DHAKA:A meeting of the ruling Awami League(AL) secretariat will be held at 3pm today at the party president’s Dhanmondi political…
DAWN descended on Bangladesh. Sudipta always woke up from his sleep early in the morning and today was no exception. But it could have been. Night before last he had not gone to sleep till it was very late. Even last night shots were heard off and on. And he had felt afraid. Not of death. He no longer feared death; But if he had to go on living. Could man live in the mist of such flames and bullets and shells? Strange, disjointed thoughts had crowded into his mind and sleep came to him very late. You could not blame sleep for that. Was it merely fire and bullets and stark terror? Even if none of these things were there it was not likely for one promptly to fall asleep in a strange place. And yet Sudipta’s sleep was disturbed precisely by the sound of those rifle-shots and mortar shellings. He had completely forgotten that he was in a new place. He became aware of it only after awakening from his sleep. He did not see that familiar face of building No. 23. The neatly arranged book-cases, the table, chair and clothes rack- none of them greeted Suidpta at the dawn of a new day. Of course Sudipta remembered them. And he remembered Firoz. He was now in the home of his friend Firoz. Mahiuddin Firoz. Once upon a time it was a familiar name in the pages of journals and magazines. He used to write poetry.
Rifles, Bread and Women: a Bengali Novel by Anwar Pasha and translated it into English by National Prof. Kabir Chowdhury. The story of this novel is mainly based on our great Liberation War 1971. How and what so far The Occupation Forces of Pakistan committed the heinous crime to the peace loving people of this land has been vividly portrayed by the author. The readers especially the new generations will be able to know about the inhuman torture, brutally killing the gereral people as well as the intellectual personalities of this country by the Pakistani soldiers with the help of Razakars, Al-Badar and Al-Shams. After 40 years of our Independence, the Grand Alliance Government of Bangladesh Awami League has initiated to trail the war criminals and meanwhile the big fishes of Anti-Liberation Forces along with Gholam Azam have already been caught. We hope the present government will be able to complete the judgment of those who were the close associates of Occupation Forces and helped them to commit severe crimes and sins like rape, arson, gruesome killing and so on. So, from that point of view we have decided to publish this novel in this online news paper phase by phase and at this the new generation as well as the pro-liberation forces could be able to know many things regarding our War of Liberation of 1971. We are also highly grateful to its writer Anwar Pasha as he has written this novel in Bengali as a good read and also grateful to National Prof. Kabir Chowdhury who breathed his last a few days back has translated it into English. – Editor
This first night he spent at his friend’s place. Professor Sudipta Shaheen of Dacca University passed the night following the 27th day of March in the year of our Lord 1971 and arrived at the dawn of 28th March. What about the two immediately preceding nights? Sudipta thought of the two nights that followed 25th and 26th. Were they two nights only? More like two decades. The quintessence of two decades of Pakistan, firm concrete revelation of the Pakistan’s attitude towards Bangladesh during the last two decades domination and exploitation. Keep Bengal dominated anyhow and exploit her. If there is any difficulty in exploiting her, tighten the strangle-hold of domination, And go on tightening it. If the rule of law proves inadequate unleash the rule of rifles, of cannons, of machine-guns, He had survived even two such nights of mighty rule.
Strangely, he was still alive. But he could have died.
Many of us can’t do many things. For example, Sudipta could not be an officer of the Civil Service of Pakistan by merely wishing to be one. Could he become a rich man by going into business? No, he couldn’t. Some people can’t even marry and get a wife. But there was one thing which was absolutely certain everybody died. So Sudipta thought that there was one thing everyone could do; everyone could die. No effort was called for- you ate and roamed about and made merry, and then at one point in time you inevitably accomplished that task. You died. Your friends and relations then faced a number of tasks. Burial of the dead body, reading of verses from the Holy Book, expression of grief, eulogy of the virtues of the departed, and in the end an inventory of the assets left behind by you- oh, there was a lot to be done, At least your dear ones won’t have to complain for a few days that they had nothing to do. You, all by yourself, would keep a few minds totally occupied for a few days. You would accomplish all these things without any effort on your part.
But no, all these ideas of Sudipta had been proved false on that day. Although death was so easy, so close, he didn’t die on that day. He didn’t know why he did not die. Perhaps such an easy death was not his fate. Thousands of people accomplished that task on that date with utmost ease, but Sudipta could not do it. He could not die. Sudipta had to think now, perforce, that it was not after all so easy to die.
Not easy? Didn’t Sufia die? Didn’t you see how easily hundreds of your dear friends and brothers died on that day? Yes, he had seen that. Yet he had also seen it in his own life that it was not so easy to die. And it was still more difficult to kill. Who would you kill? Faith could not be killed. That’s right, the bright petals of a thousand lives- love, affection, trust- they were not dead, not a bit.
And Sudipta was not dead. Professor Sudipta Shaheen of the English Department of the University of Dacca.
Why, was there any teacher by that name in the English Department of the Dacca University? There wasn’t- ever.
True, there wasn’t. And true, there isn’t, even now. But this is true, too, that the person known as Sudipta Shaheen among his friends was a teacher of the Dacca University and that he belonged to the English Department. But there he had a different name, for his original name was unacceptable in holy Pakistan. Sudipta Shaheen! Did he think of having a gay happy life in this holy land with such a name as that? Was that what Pakistan was created for? Oh, no, that would never do.
The name Sudipta Shaheen wouldn’t do in Pakistan- Sudipta had realized it soon after his arrival in Pakistan. He had left West Bengal following the riots of the fifties and come over to Dacca. Chief Minister Nurul Amin and his party, the Muslim League, were then moulding Bangladesh into Pakistan.
A Pakistan was of course born on the 14th of August, 1947. That was Pakistan’s political entity, its body. The life of a State was its economy. And it’s essential self found expression in its cultural development. Therein lay the trouble. If one economy grew up between two parts separated by a distance of a thousand miles then the inevitable possibility existed of one part being exploited by another; one part would then surely dominate over another in the field of economy. The Muslim League tried its utmost to establish the centre of that economic superiority in the western part of the country. As Muslims they considered it their duty, for the Muslims always had to turn their eyes towards the west. Ergo, the western part of the country was the holier part, and you couldn’t deny that it was nearer to the holy Ka’aba. In order to direct the eyes of the heretical Muslims of Bengal towards the west the Muslim League established the centre of the country’s economic life in West Pakistan. And it put up sign boards in every railway station and market-place of Bengal with an arrow mark facing the west, and thereon the letters “Kebla” were etched clearly in Urdu and Bengali, Turn to the west. Not merely in the field of economy, but in the field of culture too. Not even a crazy fellow could think of one culture for two lands geographically so wide apart. But we were the inheritors of one culture- this had to be true, or where would the moral and psychological basis of Pakistan’s existence be? What would people say? Therefore declare that our cultural entity is one and the same. One religion, one dream, one soul, one language, How could there be a strong modern state without these things? All these strange doings greeted Sudipta on his arrival in Pakistan. The Muslim League government and then just embarked on their conspiracy to wipe out the economic and cultural life of a land in order to knit two countries separated by a thousand miles into an indivisible one in all respects. It was then that Sudipta had come to Pakistan. Well, twenty one years had rolled by since then. Many of the children born at that time were Sudipta’s students today at the university.
As a student Sudipta did not face any serious difficulty. He might have had to. The issue that Sudipta Shaheen was a name unacceptable in Muslim society could have cropped up even then. But the head of the English Department was an English lady who was not quite aware of the mysterious mystique of Pakistan. So Sudipta found a place as a student in her department without any difficulty. After his M.A. final examination he worked for a while in an English newspaper. But the problem started just after that. After passing his examination lie tried to get a job in some college and then it started.
“So you are Sudipta Shaheen? I never heard of such name before.”
“Well, you can hear it row. Sudipta had wanted to retort. But lie did not. For he needed the job. So he stomached that stupid question, but even so he was not spared. He was asked again. “What are you? A Hindu or a Christian!”
“It is clearly stated in my application, Sudipta gave a short quite answer, which however gave rise to a lot of words;
“Well, it seems to me that you have lied in your application, Can Sudipta ever be a Muslim’s name?’
The above conversation took place during the interview. Another member of the interview board said stroking his beard, ”What does the word Sudipta mean?” Sudipta had realized by that time that he was not going to get a job there, He answered. “One that is radiant, “It is a Bengali word then. So you want to be a Hindu?”
“Why? What for?”
“What else If you use Bengali in this field everything automatically is Hinduized, and if that is done the country will also become Hindustan. You have all come to Pakistan as Hindustani spies.”
“Truly said, Howlader Bhai. This language movement- it took place because of such men as these. It is they who are spoiling our children.”
It had spoiled Sudipta to. He was criticized and condemned at three successive interviews- for his name every time. At last, however, he gets a job. A rural college far away from Dacca could not get a teacher of English for a long time. Sudipta started his career as a lecturer there. That was a long time ago in 1953. Today Sudipta was an experienced professor with eighteen years of service behind him. He had advanced also career wise step by step. From that remote provincial college to Jagannath College of Dacca city. And then into the Dacca University.
A kind of intoxication had taken hold of Sudipta. The intoxication of climbing up. Higher and still higher. And this intoxication was contagious. It had gradually spread and enveloped all of Pakistan by then. A big chunk of the Hindu middle-class population had only recently left the country. The field was empty, and who took pain and learnt to play the game when you could score in an empty field? And if you wanted to win the game without learning how to play you simply had to-lose your character. The assets of the characterless were the qualities of the sycophant and a pimp. It was heyday for the pimp and the tout in Pakistan; everywhere shameless nepotism and bribery were rife. Sudipta sometimes felt a terrible pang of remorse. He had leant only to compose verses. If he could write short stories? If he could only paint in his stories all the strange faces that he had seen of the shameless flatterer and the tout! He could almost be peerless in the whole world. And he did not need to go very far. If he related the life story of some of his colleagues at the university as bare facts of history even that would sound like a strange novel? Sudipta was well aware of it. But it could not be helped. He did not know how to write a novel or a short story.
