Face to Face With Death - Maqid Haider

যাযাবর ব্যাকপ্যাকার's picture
Submitted by Jajabor.Backpacker on Fri, 17/01/2014 - 8:56pm

Face to Face With Death

-Maqid Haider
Poet; Public Relations Officer, Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC), Dhaka

If only they had looked up, it would have been certain death for my mother and me.

April 10, I still cannot clearly grasp everything from that afternoon on that fateful day in ’71. I cannot say for certain how long the two of us had waited facing death that day. The realization that we had escaped death took some time to sink in.

The city of Pabna fell to the Pakistan Army on April 10. Those who were witnesses to the horrors of March 25 in Dhaka knew how desperate people were to escape from there. People started to flee the capital by any way they could. We tried as well, but could not make it out of Dhaka before the 7th of April. We failed to get on the EPRTC (East Pakistan Roads Transport Corporation) bus once, and then sort of resigned to our fate. On the 6th, my second eldest brother came home from office and told us that he had managed a jeep from his office and it would take as many of us as would fit in it.

Except for him, all of us started for Pabna the next day. I remember us praying to Allah until we had crossed the Mirpur Bridge. Only when we had reached Aminbazar, could we start to breathe a little more normally.

But that relief was short-lived. Though we had escaped the clutches of the army, the storm we faced when we were ferrying across Aricha to Nagarbari was terrible. I thought none of us would make it across alive. But we did. We could not reach Pabna that day though – it was almost evening when we reached Nagarbari. Many of the armed young men who were patrolling the Nagarbari docks knew us. They managed shelter and some food for us that night.

We reached Pabna sometime before noon on the 8th. It was free of the enemy at the time. The few soldiers who had been stationed there had died in battle with the Bengali police and public. We were quite overjoyed with the brief freedom we had. Our only concern at that moment was to listen to Akashvani (India), BBC, Voice of America, and Radio Pakistan for news on the war, understand and analyze them. We were watching out for any news on the army’s advancement towards Pabna. From what we could make out, the danger was not imminent.

But on the morning of the 10 th, news came to us that the army had crossed the river Jamuna and landed at Nagarbari dock. It was about 32 miles away from Pabna. Even though the distance was not that great, we were quite confident that they could not make it to the town that day because our boys had already blown up the bridge near Rajnarayanpur. We were quite sure they would not be able to arrive to on foot.

Our home was in the village of Doharpara, which falls on the left hand side of the road just as you are coming into Pabna from Nagarbari. Our village home had a big pool and lots of trees all around.We never imagined that the Pak army would reach there on the very first day. We felt quite safe – got chicken from the market for lunch. It was a little into the afternoon when lunch was ready. People had been diving and swimming in the pool to cool down a little bit from the heat. That’s when someone came running from the north of the village. He was shouting - “Run, run for your lives! Quick! The military has arrived, the have entered the village.”

I wasn’t sure where all my other siblings got scattered – I just remember that my third oldest sister was in my father’s room, running a high fever. She said, “I am sick. What will the soldiers do with me? I don’t want to go.” But when she saw everyone screaming and running, she was forced to leave as well. Suddenly I realized that the only ones left on the verandah were my mother and me, no one else was in the house. I yanked her on to the yard and ran towards the south-west corner of the estate. That’s where the toilets were, a little separated from the main building.

By that time, the army had surrounded our house. There was no way out for the two of us. Only fate could save us now, otherwise a gruesome death awaited us. My cousin Mogol’s house, which was to the west of our house, was torched with petrol bombs. They did the same to technician Kalu’s house, which was to the north-west. Then I saw them set fire to the hay stacks on our yards and enter our house screaming ferociously and shouting obscenities. I heard them shouting crazily, “All the rascals have escaped!” There were three separate yards on our grounds. They stood there and started to fire indiscriminately. In that rain of bullets, my mother held me tightly to her bosom and lay on the ground as low as she could.

