Tell it as it was
group of us have spent the last two years
trying to put together a collection of narratives,
interviews and chronologies on the history
of 1971 prefaced by simple introductions.
They are a collection of facts that could
be gathered from various sources including
first hand renderings. Sometime next year
we hope to publish it as a book.
it hasn't been easy overcoming lack of time,
resources, people and organisation but this
was expected. The most difficult enemy has
been our own minds. It isn't easy to seek
factual shores in a sea of partisan memories
and nationalist imaginations.
problem is ourselves, the history that we
insist we experienced. This pre-emptor has
led to such severe self-censorship that
we probably no longer can say with clarity
and confidence what really happened in 1971.
I was with the Muktijuddher Dolil Patra
Prokolpo between 1978 and 1984, I was
told by some that our work should "uphold
the noblest intentions of history, even
if that means ignoring certain facts".
We were expected to serve the nation through
history, not serve history. We didn't listen
but this approach is at the root of many
conflicts and a dispute that has made research
on 1971 history itself controversial.
know that most look for endorsement of the
collective nationalist assumptions and contemporary
political positions in 1971 history. As
we are biased towards facts, we know our
work will probably displease everyone.
what should we do? Why do we go on?
the several reasons, one is this sense of
last opportunity. I myself was barely 18
years old in 1971 but have left fifty well
behind now. So many of the witnesses are
either dead or missing or living with defunct
memories. If there are very few disinterested
talkers around, there are even fewer disinterested
listeners left. There may not be another
chance to do this task.
construct this half heard history fogged
by time and other blemishes the most dependable
source, we found are those who have no stake
in recording history, nothing to gain or
lose from this exercise. They are probably
the starving widow, the impoverished peasant,
the small timer. The unknown coward, sometimes
the unknown hero, always running, occasionally
fighting back, sheltering, hunting, the
surviving ordinary human being who has the
least sense of history.
is sometimes bad, sometimes good but always
honest about his past because the past gives
him nothing. He knows history never keeps
promises. So it liberates him from the task
of using history to build nations or fortunes.
Nation building passed him by so he is free
to speak as he has no stake in the future
of the same either.
as a man facing death has no stake in life
of the best interviews I have done was that
of India's Defence Secretary in 1971, Mr.
K.B. Lal. Three years back he was in his
eighties, very ailing but still so formidable
that Indian stalwarts in power didn't have
the courage to call him up to get an appointment
for me. I was left with a telephone number
and a warning that he didn't take kindly
to prying souls. His family told me that
he had agreed to talk for just 30 minutes.
met on Deepavali day. He offered me spice
tea, shooed away his visitors and sitting
in his wheelchair, mumbled slowly, answering
questions with such fierce intellect and
wit that I was bowled over with admiration
for men who have administered India to its
family was gathered around to hear him speak
but I had reached my time limit. I was very
reluctantly about to end, when he said with
irritation, "What's the matter with
you? Have you run out of curiosity? I am
giving real answers to real questions."
We went on.
spoke with candour and clinical precision
demolishing all sentimentality about the
nature and progress of the war and its attendant
politics. And it was real because it seemed
to me that K.B. Lal had nothing to gain
from that interview. His family said afterwards
that he had never spoken this way even to
them about 1971. I have never found any
cause to doubt a sentence and I think his
strength lay in his knowledge that they
were his very final years.
liberation is necessary for telling it like
it was. Mr. Lal had nothing to gain and
the poor has none either. In our work we
have collected the narratives not just from
the mega players whom we always hear but
from the voices we never do. The day labourer,
the landless peasant, the farmer, the village
housewife, the vendor, the University night
guard, the dead scavenger's wife, the woman
who hurled grenades as a girl in 1971 and
is still looking for a job, the female hospital
darwan in the Upazila health centre punished
for sitting down in front of the doctor
today who in 1971 was captured from the
battlefield still armed, the women who still
searches for her son's severed head to be
buried with the rest of the body, the soldier
confessing his fears and his courage..
know less about battles and bombs but know
more about hunger and lost livelihoods and
terror at the proximity of death, scarcity
of rice and the price of molasses and the
price of crossing a river to escape to India,
the kind of stuff which nation builders
or fresh patriotic generations can't easily
borrow or would wish to read because they
are so dull and no shiver of glory is ignited
listening to them.
of these narrators have no interest in the
past and to be honest no interest in Bangladesh
and certainly not in the Awami League or
the BNP. This makes them disdainful of the
present too. They are just witnesses, reluctant
ones, who have spoken because someone they
trust stalked them for weeks, often months.