He did not also know how to become a tout. But he had done one thing. And he had done it because of his intense desire to climb and succeed. He had changed his name by making an affidavit so that he could get a job in the university, the new name; however, stood only in the records of the university, everywhere else he was known by the name of Sudipta Shaheen as before. And even now he used that old name when he wrote poems.
IN Pakistan Sudipta concealed his name for the sake “of getting ahead in the world. And on that fateful night he concealed himself under his bed for the sake of saving his life. Sudipta was never known as a very courageous man. There was not, however, a second instance in his life of lying under a bed- Was he never visited by a night of fear in his life? During the riots of the fifties? No, when their area was attacked at that time they did not think of hiding in some dark corner. On the contrary they had thought of their friends. They had taken to the road hoping to find a shelter in the home of some friend. And they had found it. This time too on that black night be had tried to nurture a fond hope in his breast that perhaps the radiant love of some friend would render pale the face of the fear of that night.
But no hope dared come anywhere near them that night. No one hoped that he would survive the night and live to see the dawn of 26th March. And yet many had lived. And this fact that many were still alive was a great wonder to Sudipta. The many who had died had performed a very natural task. Everybody felt about them a strange dullness, But about those who were still alive there was no end of wonder.
“You ! You are alive?”
“God has saved me brother. How about you?”
“Five have been killed in our building. God alone know how I managed to escape.”
Sudipta still felt that he did not know how he escaped death on that night. God knew. But it was true that those who were dead were really gone and dead. That was no news.
What made news? That which did not fit in the run of normal of incidents, which was abnormal or which exceeded the bounds of the ordinary-people accepted that as news. But was death any news since the night of the twenty fifth? Death now was a very ordinary, common, everyday affair Such a famous man like Professor Govinda Chandra Dev or take the case of Professor Maniruzzaman-they died. Were brutally killed; why, think of what big news this would have made at any other time !
Sudipta turned on his side and tried to steal a few moments of sleep, but failed. One by one a few faces came and rose before his eyes-his teacher and later his colleague Dr. Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, his nearest neighbour in building number 23 Dr. Fazlur Rahman, his dear friend Dr. Muktadir. He had not known Dr. Muktadir very long. They had first met at the University Club. He had a heart of gold. How could anyone kill such a man? But whose killing was right? One did not wish such cruel death at the hands of brutal soldiers even for his bitterest enemy. Were those who shot dead a man like Professor Govinda Dev human beings?
Firoz saw that lady yesterday. He had gone to the Medical College. He had gone there with a gentleman of their party. To take him there. And at the same time to take a look at things, But he did not see much yesterday. He went .to Gulistan from the Medical College and then back home by the same route. On both sides of the road still lay many dead bodies. And rows of living trudged on, side-stepping the dead. Those unfortunate living, who had escaped death by mere chance, Among those who were alive there was that baby. He was no more than a year old. Who could tell his story? Firoz broke into tears as he tried to tell Sudipta about him.
A huge stump of a giant tree lay by the road; perhaps it was dragged in there to build a barricade. A frightened helpless woman had perhaps tried to hide herself behind it and so escape death. Perhaps when her home started to burn she came out on the street seeking safety somewhere. She tried to save the child at her breast. Firoz saw that the silly, innocent, miraculously spared child was still trying to keep alive by sucking at the breast of his dead mother. This he saw on his way back. And he had seen the lady on his way out. Clutching her only child to her breast, holding a suitcase in one hand, she was going in a rickshaw. The widowed daughter-in-law of the adopted son of life-long bachelor Dr. Govinda Chandra Dev. Did you long to see a modern-day saint? You only had taken at Dr. Dev. How much did he earn as a Professor and as the Head of a University Department? Whatever was that amount he didn’t spend perhaps even one-tenth of it for himself. And the rest? That was spent on charities and for his adopted sons. He had nurtured and brought up many poor children, not all of them Hindus by any means, was the Hindu-Muslim distinction something to be seriously considered in this age? Benoy-da, Sutapa-di, Sukanta or Mandira- had Sudipta ever thought of them as persons particularly belonging to any religion? Dr. Dev did not belong to any particular religion. Perhaps he belonged to all religions. How could one who was truly a philosopher with all, his heart and soul allow him to be imprisoned in the confines of a particular religion?
“Hello, are you awake?'” asked Firoz. The ladies were in the next room with the children, and here in this room were the two friends. They had planned to gossip far into the night but the mood was lacking. Besides, wearied by a hectic day Firoz had promptly fallen asleep. He woke up only just now, and immediately on a wakening he called out to Sudipta, who let him know that he was awake, and then asked, “Look, you told me yesterday about Dr. Dev’s daughter-in-law. Did you know her?”
“No, I didn’t. The gentlemen who were with me in my car pointed her out to me. She was the sister of a friend of his. Her husband’s name was Mohammad Ali or something like that, I was told, but I don’t recollect it now.”
That is, he was a Muslim. The Pakistani soldiers had placed Dr Dev and his Muslim son in one row and shot them dead. The dead bodies were seen lying side by side. Also was seen the dead body of Modhu Babu. Dear Madhu-da of the students of the Dacca University. When he remembered his student days Sudipta too found the bright memory of Madhu-da warmly ensconced in a niche of his heart. Madhu da’s canteen- the place of what memories of how many moments of joy, melancholy, annoy ay nee and fierce debates! Why did they kill you? On the night of the 25th even as she nestled into Sudipta’s bosom Bela seemed to have been terribly frightened. And at that moment Sudipta had heard his daughter ask one heart-rending question, ”Father, why would they kill us?” As he remembered Madhu-da he seemed to hear again the same question of his daughter- why would they kill Madhu-da. Yes, stupid girl, the answer was one and the same. They would destroy the University of Dacca. They would destroy everything that the students and the teachers of the Dacca University were fond of. At least that was what they wanted to do. They wanted to kill, to demolish to destroy.
And why wouldn’t they, you tell me that! All this precocity in the name of free thinking- You are engaged in teaching students: well do that. What business has you to poke your nose into how we rule or do not rule the country? It is entirely our affair to decide on the route our aero planes will fly along or the base we shall get our oil from. But you had to go to the British Deputy High Commission and ask then not to let us get our fuel at Maldives. How absurd! Look, who told you to worry about the welfare or otherwise of the country? Is that your headache or ours? What did you say? You too wanted to know what was good for the country.
Thats what is wrong with the Bengalees, you know. For God’s sake, why don’t you leave the matter of the country’s welfare to the jawans of the west wing? Get whatever poor meal you can scrape up and rest content. And produce jute and tea in large quantities for the rapid advancement of the country. Or if you belong to the gentry work for national integration, or write a thesis and get a tamgha, a State honour. If you did not like to do any of these things? Well, then they would kill you. And that killing would be legitimate.
Many were unaware of this simple thing till the 25th of March.
Madhu da did not know that it was an offence to be loved by the students. But not to speak of Madhu-da, no human being was supposed to know this. How shall we ever repay Madhu-da’s debt? Were the students of the Dacca University alone indebted to Madhu-da? It was literally true. Many students were unable to fully clear the bills they ran up in his canteen. Some of them defaulted not unwillingly. All students were not surely angels. But Madhu-da considered all students good and decent. How he loved the boys!
You will save the country, and shan’t I save you?
Of course, I’ll have to do that. Didn’t the boys call him their Madhu-da, an elder brother to them? An elder brother would of course love his younger brothers. How could he punish them for their minor shortcomings?
Well, if you couldn’t then you were a criminal.
Therefore you had to be killed. And what about Dr. Dev, he did not believe in the ideology of Pakistan. Therefore he too had to be killed.
Sudipta was told by teacher of his own University that Dr. Dev was an anti-Pakistani. The teacher was Dr. Abdul Khaleque, the famous scientist. It was a little difficult to place Dr. Khaleque, but if you were told that he was Mr. Malek’s brother everyone immediately recognized him. He had gone to England with his wife’s money. Returning from there with a Ph.d he had become the provost of a students’ residence hall. Now, in addition, he ran two shops in the New Market under another name. He had also joined the Rotary club with the intention of doing social service. Sudipta knew him fairly well, but generally speaking, he did not like to mix with everybody. As a result he was not personally so well known is his name was. But Mr. Malek, from this aspect, was quite a renowned man. His degree was in Political Science, but he did not indulge in politics. He did not even read any book on that subject any more. Instead he wrote poems. And he attended the club regularly. In this regard he was just the reverse of his younger brother Dr. Khaleque. He knew now to mix and make a party come alive. And he could tell lies unblushingly. If some day Sudipta sat by Mr. Malek at the club he found himself drenched in a shower of lies. He could tell lies beautifully and in most cases they were not very harmless either. He could effortlessly tell such lies that might badly hurt somebody. Snapping the train of his thoughts, at this moment, sounded the voice of Firoz.
“You know this mad act of Yahya- this may, in one sense, be to our gain.”
“But I can see that it is positively to your loss. Here, look at us; five persons suddenly forced on you. It is not a matter of jock.”
“It certainly isn’t. How I am suffering! But, remember, this is nothing compared to what we are going to make Yahya suffer perhaps it will kill the poor fellow.”
‘Oh, please, don’t do that, a number of people will become orphans, you know.”
“You are speaking of the collaborators, aren’t you? No, we won’t add to their grief by orphaning them. We shall liquidate them before that.”
The two brothers, Malek and Khaleque, belonged to the category of collaborators. Malek, in particular, was unparalleled in this regard. He was quite senior in age too. But in juvenile exuberance he was second to none. That was what attracted Sudipta and his friends.
Thinking about those two brothers Sudipta said at this point, “Do you know what I would like to do when I think of certain collaborators?”
“Yes, what’s that? Would you like to leave the country? Or, commit suicide?”
“I would become, at least for an hour, one of Yahya’s savage soldiers.”
