Sailing through history with Azizul Jalil
Azizul Jalil, a retired World Bank official, a civil servant of the pre-Independence era, a columnist and a writer shares the experiences of his eventful life for the first time in Bengali in "Tero Masher Shurjokiron" (Thirteen Months of Sunshine). Surviving three different regimes at home, witnessing a World War, a Partition, a Movement for the cause of language, a fight for freedom in his own country and travelling in four different continents, Jalil has a lot to say. Condensing all that to 160 pages of a book could not have been an easy task. However, Azizul Jalil, masterly manages to shape the book with significant and informative excerpts from his life by organising it into three parts - Smriti Kotha, Monay Porey and Shei Shomoy (Memoirs, Remembrance and Old times).
He starts off the first chapter with memories of his childhood in West Bengal where he has spent the first fourteen years of his life in the 1930s and '40s. Describing the early years and the turbulent history of the subcontinent at that time fall heavily on the chapter. As a result the storyline often appears haphazard while the writer keeps on mentioning every single prominent person he has met at various point of his life. However, from the second chapter, his rush in storytelling is subdued and here he describes the beauty and serenity of the Dhaka of the 50s. Moving on to the next chapters, readers learn more about the early days of Dhaka College, Dhaka University and the writer's life in London as a student. He also provides a first hand account of the Language Movement, especially the death of the language martyr Barkat. In later chapters of the first part, Jalil portrays his professional life as a civil servant at different districts of Pakistan, as Pakistan government's diplomat in Brussels and finally as a World Bank official in Washington and Zambia. In each chapter, he does not forget to provide a scenic description of his workplace. The chapters that refer to 1970 and '71 provide a detailed picture of the tension present between East and West Pakistan at the administrative and bureaucratic level.
The second part of the book describes the writer's life at a more personal level. He takes the reader on a tour to the hilly Jalpaiguri and Doars regions, at times describing the communities of the area, the different ethnicities and their way of life. From Jalpaiguri the writer reminisces about his grandparental home at Dinajpur. Then he moves back to his abode at Eskaton Garden in Dhaka. Here the reader gets a remarkable account of the social and cultural life of the city in the 50s and 60s. The writer has devoted separate chapters to his parents, sons and grandchildren. Although he has dedicated the book to his beloved wife, she appears almost as a shadow in the entire volume.
The last part of the book presents essays that have been published previously in different journals and magazines. The first two are historical pieces on the East India Company and Bahadur Shah Jafar. The last three are the writer's account of the language movement and his meetings with important leaders like Moulana Bhashani, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmed.
Like the title of the book, which is in fact the name of the chapter on Zambia, where the sun shines happily the entire year almost extending it to a thirteenth month, the span of activities of Azizul Jalil's living almost exceeds his life-time. And that is what makes this biography different from a layperson's reminiscence.
The Last of
Like truth, history lies in the eyes of the beholder. Fatima Bhutto, one of the descendents of the Bhutto clan, is famous on many counts: she is the granddaughter to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, niece to Shahnawaz Bhutto, daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and niece to Benazir Bhutto. The names in the list have one thing in common: they were either executed or murdered, or assassinated. Pakistan's political history is soaked with the blood of many and the Bhuttos, being the only political family in the country, have their fair share of gore. In her memoir, Fatima Bhutto tries to depict the sordid past of one of the most illustrious political dynasties in South Asia.
Fatima's story is mostly first hand accounts of her predecessors. And she is frank in her portrayal; on Zulfikar, the forbearer of the tribe, she says: "But Zulfikar was as headstrong as his mother." Yet, as the narrator is too personally involved with her subjects, her point of view, as in all points of view, is soft on Bhutto senior who was one of the many guiding figures behind the genocides in Bangladesh; he single-handedly helped and abated a regime that butchered three million of its own people. Quoting various sources she puts a grim picture of the rape and mayhem in the 'East Bengal', but when it comes down to Bhutto, Fatima is a loyal granddaughter.
Despite this flaw, Songs of Blood and Sword is a good read. What makes it a must for anyone interested in Pakistan is that she tries to find the role of an individual in the confused and confusing history of the Sub-continent. Being a journalist, she does not ignore the nitty-gritty of the everyday lives of her characters. The book meticulously describes what happens on the night of September 22, 1996, when Mir Murtaza Bhutto, Fatima's father and the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's brother, was murdered in the hands of his sister's police at the nod of Murtaza's brother-in-law Asif Ali Zardari. All but one of the police officers involved in the operation have been acquitted, one policeman mysteriously committed suicide.
Benazir in her term in office was becoming increasingly unpopular and Murtaza's call to take the Pakistan People's Party back to its roots, to the fight for roti, kapra aur makan, quickly became a rallying cry for the toiling masses. To make matters worse, Asif, Benazir's husband, earned a name for corruption and gangsterism. In fact, Murtaza almost pinned the final nail on the coffin of his sister's beleaguered regime when he started off with his own party styled Pakistan People's Party (Shaheed Zulfikar).
Writing about the Paris Commune, Marx said once that history never repeated itself, even if it did, at first if it was a tragedy, the repetition would be a farce. It is difficult to tell if Asif Ali Zardari, the self-appointed guardian of democracy in Pakistan, has leafed through Marx or not, but he attempted at recreating history once:
"On 20 September 2008, on the twelfth anniversary of Papa's death, Asif Zardari took oath as President of Pakistan. The ceremony had been scheduled for the day before, the 19th, but had been moved on the orders of the new President, who rescheduled his big day for Saturday, Papa's barsi. As he stood in front of the parliament, which had voted him into the post almost unanimously (in the same highly democratic way that General Musharraf was 'elected' President), he paused in his speech and asked for a moment of silence to mark the occasion of his brother-in-law's death."
It will look like a Southasian version of Godfather when you come across this:
"On Zardari's first Pakistan Day as President he would honour Shoaib Suddle, one of the most senior police officers present at the scene where my father was killed. Suddle was awarded Hilal-e-Imtiaz, a national medal in recognition of his services to the people of Pakistan. Shoaib Suddle was then made the head of the Federal Investigation Bureau."
This is Pakistan; this is what it has become. Or this is what it has always been.
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