Photo: Zahedul I Khan
If forty years ago, on the morning of 16th December 1971, I and my cousins had buried a few souvenirs of the time, what would we have dug up today? Perhaps, some home-made paper flags, green with an imperfect red circle and a hastily drawn map of what was East Pakistan at the center, cut out proudly from ochre yellow paper. Our own golden world, wrested from death and destruction.
I can still hear the clatter of scissors passed among the bended forms of us cousins crowded on a verandah; I can smell the glue; I can feel the cement under our bare feet as we ran up the steps to the open rooftop.
I can see the bend of the Dhanmondi road from the rooftop of my aunt's house where towards the end of the war we and other relations had collected from various parts of the town, sleeping for weeks on mattresses on the floor. I can detect the dust as a caravan of jeeps and trucks appear shimmering like a mirage. As they come closer, we see smiling young men waving and shouting an answer to our exultant cries of 'Joy Bangla'!
I can feel the shiver and excitement of that moment. It would all have been locked in the time capsule, along with tears.
I recall how desperately I wanted to rush down to the street and join the throng. But we were under strict orders and stayed up on that distant roof, sensing a new sky unroll overhead, a fresh young breeze rustling past our ears with the news of a newly born fledgling bird taking wings, taking all of us with it surging into a new world.
We were going to be co-creators of a brand-new country. The pride and enormity of this unbelievable opportunity shook us. We stood shivering with joy on that rooftop. It was the same rooftop where just days ago we had stood watching the dog-fights in the air between the enemy jets and those of our allies. From here, we could not see but imagined the surrender taking place in the distance of our enemies to the joint forces of our own Freedom fighters and the Indian army.
A few days later we drove back to our abandoned house in the Cantonment. We couldn't recognise it. The doors were wide open, closets were flung wide and empty, trunks lay gaping and hollow. Rooms had been rifled. The house had been thoroughly looted. Everything was gone. Who had done it? We never found out, but we gave thanks that whatever we had lost was only material.
And it was too early to talk of losses, though we heard of other losses, and grieved for the lives that had been lost. Still, this was a time of rejoicing, of welcoming family and friends returning from their battles at borders and from across them. This was also the time for dreaming. And the time capsule would have been filled with these.
For forty long years, I have postponed talking of losses, material or personal, since inevitably they become the loss of much larger more incalculable losses: the loss of faith, of illusions, of dreams, of idealism.
We had dreamt of a world of Bangladeshis who would never again be enslaved to anything, not to any oppressing people, nor to any oppressive conditions. We are still dreaming.
We can bury our dead, heal our wounds; but the destruction of hopes and dreams fester. They refuse to die and come to haunt us. It's a good thing we did not put our illusions and dreams in the time capsule. I would be afraid to open it today.
I will give it another ten years. Today, perhaps, I will bury a time capsule containing a list of wishes and hopes, and ten years hence, on another 16 Decemebr, when we celebrate a landmark 50 years of our Independence, I will take the list out and tick off the items: Freedom from the rot of the social and political soul; freedom from the epidemic of mediocrity; freedom from the lack of vision, direction, sensibility, imagination and ethics…
Perhaps a rooftop from where we can cheer the progress of our heroic dreams awaits us in the future. But today, I turn back clocks and calendars and wait for those long lost faces, the saving graces, those eternally youthful freedom fighters to come around the bend. I look back at them with the same hope and idealism and cheer: Joy Bangla!
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2011