“That’s where you are making a mistake, Professor. Yahya’s brutal soldiers cannot kill touts and collaborators. They can kill only good people.”
That’s right, Firoz had spoken truly. Did beasts ever kill beasts? Beasts killed men; that was their religion. And men killed beasts. So he had to become a man. A strong, healthy man. But did they kill only good people on the night of the 25th? Yes, nearly always, only once or twice they had scored same-side goals by mistake.
After previous write-up
Mr. Malek was a remarkable man. He got his M.A, degree about 1945. During those days he contributed poems to the monthly Mohammadi, liberally abusing the Communists. That was the safest thing to do at that time. If the country became free he would have to live either under the Muslim League or the Congress Raj. It was, therefore, unsafe to annoy any of them. And if, after all, the country was not freed, then be had to go on living under the British Raj. So he could not write anything against the British either. And yet political poems had a great demand in the market then. And the one thing that could please everybody—the British, the Congress and the Muslim League alike—was anti-communism. So he wrote his satiric piece called the ”Song of the Red Friends.” After independence when Pakistan was achieved he began to conduct researches on Muslim culture and tradition. He wrote an article then. It began like this—”Occasionally I write poetry. I love poetry, but I love my country more. The country comes first. Literature comes after it. One must consider the interest of the country above everything else. We can think of literature later. I am not a student of literature and I may not be knowing all the theories connected with literature. But I have studied something of Political Science (he had not read a single book on political Science after getting his M.A. degree) and what I have learnt from it has led to my firm conviction that—” Beginning in that vein Mr. Malek proved in his article that the study of Tagore was dangerous for the Pakistani nation in the very interest of the newly formed state.
The ideal of our Pakistani literature would be the Punthi Literature and the Folk Literature of the last century. Oh, how happy it had made the Pak Government. He immediately got a job at the Dacca University. First a lectureship, and then an Associate Professorship in three years’ time, superseding five persons. But alas, what a strange turn events took within six months of his becoming an Associate Professor! That was in 1954 The Muslim League suffered a total defeat in the Provincial Election in East Bengal. In Pakistani politics the Awami League began to play a predominant role. But there was no point in wasting time over repentance. If you were intelligent you could cross all hurdles. Mr, Malek began to exercise his intelligence. He deeply thought for some time—what lay at the core of Awami League’s heart? We could never forget our Bengali self even though we existed in the framework of the state called Pakistan. We will never forget it Pronto! Mr. Malek promptly wrote sugary sentimental poem on East Bengal. He also composed a song on 21st February,
He went as far as stating the following in an, essay— ‘Many of us were bewildered at the first tempestuous (perhaps the author did not know what the word tempestuous meant) arrival of Pakistan. The language movement of 1952 has helped us regain our consciousness.”…Here he indulged in a little lie, Mr. Malek thought, even as he wrote the line, for he had not grown wiser in ’52 but in ’54. But it made little difference. Such little lies were permissible. This was the age of the koli wasn’t it? A hundred per cent truth would not do in this age. So leaning on partly truth and partly on falsehood Mr. Malek smoothly sailed over the post-fifty Four years. But what an irony of fate Ayub Khan appeared and promulgated Martial Law, On the day Ayub Khan declared Martial Law Mr. Malek prayed to God with ‘tearful eyes, and even fasted the whole day. Alas, did ever any one hurt one’s cause like this? Oh, why did I write all those poems and songs’? Mr. Malek prayed to God again and again and shed penitent tears. He always said his prayers; now he began to spend longer hours over them. Formerly he grew a moustache along with his beard; now he shaved off his moustache but let his beard stay as it was. His moustache-less, bearded face looked like that of a pucca mussalman. Yet his heart was not easy. Whenever he found himself all alone he prayed to God. And then God proved merciful. Mr. Malek was suddenly summoned by Ayub Khan and was bluntly told, “I won’t cause anyone needless grief. All your past sins are forgiven. I now want you all to, strengthen my hands in the task of nation-building.
Ayub Khan kept in the fore-front the noble responsibility of nation building. And the rifles were at their back. Those who went ahead with the task of nation building, their eyes firmly shut, never saw the rifles at their back. They were the lucky ones. But a few poor fellows hesitated; prodded once or twice by the rifle butts many of them had soon come round. But some did not. They were considered traitors.
The Khan prepared a list of intellectuals, journalists and politicians and divided them into three groups of white, black and yellow. This division was made very impartially, and the innocent stupid people on the white list were honourably kept far away. People who were so good were of no use to the country. But they would not be punished either. Afterall they were good, stupid people. There were two kinds of people on the yellow list—firstly, those who were innocent but not stupid and very determined to realise their objectives, and secondly, those who were slightly tainted, yet who tried to save their conscience even in their evil deeds. Ayub Khan considered these men on the yellow list extremely dangerous. He had made up his mind to do all he could to crush them. The men on the black list were those who would help him in his mission. They were a select group—confirmed devils, the scoundrels and the depraved, who were at the same time terribly shrewd and intelligent. Fortunately, Mr. Malek’s name was on the black list. The Khan needed men who had intelligence but no character. They could help him realise his objective. So he made his views clear to them and said, “Look, I have with me a list showing all your past misdeeds, but I’ll safely tuck it away and won’t punish you. In exchange you must justify all my misdeeds. I shall give you the contract for nation building. You will be able to earn your bread and butter and even flourish thereby. But take care, never try treachery. Remember that I am a Pathan, and the Pathan never tolerates treachery.”
Mr. Malek immediately said with folded hands, “Don’t mention it, Sir. We will do whatever you say.”’
“You Bengalees were all slaves of the Hindus, weren’t you?”
“Yes, sir. Right, sir. We were of course that,’ sir.”
“Don’t sir me so much. Listen. You were slaves once, but that is in the past. Now you are free. Can you tell me who brought this freedom for you? Me, this Ayub Khan.”
The Khan struck his chest with his thumb, and Mr. Malek with all his sang-froid was somewhat flabbergasted. He believed that our freedom was a gift of the Qaid-e-Azam. Now we were supposed to forget it and proclaim that it was Ayub’s gift. Finding Mr. Malek speechless the Khan went on, “I am your .saviour; I have given you freedom; but can everybody accept this freedom when it is offered to him? Tell me, can everyone do it?”
“No, sir. When a bird is released from its cage after a very long confinement it cannot fly.”
“Exactly. You Bengalees have become like those caged birds. For long you were imprisoned in the cage of Hindu ways and manners; now even when freed you cannot fly, that is, you cannot give up those Hindu ways and manners. I want to put you in charge of that task. Do you follow me?”
Mr. Malek tried to. The Khan continued, “I have decided to set up an institution. Can you tell me what I should call it?”
Oh, the boss had asked for his suggestion; how fortunate he was! Mr. Malek swelled in pride and glory. He thought for a while with bent head and said, “National Institute for the protection of the Bengalees from the Kafirs.”
“Rascal ‘•” the Khan roared in furious anger. He very nearly kicked Malek. In fact one of his booted feet had jumped up a little. Mr. Malek grew alarmed, but no, Ayub Khan did not do anything further. He said immediately, almost without thinking, “It will be called the Academy for the development of national integration and mutual understanding. I’ll make you its Director.”
Mr. Malek rubbed his hands in unconcealed joy .and gratitude. He murmured, “You are too kind, sir.”
The Khan, that is Ayub Khan, got up from his sofa and began pacing up and down the room. So Mr. Malek too got up from his chair. How could he keep sitting when the boss was up on his feet? But the boss signalled him to sit down with a flick of his left hand. He looked engrossed in some thought. After nearly, fifty seconds he said, “Do you know what is at the root of your degeneration? That language is of yours. As long as that language of yours will be there you won’t be able to free yourselves from the bondage of the Hindus.”
“There is no doubt about that, sir.”
“Well, you agree to everything when you are before me, but later when you leave my presence you start singing a different tune. One can’t trust you people. You are all hypocrities.”
“You have said it, sir, but this poor humble self will never betray you.”
“If he does I won’t spare him. I have a list in my file of all your misdeeds. If required I shall bring them up but it will not be necessary.”
Finding nothing to say Mr. Malek bowed his head low and kept quiet. The Khan went on, “The task of your Academy will be to introduce Urdu in East Pakistan and create a class of intellectuals who will sing the praise of my administration.”
“I’ll introduce Khutba, sermons, after your name in all the mosques.”
“Well said, man; but, you know, the people will not follow what is said by somebody in Arabic. And what good will it does if the people do not understand what is said?”
”But we will arrange the sermon to be delivered in Urdu. After all, everybody will have to learn Urdu.”
“What do you mean by everybody having to learn Urdu? There will be only Urdu everywhere — in the office as well as at home. The use of Bengali will be sacreligious, for the continuance of Bengali will mean the continuance of Hindu ways and manners. And I can’t surely permit that in Pakistan. Tell me, can I?”
“That’s true, sir. But, sir, Urdu is nobody’s mother tongue over there.” Mr. Malek had somehow plucked up a little courage and made that tiny protest just once. But that was enough. The Khan roared, “What nonsense! Whose mother tongue is Urdu even over here? No one’s. Yet we have all accepted Urdu for the sake of preserving the unity of the country. Why can’t you?”
Mr. Malek had to bow down before this Pathan logic. True, once upon a time he too was prepared to sacrifice even Tagore for the sake of national integrity. So? If necessary why should he now object to giving up the Bengali language for the sake of national integrity? No, he had no objection. But those stupid fellows, those common men and women of the country would object. They were not prepared to listen to any reason or logic over this issue of language. Mr. Malek pondered for a while and said, “Sir, it seems to me that we shall have to take recourse to some trickery in this matter. If we speak about Urdu right at the outset there will be trouble.”
“No, no, there must not be any trouble. The Bengalees are Very fond of trouble. They love nothing better. And once in its grip it is very difficult to quieten them. You must attain ‘the objective peacefully.” “Sir, that’s why I was thinking that it would be better first of all to make them forget the Bengali language. We could then give them Urdu in little doses.”
