Joy Bangla and SSC Exams.
This story tells of events unfolding in the backdrop of the SSC exams
held during the war in 1971.
Faridur Reza Shagor
There were 19 houses in the neighbourhood, of which only one had an upper floor. The owner of this double-floored house in the neighbourhood, Mr. Karim, owned a motorcycle as well. Some of the other households owned bicycles.
In the entire neighbourhood, only Mr. Monir Hossain owned a telephone. He had seven children, who each had a friend in almost every household in the neighbourhood. As a result, many families of the neighbourhood took their calls on that solitary phone.
None of his seven children, however, were my age, meaning that I would never get to make a phone call on that phone. However, one fine afternoon, to my surprise I received a phone call there.
'Who on Earth would call me?' I thought. Astonished, I picked up the black phone in my hands and held it to my ear. From the other side, I heard, “I am Yakub. How are you?”
“I'm getting by. Like everyone else.”
I was in my head, thinking 'Why would Yakub call me at a time like this?' but what I said was, “What news do you have?”
“If you want to find out, come to school on the day after tomorrow.”
“But I haven't been going to school.”
“I know, but you still must come. Everyone will be coming.” With this, Yakub hung up. I went home and told my father. I could not tell if he was happy or unhappy, but I could tell that he was greatly relieved. Radios and televisions had both been informing us that the S.S.C. exams were to be held soon and that everyone must attend. All examinees were instructed to retrieve their exam permits from their respective schools.
All the young men of the neighbourhood had joined the war. Throughout February and March, we had undergone extensive training with staffs and wooden guns. We had screamed “Joy Bangla!” and known that the war had begun. Would it not be hypocritical to sit for the exams under the strict vigil of the Pakistani Armed Forces themselves? Still, Yakub had asked me to go to school to retrieve my exam permit.
The school we were in was called Tejgaon Polytechnic High School. The headmaster of our school was Noor Mohammed, and he was sufficiently popular among the students. He was a noted singer of Radio Pakistan. At the time, the Pakistani government would dish out fancy titles to important citizens. One such title was given to him 'Tamgha-e-Khidmat'.
Most of the people who had earned such titles had had them removed at the beginning of the war. Noor Mohammed did not want the Pakistani soldiers to cause unrest within the school. He wanted the S.S.C. exams to be held peacefully and without any mishaps. Using his staff he had informed the fathers of the students that everyone should attend the exams on time, despite the fact that none of us were attending any classes in the school at the time.
On the all-important day, I went to school and was amazed. Almost all our friends were present. We had heard that Bablu's house had been ransacked by the Al-Badr, and yet he was present. Razakars had burned down Keramot's house. He was present as well.
Most of the teachers of the school were also there. However, none of them asked why we had been absent for all this time. They all asked us to go to the office room. There, we would get our exam permits and would not have to huddle up the way we were.
But nobody was listening. We had all met our friends after so long, we were all very excited. The entire school was abuzz. At this time came Maktom his real name was Badrul Alam. We had heard that Maktom had successfully migrated to India at the end of March, to be trained alongside his elder brothers for the war. 2 weeks ago he had returned to Dhaka. It had been Maktom who had directly or indirectly asked everyone to be present. If we refused to pick up the exam permits the Pakistani Army or the Al-Badr would attack our house. If our respected elderly teachers did not successfully distribute the exam permits alongside our other teachers then they too would be in danger. These were also reasons for which Maktom had advised us to come to school for the permits. Everyone collected the permits from the school as instructed, but it was decided that no one would attend the exams.
The teachers would not know what was going on until they come to school on the day of the exam, but what would we tell our parents? Some of them would want us to sit for the exams. When we told Maktom of this problem, he immediately said that there would be a solution.
The next morning found Azad, the leader of our scouting team at our house. As it was he was healthy, but on that day he looked downright obese. He entered the house, closed the door behind him and took out some papers from underneath his clothes.
The papers read 'under no circumstances can you attend the S.S.C. examinations. If you do, death awaits you.' Below this ominous message it said 'Rising Freedom Fighters.'
“What are these?'
“Cyclostyled paper can't you see?'
“Where did you get it? Who made this?”
“We made it. From Yakub's father's office.”
“What am I going to do with these?”
“Slide it under the doors of some of the houses in the neighbourhood, including yours.”
“And scare my own parents?”
“These things are required in times of war.”
“But my parents are not pressurizing me to sit for the exams.”
“No, but the headmaster's house is close to your own. He might come over tomorrow morning to change the mind of your father.”
I could see Azad's point. That day I took the cyclostyled leaflets and delivered them to my house along with a lot of others', while our headmaster not only received the leaflet but also anonymously received white kafon (burial) cloth.
On the day of the exams, the world was stunned that East Pakistan, which the contemporary Pakistani government claimed was in a perfectly normal state, had little or no attendance for its S.S.C. exams. In fact, on the day of the exam, bombs were set off in many schools. The sounds of the explosions taught us to say 'Joy Bangla' once again.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009