We are grateful that we did. For once they
should be recognised as what they really
are: witnesses, no more, no less. It's their
own history narrated by them with no purpose
except to tell it as it was.
will that be enough?
Farid: The only son of a mother
two tottering feet cannot properly carry
the burden of her own self, her vision has
become blurred, she also hears everything
feebly -- yet she had to move once in a
month from the distant Dhalai village to
the university campus. One young grandchild
by her daughter used to accompany her often
during this tedious journey for obtaining
a cheque of one hundred and fifty taka only
as allowance (the amount was later on enhanced)
from the university accounts office. Her
only son Muhammad Husain, was a Chainman
of the Chittagong University engineering
establishment, who gave his life in the
turbulent confluence of the River Karnafully
as a Naval Commando during the War of Liberation.
The gallantry award of Birpratik was conferred
upon him posthumous in recognition to his
Muhammad Husain was known
as a naughty boy keen in organizing games
and an apt football player. He couldn't
concentrate in the classroom of nearby Katir
Hat High School. Farid was his nickname.
His father, depending on a small government
job, was bearing the burden of the family.
Ultimately Husain had to leave school and
got a job of carrying and spreading the
measuring chain. This young boy was enjoying
his work in a rural setting where the University
of Chittagong is located.
On March 1 of 1971, the
declaration by President Yahya that the
ensuing National Assembly session aroused
the emotion of the apparently calm and quiet
inhabitants of the Chittagong University
campus too. In protest to an unjust act
of the martial law government Muhammad Husain
along with his colleagues immediately left
their office. In an uncertain political
situation the development work of the university
came to a halt and Farid had no work. The
dialogue with Yahya, the Racecourse Address
of Bangabandhu, the crackdown of the Pakistan
Army and the following waves of events were
creating history and Farid of Dhalai along
with the millions of Bangali youth were
destined to be its valiant heroes by joining
a new job the Liberation War.
Thirty-five young men of
Dhalai-Farhadabad of Hathazari left their
kith and kin for an unknown destination
on 6 May 1971 and Muhammad Husain Farid
was one of them. They reached Harina Camp
after two days of hectic journey and were
informed that commandos would be recruited
for the naval operation. They all opted
for it and most of them were short listed
after a through check up of fitness for
training at Palashi, the place of the historic
war of Sirajuddaula and Clive on the bank
of the Bhagirati river. They were lifted
from Agartala by a Dakota plane for an air
journey to Barrackpore from where they reached
Palashi on a truck. The recruitment rule
was that no only one son of a mother would
be enlisted for the job, but Farid had hid
his antecedents. Even his friend and compatriot
Faruq did not know at that time that Farid
was the only son of a mother.
The scheme for an integrated
attack on all major sea and river ports
of the then East Pakistan titled 'Operation
Jackpot' was drawn and sixty commandos were
briefed for action on the port of Chittagong.
The first onslaught was very successful.
The Pakistan occupation army did not remotely
dream such an action from the side of the
timid Bangalees, who were not sufficiently
martial even to have a proper job in their
rank. For a second operation on Chittagong
harbour twenty-three commandos were selected,
and Farid was included in this group also
They entered through Srinagar
boarder and reached Chittagong town on 16
Septe-mber 1971 and observed that the occupation
authority had drawn and executed a through
security arrangement for protecting the
port. Razakars and militias were deployed
on the left bank of the river to keep surveillance
and ward off miscreants. But the naval commandos
had evaded all precautions of the occupation
army under the disguise of ardent visitors
to the locally famous shrine of Muhsin Auliya
and crossed the river under their nose to
reach village Gahira to target the ships
at outer anchorage. Farid had fastened a
6 kg.heavy limpet mine on his chest and
before plunging into the roaring water requested
his leader-friend Faruq-i-Azam to read with
him the kalima. It was a daring operation
and Farid and his friends were wading back-stroke
towards the target with cheers. Soon they
faced an attack on their bare body from
a concentration of shrimps in the whirling
water of the confluence and four of them
get lost in the sea. But the lifeless body
of Muham-mad Husain Farid with a limpet
mine on his chest came back from the sea
into the river alone and it reached the
pontoon of the Pakistan Navy at New Mooring
only to take revenge.
The victory was achieved
on the 16 December 1971, but Tambia Khatun
lost her only son soon to become a popper.
She died last year, nurturing all these
days the memory of Farid Birpratik - her
own flesh and blood. But the death of a
hero's mother was not heralded by the tune
of a bereaved bugle.