Excellent! An excellent plan indeed; Mr. Malek presented a plan designed to make the Bengalees forget the Bengali language which delighted Ayub -Khan. No fuss, no fanfare. The Academy for preserving national integrity came into existence quietly and Mr. Malek became its Director. But no one knew anything about the work of that Academy. Soon the people forgot about it. But one day at the appropriate hour the Bengali Academy and later the Dacca University passed resolutions for reforming the Bengali alphabet. Mr. Malek pulled the strings, pushed a button here and a button there, and things happened, but the people came to know nothing. Only the Khan knew. He was informed that the battle was won. If the alphabet was reformed on the lines proposed in the resolution then no one in this country in future would be able to read the books published according to the usual prevailing Bengali letters. Which meant that the books published in Calcutta would be totally unusable in Pakistan. And then to fill the gap Urdu books will have to be supplied from West Pakistan. Of course this will have to be done at first through Bengali translation. If necessary those translated books will be prescribed as texts for the University students. What was the point of using only Bengali books in the Bengali department of the University? There in the name of Bengali books you read only the books from Calcutta full of Hindu culture. Why couldn’t you use Urdu books of Lahore, translated into Bengali, as prescribed texts for the Bengali Honours course? Somebody started a debate on the above lines. Mr. Malek informed Ayub-Monem, his masters that the project was going very well. The introduction of Urdu books in the Bengali syllabus will purify the brains of the Bengalees to some extent. The pollution of their pure, innocent brains caused by books from Calcutta full of Hindu ideas will be finally checked. But all this was off-stage, behind the scene. What the people were told openly was this—the Bengali alphabet was very unscientific; and since we wanted to introduce the Bengali language in every walk of life we must put the unscientific Bengali alphabet on a little more scientific basis. This will also result in is rapid expansion of the Bengali language etc., etc……..
Thus the able Mr. Malek continued to flourish and climb up the ladder of success even in the regime of Ayub Khan. And then took place the mass upsurge of 1969. Ayub Khan took his leave. When Ayub Khan’s exit was announced over the radio Mr. Malek wept all night and wetted his pillow with his profuse tears. His wife was perfectly aware of it, even if no one else was. Alas, only a few months ago he had translated the Khan’s book “Friends not Masters” into Bengali and earned a few thousand rupees. And what was going to happen to him now? Everybody said that Abdul Malek was Ayub Khan’s number one agent. Oh, God, what would now become of him? But God did provide him with a chance once again. Mr. Malek found two years’ time at his disposal. The promise, given to the nation by Yahya Khan in March 1969, of quickly handing over power, was never fulfilled; through repeated procrastination full two years went by. And during those two years the shrewd, extremely intelligent Mr. Malek neatly arranged all his affairs and put his house in order. He effusively declared on the occasion of Tagore birth-day celebrations that Rabindranath Tagore was an inseparable element of our psyche. At a cultural function of the students he said that the geographical environment and the language of a country were the basic ingredients for building a nation; that religion had absolutely no place as an essential part of the national consciousness. Once he had written an essay pleading for Tagore’s banishment from Pakistan. Now he wrote a book and dedicated it to the memory of Jibanananda Das. After all Nazrul Islam did write a large number of Islamic songs and thus demonstrated his Muslim ethos; so he now sharply criticized him and wrote an article emphasizing secularism in literature. He allowed his moustache that he had shaved off to grow again. But when he saw that all this was not quite enough he hurriedly contributed one thousand rupees to the Awami League Relief Fund. Let me see if I can be the Vice-Chancellor of the University yet!
Mr. Malek of such virtues was busy writing an essay on that fateful night of the 25th. He had sat down to write his article about nine o’clock at night after he had his dinner. His subject—the modern poetry of East Bengal. Just as he started to write he decided to kill two birds with one stone. Everyone considered Abul Kasem as the greatest modern poet of East Bengal. Even greater than him! Intolerable. The chap had walked the corridors of the University for a few days, that was all. Could he pass an examination? Could he become an Associate Professor like him? But, no wonder, an ignorant fool would be honoured in a land of ignorant fools! But, alas, one could not find any fault with the young chap’s poetry. Mr. Malek at this stage gave up poetry and began to think with closed eyes. With pen in one hand and an open note-book before him he inevitably invited comparison with the meditating Buddha. Suddenly Mr. Malek jumped up from his seat of meditation and cried out—Eureka. The images and symbols in Abul Kasem’s poetry were not sufficiently Bengali in character; on the contrary they were largely western. But was that a. fault in modern Bengali poetry? Besides, all his poems were not of that kind. But no matter, the stupid readers of this country would not understand all those details. Thank God, the idea had occurred to him. Can’t you see that it is going to help him in two ways7 Firstly, this will create a little wedge between Abul Kasem and his readers, and then he will deftly push himself into that wedge. Ah, that will be great fun! Secondly, this will prove that he, Mr. Malek, is a pure and thorough Bengalee in every sphere of his thoughts. So Mr. Malek opened his eyes. The pen in his hand moved rapidly. At midnight about 12 o’clock he became conscious of the shooting going on outside. My God—what terrific noise! He stepped out on the verandah for a second and immediately realised what was going on. So his younger brother was right after all. For the last few days the two brothers were not on the best of terms.
Mr. Malek felt that it was now time to forget such slogans as Pakistan and the Mussalmans and start talking about Bangla and the Bengalees, otherwise our misfortune and slavery would not end.
The younger brother Khaleque thought differently. He felt that the integration of Pakistan came before everything else. And we had our army to ensure that. This army was our pride and our glory. They would preserve the integrity of Pakistan at any cost. They would never allow the country to come apart.
But how could that integrity, be preserved? On the basis of fairness and justice, of equity between the two parts? Or by means of domination and exploitation of one part by the other by sheer brute force?
Such words as exploitation and domination were being frequently used by Mr. Malek recently. It greatly annoyed Khaleque. This downfall of his own brother pained him. If we were exploited a little in order to save Pakistan and Islam, well, couldn’t we somehow manage to tolerate it? Was our faith that weak? But what could he say to his elder brother? As far as he was concerned he was a scientist; he was kept busy with his provost ship, his business and the Rotary Club. He did not understand much about politics. His elder brother, however, was a direct student of politics. Yet he would say that his elder brother was wrong and had no idea about the strength of the Pakistani army. Only one day, yes, the army needed only one day to put a stop effectively to all this juvenile agitation of the Awami League. And it would do so if necessary.
“But for how long? How long was it possible to keep one under domination by sheer physical power?”
“Say, for a hundred years.” That was what Dr. Khaleque thought. Our army would keep East Pakistan under domination, would run the country under martial law if necessary, in the interest of Islam and the integrity of Pakistan. It would be perfectly legitimate in Islam “and Pakistan’s interest.
Now all this debate with Khaleque came to Mr. Malek’s mind. So Khaleque was right after all. The expedition to subjugate Bangladesh and keep it dominated by sheer physical force had begun. Mr. Malek quickly reentered his room and tore the article he had been writing to shreds. He took out his razor and shaved off his moustache. Next he performed his ablutions and putting on his cap started to read the Holy Quran.
His dead body was later found in front of the Holy Book. The five-year-old young son was found by the body of the father, shot dead. But his wife and two daughters were not seen anywhere. Mr. Malek had done his best to play-act his way to safety. He had tried to make them understand—
“We are genuine Muslims. We support the Army. We are enemies of the Awami League.”
“All right, help us then.” Mr. Malek was immediately ready to help them. “Of course, I’ll help you. Just tell me what I have to do. You want to catch some criminal? I know them all thoroughly.”
“No, no, we don’t want any of those things. We can take care of all the criminals ourselves. You give us money.”
Mr. Malek quickly opened his almirah. There was a sum of five hundred rupees there. He gave it all to the soldiers. Only five hundred! The jawans did not feel happy. They searched every nook and corner of the almirah and found a lot of gold ornaments belonging to his wife and daughters. As soon as they took those in their hands Mr. Malek said, “If you don’t mind, I would like to make a present of all this jewellery to you. Please accept.”
“Thanks very much. We have got jewellery, but where are the women?”
You have given us ornaments dear friend, but where are the women who will wear them?
“Where are the women?” a jawan barked savagely.
The women were hiding in the adjacent bathroom. It was not difficult to find them. Two stout kicks and the door flew open. They found two daughters and a mother. The mother was nearly forty, but she had a beautiful body and could be passed off easily as a thirty-year-old. Of the two daughters one was nineteen and the other seventeen. Now the jawans were very happy. Their entry in this house was a great success. Three pretty women, a lot of jewellery and five hundred rupees cash. All these were war booty and hence perfectly legitimate with proper religious sanction.
“Well, you said you were a friend of ours. Come, now act like a true friend. We want these three women and we are going to take them away with, us. But don’t worry. We’ll return them after three days.”
Mr. Malek found this intolerable. He cried out, “Oh God, save us from these tyrants. La Ilaha.”
But he couldn’t go any further. He had wanted to say La Ilaha illa anta……..La Ilaha, i.e. No God; he was able to utter this much, the rest i.e. ilia anta which meant without you remained unuttered forever. The staccato sound of automatic rifles drowned everything else. Thus the last words of Mr. Malek’s life were ‘No God.’ His mortal body fell down on the floor with the words ‘No God’ on his lips. And his five-year-old son fell by him.
Sudipta had later come to know of the fate of Mr. Malek. Nearly ten days later. He was terribly shocked when he heard about it all from Dr. Khaleque.
“What savage friends they are!”
“Oh, no, please don’t say that. The moral sense of our Pakistani soldiers is much higher than that of the soldiers of many countries. That evil deed they had performed merely by chance. But, look, even in this case they have written to me expressing their regret. And they have also apologized.”