We were hiding behind a date-sapling growing near the toilet. We could not be spotted unless someone came quite close and stood right in front of us. However, if the army looked towards the west from the kitchen of my uncle’s house, they would be able to see us from a distance. I told my mother, “Ma, I am going to jump over the wall into Mogol bhai’s house.”

I could not understand if she told me to stay put or leave. She just held me more tightly and murmur prayers while repeatedly saying ‘Allah, Allah’.

At that very moment I saw three to four soldiers peering into the kitchen of my uncle’s house. I do not remember how long they were there. All I can recall is the numbing horror that came with the realization that if one of them just looked towards the west, he would see us! Just one look and that would have been the end of us.

Suddenly we heard a horrific cry. Amidst all that noise from gunfire, we could still make out that scream. My mother almost whimpered, but I put my hands on her mouth. She was afraid that the army had shot one of my siblings who couldn’t escape. But right then we had no way of knowing.

The army squad was at our house for about half an hour. After they had left we waited quite a while, then stealthily walked into the yard. My father’s room was on fire, smoke was coming out. It was the same room where my sister had been resting with fever and was refusing to leave. The army had ransacked the whole place. Boxes, clothes, and a bunch of other stuff were scattered all over the yard. The opened boxes indicated clearly that they had been looking for money, gold, or other valuables to loot.

We were at a loss – where could we go? There was no telling whether the army was waiting some place nearby for us to come out of hiding. The whole village was empty, the main road towards the district in front of the house was empty and we could hear gunfire in fits and spurts. We did not know where our family was – Zia bhai, third sister Jhorna, second sister-in-law Jhora, my youngest uncle, younger siblings Hena, Daud, Zahid – there were no traces of any of them. Our own home had turned into a haunted house. I said to my mother, “Ma, let us flee, we will see what fate has in store for us.” My mother could not reply back, she was terrified and restless.

There was a wall on the yard blocking the view from the main gate towards the inside of the house. As I almost carried my mother towards the main gate, I suddenly spotted a head on the other side of that wall. I cried out, “Ma, military!” May be the only reason I screamed was because I knew that this would be the end. I guess my mother felt that too, she held me with all her might. Then I heard, “Rokon, it is me, Bishu bhai.” It took a while for me to register that Bishu was the name of my uncle’s oldest son, he was my cousin!

By that time he had come running to us and was embracing us dearly. He said, “Flee, flee now! Boro Ma (aunt), please flee now!”

My mother started patting his head, chest and back affectionately and asked, “Where were you, son?”

“Hiding in that bamboo jungle”, he said.

“Where are my children? Are they alive?”

“They have all escaped.”

My mother refused to believe him. She started to sob, “Then who screamed out?”

“Scream? No one did”, he said.

From his reply, my mother was certain that one of her children had died. She started to run outside, we followed her. We found Ujjal, lying face down on the ground near the verandah of the outer house. The veranda was flooded with his blood; red fountains splattered on the wall.

It was Ujjal who had cried out when he was shot. Bishu bhai had not heard it. He entered the yard by the back of the outer house, so he had not seen the dead body either.

Ujjal was a kid from our area. He was almost six feet tall, had a very fair complexion and a great physique, but was mentally challenged. He used to come to our house every afternoon for some food. If he wasn’t given any, he would never complain. That day my sister-in-law Jhora had asked him to wait while daal was being cooked. So he had been waiting quietly in the verandah of the outer house.

We were not in a position to think of burying him then. Bishu bhai almost carried my mother to Arifpur by crossing the highway on the south. I followed them. We left our big house in charge of Ujjal, lying dead.

We came back three days later. Ujjal’s corpse had started to rot, it bloated to almost triple his size. With our noses covered, we dug up a makeshift grave in the garden and buried him.


Translator: Ashfaqur Rahman


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 poet and service holder, Maqid Haider, 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


Krisno kanon's picture

Painfull experience ! But till now peaple have to go through such kind of horrible experience...

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