potti. On both sides of the gutter, trash was accumulated. Everything was covered within 24 hours with huge piles of things dumped. On those piles of beddings, I looked for books. There were so many books dumped there... There was Tagore, along with the Loknath Panjika (Hindu Almanac). I had actually found a copy of Deenendra Kumar Roy’s “Polli Boichitro” (“Variation of Rural Life”) right there on that dump.

After darkness, there were gunfire and wails of people. Amidst those sounds, you could hear the Azaan from the mosques around Dhaka city. As the night grew deeper, everyone turned off their lights. In the light of kerosene lamps, they would have their meals and talk in whispers.

I turned on the Murphy radio again. It was quarter to ten at night. The clarinets played in Kolkata. I was preparing to listen to VOA at ten, when suddenly there was a horrifying scream from that gutter. Just once and then silence. I tiptoed to the spot. I climbed over the wall and carefully made my way towards the old house by stepping over the pile of beddings and books. Right before my eyes: five people had pinned someone and were stabbing him in the chest again and again.

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Translator: Nafisa Islam

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This is from the volunteer translation project of the book ১৯৭১: ভয়াবহ অভিজ্ঞতা (1971: Dreadful Experiences). The book is a collection of witness accounts of 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, by the country's educationists, writers, professionals, freedom fighters to businessmen and housewives. The original book was edited by Rashid Haider and was first published by Mofidul Hoque of 'Jatiyo Shahitto Prakash' on the Victory Day of 1989.

This is the personal account of writer Ahmed Bashir from Dhaka, during April, 1971.

The translation initiative was taken with the goal to spread the stories of 1971, our Liberation War to the international audience. A very enthusiastic volunteer team of nearly 40 translators have participated in the project. This is an effort to collaborate the translations under the ব-ই (ebook) format in Sachalayatan: Online Writers' Community with the consent of the volunteers who have worked on the project.

Any suggestion regarding the translation will be appreciated in the comment section. We request the reader to share the post and help spread the stories of 1971. Thank you.

- Editors

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পাদটীকা

  • 1. Mukti Bahini - Liberation force
  • 2. Racecourse Ground - Suhrawardy Udyan formerly known as ‘Ramna Race Course’ as the ground was used for legal horse racing on Sundays.
  • 3. Pakistan Zindabad - “Long live Pakistan”
  • 4. Kalma Tayyab - The primary Islamic verse. Pakistani Army asked their captives to recite the verse to identify if they were Muslims. Non-muslims would have to embrace terrible fate. Even Muslims were not spared many times, if the captor was suspicious about something. Many Hindus learned the verses in order to pass as Muslims. But then the Pakistani Army started to undress men and check if they were circumcised or not.

Comments

Krisno kanon's picture

The past and present experiences are still showing how much inhuman we are.....

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