Sudipta said somewhat tauntingly, “Is that right?” But he checked himself instantly. He felt a deep disgust within himself for having known such a vile creature. Strange! Khaleque felt not a bit ashamed as he gave him the news. Dr. Abdul Khaleque, brother of late Mr. Abdul Malek, told him easily, “Look at the army’s generosity; when they returned the womenfolk they also handed over three hundred rupees for their medical treatment. They are quite sensible fellows.”
Quite right. Sudipta tried to console himself. War booty, once acquired, was not supposed to be handed back. But they have done it. In addition they have given three hundred rupees. This was generosity un-parallelled. After all Mr. Malek and Dr. Khaleque were their own people. The ordinary jawans had killed one of them by mistake and had some fun with his wife and daughters; this was not quite the thing to do; but could not one look at the matter with a sense of serene acceptance? Some such misdeeds always occurred during a revolutionary period. One should not feel angry over such a thing and go on grumbling. No, Dr. Khaleque was not angry with the army. He brought his sister-in-law and nieces over to his place and gave them each a bottle of Vibrona.
And this Dr. Khaleque had once branded Dr. Govinda Chandra Dev as an anti-Pakistani.
That was about a year ago. Dr. Khaleque and Sudipta were then just getting acquainted. Sudipta did not know at that stage that Dr. Khaleque was a modern Pakistani Muslim who preached his anti-Indian doctrine on all possible occasions. He never said his prayers or fasted,-1; instead, he abused the Hindus as ‘Kafirs’. And he considered sexual relationship with more than one woman perfectly permissible. Generally speaking-he was not a good mixer. But where women were concerned he could spend hour after hour gossiping with them over the merest trifle. In this field he was absolutely non-communal. He never bothered about a woman’s nationality or religion. And it was not merely gossip that he indulged in with women; he was peerless also in relieving them of their virginity.
Dr. Khaleque argued, “Tell me of one single prophet who did not enjoy multiple women. According to the tradition of their age they enjoyed polygamy or they kept concubines. This is not permissible in modern society; so we will do what is permissible. We shall make love in secret.”
All this was senseless talk, but nonetheless one enjoyed listening to such talk. That’s why Sudipta never argued with him. He only quietly listened to him. What was the use of telling Khaleque anything? Sudipta had gradually come to know Khaleque’s frame of mind. So without offering many comments he raised occasional harmless questions only to help Khaleque’s flow of words run on undisturbed. Dr. Khaleque did not realize that Sudipta was merely making him talk. On the contrary it delighted him to discover an adoring disciple in Sudipta. And Sudipta’s questions were so interesting. He found them so pleasing!
“Well, Dr. Khaleque, tell me, how do you manage to win the girls over?”
“By words; only by the technique of using words.”
“I don’t follow you. Give me an example, please.”
“You don’t follow? Listen, I’ll tell you what happened one day. Once I asked a girl, ‘Look here, I am living all alone in my place these days. Come visiting this evening, okay?”
“You said that? Didn’t she flare up?”
“She could have, but did not. And what if she did? It would have told me that the prospect here was bleak. I would then look for some other girl. My dear sir, there is no point being sentimental over these things. You are waiting for a bus by the road-side. The bus comes but you see that there is no vacant seat in it. Would you then go back home sad and disheartened? Why, you would wait for a while for the next bus, and surely, you would get it soon!”
” Right. But let us get on with your story. What happened next? What did the girl say”
“Yes, that girl. She looked at me arching her brows and made a strange face. I can’t describe it. I can’t imitate it either. Only girls can play with their eyes and face in that fashion. She looked at me from? the corner of her eyes and said, ‘You are inviting me to go over to your place, are you ? But what will happen then? Tell me that—. Well, now what would you have said in answer to that?”
What could he say? Sudipta pondered but found no suitable answer. However, he lamely said, “If it were me I would have said, ‘Well, what would happen if you came? It would be nice indeed.”
“Rubbish! And they say you write poetry! The girl would have indignantly left you if you had said that. Do you know what I told her? I said instantly, ‘ If you come, a thighful of spring will appear in the winter of my Siberia.”
That was Dr. Khaleque for you. He told everybody; that he was a scientist. “We scientists are dry, matter o£ fact people, we don’t understand politics or literature…etc, etc.”
Quite true. Since he taught science in postgraduate classes, of course he was a scientist. And this Mr. Scientist did not understand literature or politics.
But one thing he understood. At least he claimed that he understood it. Which was Islam. Pakistan came into being to serve the cause of Islam. And Pakistan was brought into being by the Qaid-e-Azam. And the army was Pakistan’s protector. Therefore one had to accept without any debate or argument Islam, the Qaid-e-Azam, Pakistan and the Pakistani army. One had to be a true believer. According to Dr. Khaleque:
“The five pillars of faith of a Pakistani Muslim were Allah, the Prophet of Allah, the Qaid-e-Azam, Pakistan, and the Pakistani army.”
With an implicit faith on these five pillars Dr. Khaleque was a true Muslim. Of course a Pakistani Muslim. According to him any criticism against these five was sacreligious. Sudipta didn’t know all these things at first. And so there was a conflict of sorts right on the first day of their acquaintance. The day before, an incident had taken place at the University. A group of students belonging to the right wing Jamate-Islam party created a lot of disturbance, trying forcibly to break up a meeting organized by another student group. In the fracas that ensued a boy belonging to the Jamat was killed. What, a boy belonging to the Jamat-e-Islam was killed? What an insult to Islam right on the sacred soil of Pakistan! Sudipta had no idea how angry and upset Dr. Khaleque was over this incident. And so he sinned awfully when he protested against a comment of Dr. Khaleque. Dr. Khaleque said, “We must build a mosque on the spot where a martyr’s blood has been spilled.”
”But it was an internal quarrel of the boys, an in-fighting. If someone loses his life in such a scrape, can one really call him a martyr? A martyr is one—”
Sudipta was not allowed to complete his sentence. Khaleque interrupted him, “Of course he can be called a martyr. The boy was killed in fighting those who wanted to destroy the solidarity of Pakistan. Why, then, couldn’t he be a, martyr?”
“No, even then he wouldn’t be a martyr,” argued Sudipta. “He wouldn’t be a martyr even if I agreed, for the sake of argument, that the rival students’ party wanted to break up Pakistan into two parts, for a martyr meant—”
”Oh, hang your meaning of a martyr! Pakistan meant Islam, and Islam meant Pakistan. Therefore that boy died trying to save the solidarity of Islam. He is a martyr.”
No, it would be wrong to argue any further. Sudipta noticed that already a lot of unpleasant topics had come under discussion. To avoid any further unpleasantness he seemed to be partially agreeing with Dr. Khaleque and said, ”Yes, looked that way the boy was of course a martyr. You could easily raise another Shahid Minar there.”
Sudipta had cleanly forgotten that Dr. Khaleque had earlier proposed to erect a mosque there. Poor Sudipta! The ditch lay exactly where he had stepped out in his desire to avoid the quagmire of angry controversy. Dr. Khaleque cried out, “Shahid Minar? We shall build a memorial monument! Do you consider us such infidels? Listen, my; dear sir, when the day comes we shall destroy your Shahid Minar.”
“You will destroy the Shahid Minar!” Sudipta exclaimed in surprise.
“A hundred times! You will conduct all kinds of idolatrous ceremonies over there, and won’t we destroy it? We’ll destroy it and build a mosque there.”
Sudipta couldn’t check himself any more. He blurted out, “They said that in the Middle Ages the Muslims destroyed temples and built mosques in their place. This was not untrue then,”
“What? Does your taste permit you to believe in this malicious lie spread by the infidels against the Mussalmans?”
“Look, why are you getting so angry? It is not ii question of belief. The point is, there are already so many mosques in the city of Dacca. If we build here more mosques—”
“We’ll certainly have to do that. If necessary we will turn the entire city into a huge big mosque.”
“That would indeed be an achievement,” Sudipta had murmured very softly with the ghost of a smile.
”An achievement? Are you joking with me?”
“Not a bit. Don’t you think it will be an amazing feat in the whole world if the entire city of Dacca is turned into a mosque? Just imagine!”
Suddenly Dr. Khaleque controlled his excitement which surprised Sudipta. What now? Or was he putting on a new mask? What kind of men were they who could change so fast? No, they were not men. They were either devils or angels. To which category did Dr. Khaleque belong? Perhaps the latter. Sudipta tried to nurture in his mind a good opinion about Dr. Khaleque. Dr. Khaleque spoke up in a low voice, “Let it go. I won’t argue with you any more over this matter. We do not as yet know each other very well, but let me give you a friendly advice. Why did you come here driven away from India? Never wipe off this question from your mind.”
But that’s what you have to do. It is perhaps possible to live all the while thinking ill of the people who are far away from you. But what about your neighbour? You have to build up a relationship of mutual good will and understanding for the sake of sheer existence. Sudipta believed this implicitly. Besides, he could never evade a question—did friendship with another man grow only on the basis of religious faith? But he kept the question bottled up in his mind and put a stop for that day to his discussion with Dr. Khaleque.
But after this day Sudipta was never able to accept Dr. Khaleque gracefully. You must consider one an. enemy of the Muslims merely because of the fact that he was a Hindu— well, what kind of an attitude was this? Didn’t men like Benoyda live over there? Couldn’t they see a person like Professor Dev over here? Sudipta had once seen Professor Dev at the University mosque. A function was being held there on the occasion of the birthday of Prophet Mohammad. it was the birthday of one of the greatest men of the world. Didn’t everyone have a right to attend such a function? The life of Prophet Muhammad was discussed there; a milad was held; Dr. Dev participated in everything. Sudipta watched it all. He had come to the function because of Dr. Khaleque’s importunings and was not feeling very happy at first. But soon his unhappiness vanished. Sudipta usually did not attend functions of this kind, whereas though Dr. Khaleque never visited the mosque for saying his prayers he always attended functions like these. Today he did not come alone; he brought Sudipta along too. So Sudipta came, though unwillingly. When he first saw Dr. Dev there he was surprised; soon he found a profound respect for the man welling up in his heart. Yes, in this unfortunate land of ours it was possible only for a genuine philosopher to nurse such a liberal attitude. But how did men like Dr. Khaleque look at this liberal attitude of Dr. Dev?
