Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Stories from a not too distant past

What does a family photograph taken some 40 odd years ago, a book on the philosophy of art and a war medal have in common? What could possibly be the binding factor? On the surface of it, there are no coherent connections between the three. They are of course all related to the war of 1971(the medal probably gives away the link) but how they all present a fragment of the past may elude most of us.

StoriesLove in the time of War
The photograph is that of my parents — M Fazlul Haq and Lutfe Tahera – taken at a local studio sometime in 1972. It is one of those old portraits you find in almost every household: a man wearing a dark suit and his bride standing/sitting next to him in a graceful form clad in full wedding jewellery.
But they were not married in 1972. It was on the month of June 1971 that my parents tied their nuptial bond.
My mother spent the entire duration of the War away from Dhaka. My grandmother, considering it unsafe for a young girl to live in the cities had her sent to the village. She was in a term a refugee seeking accommodation at far-flung places from Dhaka. My father continued to work in the insurance company he was attached to.
My nani passed away a year ago, and she would pass on emotional narratives of the War as bed time stories to me. It is in her words that I first realised the horrors of war, all told as a story that seemed too strange to be real. Being the toddler that I was, I too understood little about the complexities of wars but was drawn to her narratives.
Even before the War begun, my mother was engaged to my father. So to ease the minds of all concerned it was deemed fit for them to marry, even though there was a war raging. “I had jau – a gooey preparation of rice, usually taken by the ill with milk and sugar — for breakfast on the day of my marriage,” my mother often recollects with a deep sense of sadness. But those were troubled times and they were not united, although married, till 1972.

StoriesA token for the bibliophile
The book by Herbert Read, titled the Philosophy of Modern Art, is a wonderful companion for those interested in the nuances of art. The book has been with us in our family library for over 42 years. It was purchased in 3 May 1971 and bears a signature of my maternal uncle in pencil.
Amateur historians and collectors of memorabilia tend to look beyond what the casual eye misses. A book bought in any May on any other year may not bear any significance but in 1971 the situation was completely different.
There was a war waging and life had become stranded. But even in those days of rebellious war there was appreciation for love, life and beauty.
Later on, my uncle joined the Bangladesh Forces in war. His role in the war was of non-combatant nature, a somewhat secretive affair, which he prefers to keep to himself.
The book is an important memorabilia that somehow tells me about the strength of the human mind. While a part of it was actively involved in warfare, a part of my uncle could not deny the basic requirements of life. And that was probably the story of most fighters. They left their loved ones, their lovers and friends in the quest for victory against an opposing force. These were people who appreciated art and cherished knowledge, and yet determined to fight oppression wherever it was.

StoriesToken of the valour
This particular medal belonged to the private collection of a friend. For many years, I have had the privilege of handling the medallion amused by the tarnished state of the metal yet mesmerised by its historical significance. How he got it, I never asked. I felt a dash of shame at the fact that such an object, which was an accolade and one of the highest forms of recognition by the people of Bangladesh to its valiant sons who fought in the War, came in the market and was up for sale. This very fact says something about the sad state of our freedom fighters and the mindset of the general people. It’s high time that we give the proper respect, now long overdue, towards the freedom fighters and those who deserve our respect.
42 years is not by any means a short time. 1971 was the pinnacle of our collective accomplishments and it is of utmost importance that we preserve history as it was. There was a time within the academia when history was thought to be solely stories of monarchs and leaders. The common people were taken for granted. As we move forward, academics now reiterate on the need of preservation of the history of the masses.
So look around, keep your eyes open. History may be staring at your face and you don’t even know it.

Stories
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed