<%-- Page Title--%> Special Feature <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 135 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 26, 2003

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Victory Revisited

Mustafa Zaman

The sudden emergence of a Japanese journalist with a series of photographs showcasing the victory of this nation provides a refresher course in history of the day after the nation was declared free. The immediate reaction of the masses in jubilation, flaunting flags and guns and chanting Joy Bangla, were zealously caught frame by frame. It was sheer luck that these photographs have resurfaced after 32 years. Now they seem to have instigated in the collective consciousness a sense of nostalgia as well as pride. In the face of present political disillusionment, a glimpse into the heroic past seems like a strong moral stimulus.

Seen through the lens of the camera of Naoaki Usui, a war correspondent of Ryudo, a Japanese monthly magazine, the freshly freed nation appears united and invincible. As a reporter, Usui believes in "Representing the truth through camera," and his prints bear all the objectivity that brings back the highs of the moment of pride in sharp focus. The pictures were brought back from Japan after 32 years through the joint initiative of the Muktijuddha Jadhughar (Libaration War Museum) and the forum of Writers and Journalists of Bangladesh in Japan.

Back in 1971, Naoaki crossed the border of Bangladesh with the advancing Mitrabahini, the alliance of Muktijoddhas and the Indian army. "I did not even have a visa," Naoaki jokingly says remembering his first entry to independent Bangladesh. It was a long emotionally streaked journey that he embarked on December16. Starting from Kolkata, which was his base during the war, he reached the Racecourse Maidan of Khulna through Jessore on December 17. The 17 hour long journey was an eye opener for him. It was also his "first encounter with possible death as well as with the young Bangalis in the throes of euphoria," he eloquently remarks.

On his way and especially in Khulna, he witnessed the people celebrating their hard-earned victory. "I did my homework before coming to explore a nation that was soon to become free," asserts Naoaki, who was moved by the chanting, screaming mob. And he claims he understood what they were saying. The reverberating "joy bangla", and other slogans had their impact on him too. A foreigner in a new land, Naoki was only 28 back then.

"It was one of my important foreign assignments," revealed Naoaki to the journalists who came to report on the exhibition. Naoki's involvement gave birth to a body of work that has stirred the imagination of many. Long dormant emotions were whipped up by this sojourning Journalist.

It has been two years since this historical treasure trove was discovered. "We first came to know about Naoaki Usui from young Bangladeshi people living in Japan. They have a writer-journalist forum of which Monzurul Haq is the chief advisor, it was Haq who brought the name of Naoaki out in the open," says Mofidul Hoque, one of the trustees of the Liberation War Museum (LWM).

Monjurul, foreign correspondent for both the Daily Star and the Prothom Alo, stumbled into Naoaki by pure chance. In 2001, while attending a condolence meeting of another Japanese journalist who had just passed away, Monjurul found out that Naoki was a war correspondent who visited Bangladesh in 1971. While his compatriot was working in the Kashmir front, Naoki was assigned to cover the eastern zone, where after a nine month long war a new nation emerged. " While addressing the audience, Naoaki spoke of his posting in Kolkata and his visit as a journalist to the newly liberated country which made Monjurul Haq curious," reveals Mofidul Hoque. The Liberation War Museum was waiting for an opportune moment to bring Naoaki's works to Dhaka.

The exhibition titled Amar Dekha Bijoy (victory seen through my eyes) was inaugurated on December 10, at the premises of LWM. "The show had a strong impact. To be frank we did not even realise that this show would make such a big wave in Dhaka," expresses Md. Maruf Hassan who is the network engineer at LWM and he also worked as the guide of Naoaki during his stay in Bangladesh.

The show took off on December 10, two days prior to the arrival of Naoaki. The Bangladesh Writer's and Journalist's forum in Japan raised the funds to sponsor Naoaki's visit, and the rest was looked after by the LWM.

The show was part of the series of programmes taken up by LWM on the occasion of Victory Day. The pictures of victorious people, the joy and celebration, encapsulated in still snapshots were the kind of documents that drew unprecedented attention from the people. In the comment book kept at the exhibition, a man from Khulna writes, "The pictures of Naoaki tapped into my consciousness made me more aware of the spirit that lied latent in me, and intensified my emotion regarding the war of independence."

Taken in Jessore and in Khulna on December 17, the pictures triggered off many kinds of responses, most of which centred around rehashing of memories and the sense of reclamation of the spirit of '71.

"Photography is strong media. You freeze one moment, a meaningful moment that remains their forever," says Naoaki. The man who wanted to be a pilot, Naoaki's plan was thwarted as he found out that he was short sighted. "It meant that I would never ever be able to become a pilot," remembers Naoki. He was in junior high, and from that point on, he, "Started to look forward to another exciting, active profession." He was only 19, when he came across a book titled "Slightly out of Focus" by Robart Capa. "He was a very well-known war photographer during the second World War," informs Naoky. Wrote in a hilarious mode, the book had a solid impact on the impressionable mind. Naoaki did not specialise in photography. In his opinion, "I wanted to report events and people, so, technical precision was never my aspiration. I was interested in people."

With a major in French Culture, Naoaki now is a freelance journalist and a consultant editor of the Science-News.

A well-known journalist in Japan, his works have brought him at the centre of Dhaka cognoscenti after this show, where 27 of his works featured. Besides the exhibition, there were ancillary events that provided Naoaki the opportunity to get in touch with the people. During his stay in Dhaka, the LWM arranged for a seminar on December 14, where he reminisced his days during '71.

A visit to village called Paril in Manikgang, 35 miles from Dhaka, was one of the highlights of his stay. On Victory Day, he met the Muktijoddhas of Paril who had fought throughout the nine month long war. In October 19, 1971 they won a sanguinary battle that left several boats full of Pak army capsized. This event instigated retaliation on the part of the Pak army, who later burned the surrounding villages. For Naoaki as well as for the villagers, the visit to Paril was an emotional occasion that brought him closer to the heroes of the soil.

Prior to the attending the function at Paril, in the morning of December 16, he met with the children,

"For them the pictures are the only opportunity to look at the events of war, says Naoaki who seems inspired about children and their interest in his work.

"I am amazed how far this country has come since 1971," he says. After the devastation of the war he has witnessed the healing process that began from December 17, 1971. That was also the first time he was exposed to war.

Having seen two different faces of Bangladesh, he goes on about its people. "Healing is a strong word, a very psychological word. What I had seen is a people in rejoice. Now in 2003 they seem much more resolved, much happier," adds Naoaki.

In the exhibition comment book, a daughter of a Muktijoddha, expressed her renewed belief in what her father fought for. Her understanding was only augmented as she surveyed the works of Naoaki. Her last comment was, "Looking at these pictures of brave men, I was incessantly reminded of one and only thingwhy was I not born before so that I too could fight for our freedom."



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