On their way back It was Dr. Khaleque who raised the point: ”Did you see how that infidel spoilt the sanctity of the mosque?”
Sudipta instantly felt a deep disgust for Kaleque. lie decided at once never to mix with this man again. If they were not in a car he would have left him then and there and start walking to the opposite direction. But finding no way of leaving him just then and being com-polled lo keep him company Sudipta said, “But it seemed to me that the prestige of the mosque had gone up.”
“How? Please explain.” For some reason or other Dr. Khaleque didn’t get angry today. Perhaps he knew that one should not get angry while driving a car; that might lead to trouble. Or he had some other reason. In any case Sudipta too took an oblique route. Instead of giving a straight answer to Khaleque’s question he said, “As a University Professor it is your business to explain matters to others. How can you expect others to explain things to you?”
“No, sir, you can’t divert me by such a light-hearted answer. You are trying to avoid the real issue by taking recourse to jokes. Come, listen to the blunt truth from me. That Dr. Dev of yours is an enemy of Pakistan.”
No, it would not be proper to say anything more. Sudipta kept quiet. But perhaps Dr. Khaleque did not know how to keep quiet. Repressed Sudipta, “Do you agree?”
Now he had to say something. Sudipta said in. a solemn tone, “When I don’t know anything else about Dr. Dev—.”
”Yes, what then? Why did you stop? Please go on.’
The liberalism that I noticed in “I am going on. him today—.”
“is dangerous for Pakistan,” interrupting Sudipta, Dr. Khaleque completed the sentence for him, and added, “no hodgepodge of religion will be allowed in Pakistan. I am telling you very clearly, Pakistan will be destroyed if you move even one inch away from pure Islam.”
By then Dr. Khaleque’s car had entered the premises of the University Club. Sudipta asked as he alighted from the car, “But where is the proof that Dr. Dev is trying to divert you from pure Islam?”
“Divert us? Who can divert us from Islam? He will divert you from Islam. He will do it by letting you swallow that bait of liberalism. Did you over take time off to think over why he adopted a Muslim and not a Hindu as his son?”
”What is there to think over in this matter? To him truth did not lie in one’s being a Hindu or a Muslim. He saw the truth in man. He took a human child as his adopted son, not a Muslim or a Hindu.”
“All this is Hindustan’s trickery. Wherein lay the distinction between Pakistan and Hindustan if you wiped off the distinction between the Hindus and the Muslims? Therefore all those who ignore the distinction between Hindus and Muslims are opposed to the ideology of Pakistan. They are enemies of Pakistan.”
Thus Dr. Khaleque had made out Dr. Dev an enemy of Pakistan on that day. Was it then Dr. Khaleque’s attitude of mind that got instilled into the Pakistani military junta? Or was the voice of the military junta heard through the lips of Dr. Khaleque? Was Dr. Khaleque then nothing but his master’s voice, the voice of the military junta? At least so far as the opinion of Dr. Khaleque and the military junta regarding Dr. Dev was concerned it clearly flowed along the same lines; both reached the same conclusion, namely, Dr. Dev was an enemy or Pakistan. Well, if that was true, then we too, Sudipta felt, were enemies of Pakistan. Between Dr. Dev’s ideology and Pakistan’s ideology of course the Pakistan of men likes Dr. Khaleque— which one was preferable to us? Undoubtedly, the first.
They had made Dr. Dev and his son stand in the same row and then shot them. Two bodies fell side by side. Father and son. But they did not have the same blood. It was only after death that their blood mingled and became inseparable.
The blood of two others had also been united in this fashion. Two well-known teachers— Mr. Murriruzzaman, Head of the Statistics Department, and Dr. Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurta, Reader of the Department of English. They lived in two different flats of building number thirty-four. They were both devoted to their own religion. When they were made to take their stand in one row and then shot at, their blood had (lowed only to mingle and form one stream. Many people saw the clotted blood later on the cemented floor. Sudipta saw it too. But could he point out which part of that blood was a Muslim’s and which part a Hindu’s? How heartrending was that scene— those foot-prints soaked in blood! Prints of a number of feet were clearly visible on the concrete route. It broke one’s heart to look at them. And yet one had to see them all the time, again and again.
What was there for Sudipta to see for so long in front of the Shahid Minar ? Shahid Minar stood on the south of building number thirtyfour just across the street. Sudipta came back to himself yesterday in front of the Shahid Minar, now razed to the ground, at Firoz’s call. That was only yesterday but it seemed to Sudipta that it was ages and ages ago. Sudipta had not said a word when he got into the car with Firoz. Firoz had, however .commented, “So, after all I have found you.”
Firoz had not hoped to find Sudipta. He was going to Sudipta’s place on his way back, thinking all the while if they were still alive. Who could tell how he would find them 1 And just then when he was thinking all the things he saw Sudipta standing before the Shahid Minar, tears streaming down his cheeks.
It was for this that he liked that crazy fellow so much. Just look at him! After thirty six hours of curfew he was now standing here in front of the Shahid Minar with tears in his eyes, leaving his wife and children God knew where. His grief over the destruction of the Shahid Minar surpassed everything else. But was it unnatural” Not a bit. Why talk of Sudipta alone? Was there a single Bengalee today who did not shed tears as he went along this road? While going to the Medical College by this route some time ago Firoz too could not check his tears.
Starting his car Firoz said, “Let’s go and see. I just heard the bad news about Professor Guha Thakurta.”
But what was there for them to see? There was nothing to see. Only blood, stains of blood, streams of blood. In the wide portico at the entrance there was not a tiny spot which was not overflowing with blood. The entire path from the main road to the entrance of the building was stained with blood. Streams of blood flowed into the drains on either side of the path.
Bad luck for Firoz. He had not got the complete news about Professor Guha Thakurta. He would not have come here if he had. Instead he would have gone to the hospital. And he would have seen his teacher in the hospital, still talking, apparently without any great difficulty. A side of his body was paralyzed, but he could talk; and he was already planning for the future:
“Perhaps I’ll never be able to get up again. I think I’!! have to spend my days lying down in bed or somehow sitting up in a chair. All right. I’ll sit and write books. That will be enough. We shall manage to survive.”
But, alas, he was not allowed to do that. The supreme event of human life was waiting for him only a few hours hence. The job that Yahya’s savage soldiers had wanted to accomplish was done two-three days later, Yes, Yahya’s barbarous soldiers had shot Professor Guha Thakurta to kill but the bullet did not hit him at the right spot. But even then his life was doomed. They did not leave the corpses alone where they fell. Sometimes they dug holes and buried them. And did they bury only the dead bodies? Oh, no, that would not do. The General wanted that there should be no half-dead lying about anywhere. The Bengalees then would rise again and create fresh disturbances; so make sure that they are dead all right. Therefore, to the vulture-eyes of the soldiers on that gruesome night there were no wounded; all were dead bodies. The Pakistanis had created on that night an unprecedented record by burying indiscriminately the wounded and the dead alike. Could wounded Professor Guha Thakurta escape their clutches when the dead bodies of Professor Maniruzzaman, his son and two relatives were dragged on to the grounds of the Jagannath Hall and buried there? But, alas, even though he did escape them, what good did it do him? He could not be saved. How would Basantidi bear this grief? Mrs. Basanti Guha Thakurta, wife of Professor Dr. Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurta, was the Headmistress of Gandaria Girls High School. The Headmistress had a residence for her own attrached to the school. They used to live there all these years. For a long time -the husband underwent a lot of inconvenience for the sake of the convenience of the wife, coming to work at Nilkhet from distant Gandaria.
Only recently, a few months ago, they had moved irito their University quarter after Dr. Guha Thakurta was made the Provost of the Jagannath Hall. If only they had continued to live at their old place.But was Gandaria a safe place ? No, it was not a safe place either. Was the flat facing building number twenty-three where Professor Maniruzzaman earlier used to live any safer? Yet many said that had they continued to live there this calamity might not have befallen them. Well, others made such comments, but not Mrs. Maniruzzaman. “She is a very spirited woman, a noble lady”—the words were Basantidi’s. When Basantidi thought of her an overwhelming feeling of gratitude filled her heart. Where did she find suc’a great courage? They had shot everybody dead in her place; her eldest son, husband, brother-in-law and a nephew— no one was spared. Only she had escaped with her little child in her arms. And a grownup daughter of marriageable age was saved; she was hidden away from the sight of the devilish miscreants. Her eldest son was due to appear this year at his secondary school certificate examination. How could she keep her head when they killed that son of hers? Yet she had kept her head. The little child who had managed to escape death had followed his mother and asked her, “Mother, why are father, brother and others lying down here?”
And immediately she had turned back and picked the child up in her arms while unrestrained tears flowed down her cheek. I must live for you, she told herself. And even at such an hour as that she did not lose her head.
Why did the scoundrels march her husband and son down at this hour of the night? Was it to kill them? She paced restlessly in her flat moving from one room to another for some time. Then she came down all alone from her second floor flat to the ground floor. And her little four-year old son followed her at Her heels.
Begum Maniruzzaman was not surprised in the least at what she saw there. Five of them lay there. One or two of them were still groaning in the blood-washed wide portico at the entrance of the building. She did not stop to ask herself who they were. Instead she ran upstairs and immediately returned with a bottle of water and a spoon. Her eldest son, the apple of her eye, was still able to see. He opened his eyes wide when he saw his mother. Just for a second. Then he closed his eyes and never opened them again. The mother quickly gave him a spoonful of water but he was not able to swallow it. The water trickled out of his lips and flowed down his cheek. She had suckled the boy to manhood with the milk of her breast and now she was not given the time or opportunity to give him even a little water at the hour of his death. So her son was dead and gone. But that gentleman over there—the Hindu Professor who lived in the ground floor—he was still alive. She observed purdah. She had never come out in front of him before. But now he seemed to be a dear brother whom she had known for ages. She went up to him and poured a spoonful of water in his mouth. After he swallowed a few spoonfuls it seemed to her that there was a fair chance of his survival. At once she knocked at the door of their flat and cried, “Sister, please come out and take your husband in. He is still alive. My husband is dead.”
