Photo: Palash Khan

Ekushey: Looking back in time

Fakhruzzaman Chowdhury

Gone are the days like a gypsy girl as fancied by a poet!

It happened as if yesterday. But so many years have gone by and next year (2012) will be the Golden Jubilee Year of the eventful day , immortal Ekushey , that shook the very existence of state called Pakistan within 5 years of its founding.

Standing on the threshold of a momentous occasion of commemorating 50th anniversary of immortal Ekushey, I can clearly visualize the scenario we experienced in those tumultuous days in a quiet mufassil town.

Air was rife with rumours of happenings in Dhaka, a place only 50 miles away from Dhaka by river route yet so remote in those of scanty communication network! People coming from Dhaka by launch or paddle steamers would narrate to eager listeners of things happening in Dhaka, capital of East Pakistan. Police and students are at logger-head and anything could happen any time, they would whisper!

And the inevitable did happen!

From the very beginning the rulers of Pakistan were bent upon exploiting and usurping the majority population of the newly created state. People of erstwhile East Pakistan, resented this. Their resentment triggered off when the issue of state language was brought to the fore prematurely. From the very beginning the clandestine desire of imposing Urdu, a language without any ethnic root, on the people under the garb of lingua franca was there. It was the brain child of Professor Dr. Sir Syed Ziauddin Ahmed, Vice- Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University and the idea was floated as such with the ulterior motive of giving final shape of state language. With that motive in mind on his only visit to Dhaka, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder father of Pakistan made the erroneous and disastrous announcement of making Urdu, and Urdu alone the state language of Pakistan. In reply the thunderous shout of 'no' shook the very foundation of Pakistan and within four years it was evident that on the basis of lingual differences, this state is bound to crumble. And within months of his impetuous utterance died its author a dejected death.

The beginning of the end of Pakistan started when shots were fired in Dhaka on the unarmed students in Dhaka on the afternoon of February 21, 1952. Shots were fired at the very existence of Pakistan.

This was evident to me, a student of school at time, when I saw my father returning home from morning walk fuming with rage. My father, a man with his Arabic and Persian education once fought for Pakistan thinking that this new homeland for the Muslims will augur well for them. But now he saw his dreams were shattered. He returned home with a piece of black ribbon pinned on his white Punjabi! It was his way of protesting the massacre in Dhaka. He said, as a Muslim his duty is to oppose the aggressors and be with the aggressed. He was telling us how the police unleashed barbaric attack on the unarmed students and the metallic black coloured streets of Dhaka were smeared with opulent red blood! In the afternoon again my father went out, this time for Gayebana Janaja, farewell prayer for the dead in absentia at the Aziz Ahmed Maidan. In the prayer special munajat was offered invoking divine mercy for the martyrs and doom for the oppressors!

Yet the rituals were not complete until a make-shift Shaheed Minar in bricks was built in the Maidan by the students and youths in about a week's time following the one built in Dhaka on Feb. 23. Barring a few belonging to the ruling clich├ęs, people from all walks of life joined hand in hand to carve out programmes that would give vent to the anguish and anger with which the nation was raging.

A few years later as I moved to Dhaka for higher education, because of the situational position of the University of Dhaka, as its intake my first feelings in the campus are difficult to describe. I was standing on the main gate of the campus through which was the students went out on the streets defying the prohibitory orders of the autocratic Government. They paraded the metallic Road under the canopy of Krishnachura trees strewn with brick- red colour.

In our leisure period we would rest in the thatched barracks used as Dhaka Medical College Students' Hostel situated at the university district.

One friend of mine had his seat in a barrack within the whispering distance of the Shaheed Minar. The road leading from Jagannath Hall to Bakshi Bazar had rows of book shops and restaurants on both sides. One of the book shops was Punthipatra of Mohammad Sultan who is credited with publication of the first compilation of writings on Ehushey Februrary. The compilation immortalized poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman as its Editor.

The Azimpur Graveyard, permanent resting place of the martyrs is about less than half a mile away from the theater of massacre of Ekushey February, come to live every year with the chanting of the Probhat Ferry- which is a unique way of paying homage.

As I look down the memory lane, I remember the poem on the Martyrs of Ekushey by Cressida Lindsey, an American poetess which as far is known is the first literary work by a foreigner on Ekushey. It was published in the English quarterly The Republic, published in the sixties and was edited by Poet Abdul Ghani Hazari and Novelist Sardar Jainuddin.

The journal is lost in the oblivion, so is the poem.

Ekushey and subsequent events in history have amply proved that Voux populi-vox dei :voice of the people is the voice of the God.

Fakhruzzaman Chowdhury is a writer and columnist