<%-- Page Title--%> Pecreptions <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 152 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 30, 2004

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Of Our Wars and Heroes

Mujtaba Ahsan

It was a cold wet evening in Hawaii and the drizzle seemed to be setting in for good. I was thoroughly cold all over and trying to decide whether I should help myself to a second cup of coffee or walk over to the neat and plush Louis Vuitton outlet when a passing taxi pulled up beside me and screeched to a halt. "My lucky day" I thought but "University?" was all that I could snap through my jittery lips as the sleek glass window rolled down on the passenger's side. A man close to his late fifties with thinning hair and a brown face gave a cold glance in my general direction and snapped back "bosho" (literally meaning sit down) and caught me totally off guard. Some deshi bloke pulling up his taxi in this cold Hawaiian evening and beckoning me in my sweet mother tongue was more than I could bargain for and I quickly wrenched open the door and jumped in the seat beside him. Barely had I done my seatbelts I found the guy sticking out a Listerine strip in my direction perhaps trying to say, "You deshis smell just as bad as you look". The cab industry in Honolulu is driven by the lot of the Vietnamese and it was definitely a welcome surprise to find our rare deshi guy popping out of nowhere in the middle of a cold night to save my back. "So are you from Calcutta?" I just wanted to make sure that I wouldn't be having to decipher a lot of Hindi terminology in a benignly masked Bangla if not English conversation. "Are you?" he looked inquiringly at me. I gave up and laughed at him--nope, pure Bangladeshi. He introduced himself rather blandly, "not that it makes much of a difference but yes, I am a Bangali too and yes from where you'd call Bangladesh. Well for the record, my name is DJ but that's of course not my real name, people only find it convenient that way." He pointed towards his ID card on the dashboard where his real name was printed out in clear type and said, "that's what they call me back home". "Well you seem to be a long way from home, aren't you?" I asked. "It all depends on what you call home, besides I am pretty comfortable here, in fact I haven't gone back to what you call home for a long long time."

I was trying to tread carefully on thin ice. I was afraid he would say he is just another one of those illegal economic migrants who populate the ghettoes of this country and pretty soon beg for some extra cash. To my utter surprise, the guy pulled out a CD of Bangla songs and started a conversation on Bangla art, movie, poetry and culture. I was surprised by his widespread knowledge in this area and his rather up to date information. Some of his music collection seemed no later than 2002 and his randomly jockeying through Hindi, Bangladeshi and Calcuttan songs showed that his palette ran a much diverse collection than what we are usually accustomed to.

"I said, so what did you do back home?" It just crossed my mind that he could well be one of those professors who run away from home after committing some kind of murder or gruesome crime. I was getting more and more puzzled trying to figure him out. I could tell he was well read in our history and culture and had travelled widely all over Bangladesh and India, especially in the literary circles of old day Madhur Canteen and Calcutta. Breaking into my thoughts he uttered. "You can say I was a goon back at home" he smiled at me. "Did a lot of mischief, while I was back there, but now… you can say I am just a plain and simple tax paying US citizen." "I am one of those eleven men, you see" what they made this movie about "Ora Egaro Jon" or "those eleven men" as it would be translated in English. I took a hard look at his face, no emotions betraying, as if he was talking about his car and I realised I had seen this guy before, or at least his picture at some place in the various war memorials and museums in Dhaka, Rajshahi and Calcutta perhaps and then all the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. This cab driver here on the streets of Hawaii on this cold drizzling night and thousands of miles away from home, was one of our golden sons, a living legend and our war hero of 1971. Suddenly my memory took me back to the early days of my childhood, when we had the 3 o'clock movie on the 26th March or the 16th December back in Bangladesh. The black and white near fade out screen featured a movie "Ora Egaro Jon" (Those Eleven Men) which was about eleven indomitable young men who defied all fear and symbolised what courage and love for motherland meant as they fought for the freedom of their land and their people. I was told that it was based on a true story and there truly were eleven brave freedom fighters who to this day remain hardly known to our generation or get published in the nationally doctored history books anywhere.

True History has been cruel to us, the time the Turks marched and drove Lakhsman away, this land was a prize to be won. The time Akbar annexed our land, it was a rich reservoir of wealth to be exploited by the Moghuls for its vast revenues. The time Mir Zafar locked interests with Robert Clive they were eyeing this same treasure of Bengal, but since 1971, history has stripped us of even our last remaining vestige of comfort, that of having some outsider to blame for our own misery and hopeless fate. Seventy one has stripped us of the luxury of having the other to point to our own failings.

I came back to reality with a sudden shock and looked at the calm face of DJ reflect on the wet windscreen. I gently asked him, "So why don't you go back… You had all the various political regimes…, I am sure one or the other would have suited you?" He turned towards me for the first time and stared for just a second with his stilled glassy eyes. I thought I heard him whisper, "You don't get it, do you? we fought for a free nation and we won it… Others were there, for the loot, the wealth, the power, the fame… the same breed as the Mir Zafars… and they are still there only having trouble sharing it now...". The car stereo was playing out a Kishore Kumar, "opare thakbo ami tumi roibe epare…. shudhu amar duchokh bhore dekhbo tomare". We came round the corner of University Avenue and DJ looked at the metre and said, "Well, I took you around a bit because it felt good talking to you. I won't charge you the lot--just pay for my gas or it'll be out of my pocket." I handed him a twenty and was grovelling for my pen when he said, "forget it,-- tell you what--, don't look around for me unless you are really in some kind of trouble. I run a strip joint here and a couple of night clubs, ever feel like loosening up a bit, feel free to drop by." I kind of apologised, "I am sorry…. You see, I'm married…," he looked at me with a broad grin and said, "Whatever!! We serve really good beer" and without another word, flicked his card, closed the door and drove away into the stillness of the night. The next morning was a bright sunlit day--a marvel that you see happen only in Hawaii--and I made a note in my mind to hang out in the beach that weekend and walked out of the eighteenth floor elevator straight into my cube with hot steaming Hawaiian Kona coffee. As I punched in the dot com address of our country daily, the headlines hit me right away "..show down… hartal… ultimatum… government's fall deadline (-Wait a minute…didn't the people vote them to power? … Who gave the opposition the right to fell them… funny…)". Once again, my last night's encounter with our legend and war hero surfaced on my mind and I took a long sip into my coffee. The drafting table, tracing papers and lead pens were mocking at me…oh how many Lal Bagh Forts, Fort Williams and now Hawa Mahals or Hawa Bhabans you will have to design to bring in the loot, else they might fall into the wrong hands of the people…This is Bengal my friend…eternally a "looter maal" (a bounty for the take) can't wait to grab it…come what may!





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