Basantidi could never forget those words. On that ‘ dark night of disaster when she held her young daughter close to her heart and felt utterly helpless a goddess seemed to have appeared on the scene disguised as her dear sister, and that goddess said, “Sister, come out quick, your husband is still alive.” But she had added something more: “My husband is dead.” Ah, dear sister mine, what terrible words were those! Basantidi felt herself bleeding with sorrow and grief.
She had called about for her driver a number of times. Ho lived in a room on top of the garage. When he came down mother and daughter with his help carried the wounded professor into the house.
The army Juwans had returned after a while with some persons from the neighbouring slum who were ordered to drug away the dead bodies. Oh, God, a Professor of the University, the Chairman of a Department—they just caught hold of one of his legs and dragged him away. She saw everything from her window. The poor fellows from the slum were not to blame. They had wanted to carry the dead body decently, but their wish meant nothing to the savage brutes. So they too had to act like brutes. But even that failed to save them. They were also killed to a man.
Many of the slum-dwellers were made to collect dead bodies from various parts of this area and dump them at their heels with raised bayonets and asked them at their heels with raised bayonets and asked them to dig a hole. The jawans themselves supplied the baskets and the spades. They had to take the further trouble of abusing and kicking them for a number of hours in order to make them do their work well. At long last a large satisfactory ditch was dug. The dead bodies were thrown into the ditch along with some who were still alive, groaning pitiably. And then came the turn of the slum-dwellers. The jawans ordered them to stand in a row at- the edge of the long ditch and then they practiced target shooting. One by one the slum-dwellers fell into the ditch. This time the rest of the job had to be performed by the jawans themselves. They had to’ throw in the accumulated earth from the edges into the ditch and fill it up.
Sudipta and Firoz took a look at the spot. Coming out of building number 34 they went straight there. Firoz had heard about it a little while ago and he had decided to see the place with his own eyes. It was strange, though; here they didn’t feel so frightened.
But why did they feel so frightened near the staircase of number 34? As if someone had hung a stone slab of fear around their necks, they had felt their bodies grow heavy and limp. Were they going to breathe their last, crushed by the weight of unbearable pain? A few men were visible here and there on the roads. But here they did not see even a mosquito. Was there such a lonely place so close to the Shahid Minar in the city of Dacca? As if they had arrived at some horrible city of ogres! All that blood came perhaps from those poor wretches on whom the ogres had feasted. Firoz and Sudipta had rushed out of there in a state of abnormal fear. It was simply unbearable.
The children of late Professor Abdul Hye lived in the same building, in the flat just opposite to that of Dr. Guha Thakurta. Where did they go? Were they alive? Could they go away to some safe area? Oh God, let them, survive! Even now Sudipta couldn’t control a shiver when he remembered the day of Professor Hye’s death. How tragic it was! Death was cruel, but before he had seen the mutilated body of Professor Hye struck dead by an accident by the railway track Sudipta had no idea as to how terrible it could be. What if its name was death, why did it have to be so heartless? That dead body had looked like a cruel joke hurled at life. When Sudipta saw in the Jagannath Hall ground the fingers of some just-buried woman or the ankle of some man sticking; out from under the earth like baby plants the whole life appeared to him. to be a monstrous joke. How many dead bodies did they bury here? And in how many other spots like this? And there were still so many corpses lying about on the streets, the side-walks, the portico of homes? How many had they killed then? How many thousands of people had those savages murdered in the city of Dacca? The question burst into the thoughts of Firoz like a hand-grenade.
No, they had not killed many. The number did not yet reach a million. The soldiers did not find it possible to obey completely the orders of their general. What had their great General ordered them to do? Neither Firoz nor Sudipta knew it. They would fail even if they were asked to imagine it. General Tikka Khan’s orders to them were: Go and kill the Bengalees, loot their shops, burn their homes, rape their girls. Before giving these orders Tikka Khan had made a few brief prefatory remarks. He had said: Brother Jawans, your President is proud of you. You are the glory of Pakistan. On you rests the supreme responsibility of preserving Pakistan and Islam. All these Bengalees that you see, they are becoming Hindus forgetting Islam under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. So a war against these people will not be just an ordinary war, but a Jehad, a Holy War.
Inspired, greedy for earning merit, the Jawans had fallen upon the Bengalees in a mad frenzy. Equipped with the most modern weapons the bold heroes of Pakistan had rushed out to kill hundreds of thousands of helpless unarmed Bengalees.
“Come, let’s get back. Amina will start worrying.”
Sudipta wanted to return home. He did not want to cause Amina any worry if he could help it. There she was, a helpless woman with three little children, surrounded on all sides by corpses. It was only natural that she should worry. But apart from that Sudipta himself began to feel uneasy.
With Sudipta by his side Firoz drove straight to Nilkhet Building number 23. As he stepped out of the car he said, “You better go on upstairs. Let me take a quick look inside the Iqbal Hall. It won’t take long. I’ll be back before you are ready.”
Firoz briskly walked towards the Iqbal Hall taking long strides. But why didn’t he take the car? My God! To enter the Iqbal Hall leaving one’s car at the entrance was nothing but loudly advertising the fact of one’s presence there. Sudipta watched Firoz for a few seconds. He glanced all around. The whole Nilkhet area looked deserted. He looked at Building number 23. It was covered all over with bullet holes like pock marks.
At the entrance of the Iqbal Hall Firoz got company. A journalist he knew. He learnt from that journalist that The People was not there anymore. That fearless English daily The People was completely destroyed, burnt to ashes. He had heard about the Ittefaq and the Sangbad earlier. The savage fury of the Huns mainly fell on educational institutions and printing presses. Did they want to cripple the very backbone of our thoughts and ideas? The journalist volunteered the information:
“They have shot dead some newspapermen and workers of The People.”
“Mr. Abidur Rahman?”
“We don’t know anything about Mr. Abidur Rahman until now. But he had gone out on some errand at about ten O’clock on the 25th night.”
Keep him alive, O God! Firoz murmured to himself praying for his long life. Since yesterday he had been praying for the long life of a number of persons. But he had not been able to find out as yet what the real position was in respect of most of them. Certainly the truth would come to light one day. Will then the line of Shamsur Rahman’s poem—entire Bengal will become a Shaheed Minar—become a proven fact?
The two of them wandered through the Hall for a while. There was however little to look at. It was exactly the way they had expected it to look like on this day of all days. Nothing was different from the image they had drawn up in their minds. Firoz saw some dead bodies lying about in a few rooms and on the corridor here and there. He did not see him though. A cousin of Minakshi. The young man was in the Hall even on the 24th. Firoz had come into the Hall primarily to look for him. Anyway, Minakshi might feel some sort of solace now. It seemed that he was after all not; butchered inside the Hall. This might console a little the grief-stricken heart of Minakshi. Firoz tried to take a quick look at all the corners of the Hall—right from the roof top to the ground floor. He wanted to see as much as he could. But as hurriedly as possible, and with some degree of fear clutching at his heart. Yes, he began to feel quite frightened. He would not have come into this place were it not for that brother of his wife. What had the scoundrels turned the Hall into! In a few rooms he saw books, journals, pillows and beds burnt into ashes. In many rooms he found the doors and windows broken down. Firoz and his journalist friend saw huge gaping holes in the walls made by cannon shells. All the furniture, records and files of the Hall office were set fire to and completely destroyed. They saw only a huge pile of ash. Firoz came out of the Hall, his mind turned into a bitter ash heap.
As he entered Sudipta’s flat he saw that the latter was eating and feeding his youngest daughter Bela. Strange! How could Sudipta eat? The dead bodies lying on the roof of the Iqbal Hall mosque were clearly visible from here. Was it possible for someone to take his meal with such a sight before his eyes? But Firoz did not know that just on top of where Sudipta sat, on the roof of this very building, lay sprawling at least twenty to thirty dead bodies. Downstairs on the ground floor lay dead Dr. Fazlur Rahman and his nephew Kanchan.
He could see everything clearly, in his mind’s eye, and yet here he was quietly taking his meal. He could not eat anything, though, last evening. The unknown corpses in the field in front of his flat had ruined his appetite. But today he had seen many such dead bodies and, that too, from very close quarters. Had his eyes then become used to such sights? Was it because of that that his appetite had returned? “How devastated a man had to be to make such a thing possible!” wondered Firoz. He did not even greet Amina in his usual humorous way. Amina too just pushed a chair towards Firoz and said, “Please sit down, brother.”
But he did not feel like sitting. Firoz wandered about the flat for a few minutes. Then he stood on the verandah and stared at the Iqbal Hall with unblinking eyes. In Iqbal’s Pakistan, the Pakistan he had dreamed of, there was no place for Bengal. And yet it was the Bengalees who had built a Hall in their homeland and named it after Iqbal. No, no, this was not generosity. It was sheer stupidity. And one always had to pay for such stupidities. But not any more.
“Have a cup of tea, brother.”
Sudipta finished taking his meal at about the same time that Firoz finished his tea. Perhaps this was his last meal in Building No. 23. Two days ago when he took his meal here on the night of the 25th March—well, that could very well have been the last meal of his life. That it was not, was—what? an accident? a miracle? or a senseless event? What was the value of a life that had to depend for its survival on a combination of a few chance incidents, on pure accident, on some senseless event? Oh no, its value was beyond measure precisely because of that. I did not know what was my right over life or how far that right extended, and because I did not know it its’ value to me was immense. Suddenly Sudipta’s love for life grew a thousand fold. He felt like the dark rain-laden clouds of Sravana, ready to burst forth in blessed showers. Like the young seedling sprouting from virgin soil his heart throbbed and fluttered. Leave this place and get out of here. After going without food for over thirtysix hours he now swallowed his food in loss than, live minutes and was ready to leave. And Amina? She was already prepared and all set to go. There was only one question before her to flee this place and save their lives. There was no problem of preparation when the question was merely of running away. In a suitcase she had taken a few dollies, some money and her ornaments, and in another bay she had taken a packet of powdered milk, sugar and Mme biscuits. In a side-bag she hud dumped in a few odd tidbits of an essential nature, a comb, toothpaste and brushes, two pairs of sandals wrapped in a piece of rag-cloth and a small transistor radio set. Amina’s caravan, was ready. Ready? If only these fulfilled her needs what was she doing all these years with so many playthings!
Before leaving his flat Sudipta went into the drawing room and looked at the portrait of Rabindranath Tagore. Then he moved on towards his book cases and quietly stood in front of them for a few seconds. Suddenly he remembered his flower plants on the verandah. Amina had locked the rooms by then. Taking the keys from her hand he rushed into the bathroom and poured a bucketful of water into the flower pots. Who could tell when he would return to these rooms again? And what will be the fate of these things all these days—these plants? those books in the book cases? Sudipta glanced at his books one more time, for the last time. His eyes looked like those of a sad beggar, a destitute. Couldn’t he take any of these things with, him? Amina called aloud and asked him to hurry. He rushed out on to the verandah once more and again looked at his flower
plants. In the midst of all horror a lovely rose had bloomed. He tenderly plucked the rose, the last gift of his friend, and softly pressed it to his bosom. He hoped that nobody had seen this sentimental gesture of his. Glancing back he found that Bela had quietly crept up behind him.
“Dad, I want it.”
“Of course, darling, it is for you and you alone.”
Sudipta gave the rose to Bela and then holding her band slowly came out of the flat. And Amina? She didn’t worry about these things. She had at this very moment in her kitchen five live fishes in a pot filled with water, a few tomatoes and eggplants, various spices, and of course rice and pulses. But she didn’t think for a moment about those things. With the side-bag slung over her shoulder she picked up the suitcase in one hand and asked her eldest son Ananta to take the other bag. Perhaps she was somewhat hurt and annoyed at Sudipta’s lack of a proper sense of responsibility. Anything could happen at any moment in this accursed house. And, look at him, there he was busy watering his flower plants. Was this the time to get enthusiastic about one’s flowers? Very well, then, you look after your flowers. I’ll carry the baggage.
Firoz detected her annoyance. He literally snatched the suitcase from Amina’s hand and said, “Why do you consider me absolutely good-for-nothing? Let me be of some use to you, please.”
They came downstairs and found two gentlemen standing there. An ambulance and a car were also standing in the driveway. Dr. Fazlur Rahman’s relatives had come to take away the dead body. Suddenly Sudipta felt terribly guilty. He and his neighbours had merely sent a message to late Dr. Rahman’s relatives and done nothing else. Did their duty end there? Taking on himself the guilt of the entire Nilkhet area he bowed his head in silence.
One of the two gentlemen knew Firoz. He was amazed to see Firoz there.
“Hello, are you still in Dacca?” It was true that after last evening’s speech of Yahya Khan, broadcast over the Radio, the Pak occupied area was no longer safe for any active member of the Awami League. But just at the moment Firoz was not thinking about his personal safety. They killed so many people of this country! Was it truly impossible to take some revenge at least? They didn’t spare anybody. Their fury was equally directed to all the local citizens —from the slum, dwellers to university professors. So he saw no reason to feel particularly endangered for being an Awami Leaguer. However, he replied instead, ”I can ask you the same question. It seems that they want to liquidate everybody.”
“You are right. But we must teach the devils a lesson this time. If necessary we shall cross the border equip ourselves properly, and then, on our return, make them pay for their brutal killings.”
If necessary we shall cross the border—this was one point of view. There was another point of view too. The third voice gave expression to it. This young man wore a shirt of local country-made cloth. His features were clean and firm. He said, “Whatever is to be done must be done from inside the country. We do not believe in fleeing the country in order to save it.”
Two views in conflict with each other. But no one had the time or the desire to enter into an argument. Their companions had gone in to bring the dead body. They were waiting for their return. And in their present mental condition they were not fit for more than one or two simple but straightforward observations.
Besides, ordinary people had no time to think over the implications of faith or belief or the lack thereof. Terror-stricken people, concerned only with saving their lives, fled in whichever direction they could. In many cases they did not even consider where or in which direction they were flying to.
As they were coming out of the Nilkhet residential area into the main road they saw Dr. Khaleque’s car coming from the opposite direction. When he saw Sudipta Dr. Khaleqwe raised his hand and motioned their car to stop. When the two cars stood side by side Dr. Khaleque craned his neck out of his car window. Sudipta had no other alternative but to do the same on his part. But Dr. Khaleque did not say anything that concerned him of his relatives. He didn’t mention that he had already heard about his brother’s death and that he had not yet learnt anything about the whereabouts of his sister-in-law and nieces. Sudipta had, however, learnt about these things from Dr. Khaleque himself a few days later. But today he only heard Dr. Khaleque ask a brle-l question, “How are things with you?”
“I have somehow managed to survive. Not so Dr. Fazlur Rahman. Besides, a number of slum-dwellers who had taken shelter on our roof have been killed. They have ransacked the entire Building No. 23.”
Strangely enough, Dr. Khaleque had already heard about these things. He commented drily, “Your misfortune has been caused by a simple fact; an EPR, man had fired at our P’ak army from the roof of your building.”
The word ‘our’ hit Sudipta’s ears with a bang. Firoz too noticed it. The Pak army was still ours! Clearly we were destined to suffer a great deal more. Firoz did not know Khaleque, but still he found it impossible to keep quiet. He protested in a firm tone, “Who told you this?”
“I have heard it from an eye-witness. He has seen with his own eyes the dead body of an ESPR, man lying on your roof-top.”
Sudipta spoke up immediately, “Why, I have been on the roof top myself. I haven’t seen anything of the kind there.”
“Did you climb on top of the little attic? It was lying there.”
My God, what a shrewd devil he was. Usually no one went on top of the attic roof; and so they had set up the story on those lines. But Sudipta had gone up and taken a look there too. There were only two bodies there—that of a son and a father. The father had tried to protect his darling son, dearer than his own life, by spreading his own body over his, like a veritable shield. The bullets hit them as the father and the son lay in that position. The bullets had gone through the father’s body and then through the heart of the son. When Sudipta saw them the father had still his arms spread over and round his son’s body. He remembered the sight, seen only a few hours ago. Was any one of them an EPR man? He was struck dumb with wonder. However, before he could recover himself he heard Dr. Khaleque speak up again, “The army struck only where they were resisted. You can’t blame them too much for that.”
“Is that right?” exclaimed Firozs. “Did the students of the Iqbal Hall and the Jagannath Hall resist the army? Did they go after the army with bamboo sticks?”
Khaleque did not permit the satiric tone of Firoz to ruffle him. Or perhaps he did not have the sense to realize it. Instead he said, “By heavens, what are you saying? Those two Halls were the depot of rifles, hand grenades, acid bulbs! They had some mortar too. The army has recovered all these things from there.”
It was difficult to be rude to a stranger. At least Firoz was not capable of it. So he only said, with a good deal of the annoyance he felt quite clear in his tone, “Do you want me to believe all this rubbish?” And then he started his car.
At the cross-road near the New Market, however, they found their car blocked. Two to three cars in front of them had come to a halt under the direction of two Pakistani soldiers. So they too had to stop their car. Soon a number of other cars came to a halt behind them. Then the two soldiers came up to each car and asked the male passengers to disembark. Sudipta and Firoz, too, had to get down from their car. The soldiers made all of them stand in a row on one side of the road. They were in all about twenty to twenty-five persons. One o£ the soldiers began to count them—one, two, three…eleven, twelve. All right, that’s enough. Stay behind, these twelve. As to the rest, get into your cars and go. Sudipta was number thirteen, and Firoz number fourteen. So they got the reprieve and left. But what were they going to do with those twelve?
Hey, get busy and clean up the road. Remove all that debris!
‘They were all very respectable people who went about in cars. Now they had to work as sweepers and remove the debris of the road. Sometime ago there were a lot of people here who normally went about walking on their feet. Now they were quite scarce. And it was now that they thought of cleaning the road. Cleaning the road meant the dismantling of the two graves over there.
Graves? Well, Sudipta saw them a few days ago. He was going to the New Market to make sundry purchases. It was about dusk. He noticed a crowd near the cross-road, but according to his usual nature he was quietly moving away from it when he heard the following words, “Gentlemen, please donate whatever you can for the upkeep of these two graves.”
Graves, here, right in the middle of the road? He had to stop. Coming closer he saw that, yes, there were really two graves right at the centre of the cross-road built with sand, brick and mortar. There were two sign boards on the two graves: one had the name of Yahya Khan written On it, the other that of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. One fellow, perhaps a beggar, had been dressed up as a caretaker of the two graves. He appealed from time to time, “Gentlemen, please give whatever you can.”
By God, they really had a sense of humour. That was what the Bengalees were for you! Poet Gupta had quite rightly said that though Bengal had so many problems still it was full of gaiety and fun. Sudipta had felt truly delighted on that day.
Today, just awakened from sleep, still in his bed, Sudipta remembered about that day. Yesterday they had made a dozen gentlemen get down from their cars and dismantle those graves. Couldn’t they engage some labourers to do the job? What nonsense? The Bengalees were put to work. Did they have to make any distinction even in the case of Bengalees between a labourer and a gentleman!
Sudipta had raised the point yesterday as they were returning home in their car: “Not to consider at all what position a person held, what prestige he enjoyed—”
Firoz had not permitted Sudipta to complete his words. Interrupting him he had said, “What are you talking of? Don’t you know that to the bloodsuckers all men were equal.”
END of 5th Episode