The Day Closest to My Heart

I am writing this piece on the 11th December, five days before our Victory day. I know that this auspicious day comes every year. We celebrate. Yet there are others who don’t. Does it really matter? This day still holds the same place in our hearts as it used to forty years ago. Of all days of our national significance, this is the one that I remember and revere most. When the occupation army of Pakistan came down upon the Bengalis in Dhaka on the night of the 25th and the morning of the 26th of March 1971, and when the independence of Bangladesh was proclaimed, we were too shaken indeed devastated to have taken notice of what was going on. The “operation search light”, was a wanton act of brutality unleashed by the enemy to maim and overcome an entire nation. We were busy saving our lives. Verily, all of us were solidly behind our leaders but little did we know about the kind of reprisal it would warrant. I remember fleeing my beloved city of Dhaka, tears welling up in my eyes. Not out of fear but from the pain of having to leave behind all those memories that are associated with this city. My school days, the days in the college or the University, and the friends that I made in the journey to my youth. I was crying because I saw, as if in an apparition, the Bengali signs of the shops in the New Elephant road and the New Market being lowered down and Urdu signs hoisted in their place. I could not possibly have even dreamt of living in a city subjugated and captivated by a foreign force.

Today was another day. It was almost the end of an ordeal. I was in a place near Navaron in Jessore with a tape recorder in hand. This was an assignment from the Swadhin Bangla Betar. I was recording reactions of the local people as they were progressively becoming free. In the process I was also falling in the footsteps of the advancing Mukti Bahini and the Indian army. It was a rather cold December day. The sun was already going down in the western horizon. I was aware of the fact that Dhaka was already surrounded by the Bangladesh and Indian forces and would fall any time. A call for prayer by the muezzin heralded the evening. The day of the 16th of December was coming to an end. Suddenly, I saw an army jeep coming from the opposite direction. I was a bit surprised to see it. Because it was the time to go forward, not to turn back. When the jeep came close by some one stuck his head out and said, “Rejoice! The Pakistanis have surrendered”, and then it sped away.

For about a minute I was dumb founded. I did not expect it to happen so soon. I was apprehending the worst thing to follow if the Pakistanis did not surrender. An artillery barrage created by the joint liberation forces could have completely decimated the city of Dhaka. Many of my friends and relatives were still there in the city. And I was naturally very concerned. But right then the foremost thought

that pervaded me is the fact that we were FREE. I remember placing the tape recorder on the ground. Looking up to the sky, now infested with stars, and cry in silence for a minute. Then, on that road to Jessore, now bereft of traffic, quiet and peace full I cried out with all the strength I could muster, WE ARE FREE! I kissed the soil of Bangladesh and rolled on its bosom like a man possessed. I rolled and rolled until fatigue took me over. This was the fatigue of nine months of uncertainty, of desperation, of hope and anguish. I started walking back towards the border, stray thoughts crowding my mind. I saw in my minds eye Rustom running towards a Pakistani bunker with a live grenade in hand and jumping in to it giving the last battle cry of Joy Bangla. He killed himself and all those that were occupying the bunker. I saw the face of my dear Kamol da who sacrificed one of his eyes so that we could be free. I remembered Hafiz and Mahoboob, Ashfaque and Rumi and millions of others whose valour and blood mingled with this soil to give our posterity and us a nation of our own.

It is impossible to give vent to my feelings of that day and to give an account of how people rejoiced this victory that day or afterwards within the confines of this column. The day we were returning by road back to Dhaka I was a witness of how people from villages spontaneously and exuberantly engaged themselves in re-building roads, repairing bridges or offering food and water to the people. This was a spirit of camaraderie of selflessness that we could not hold on to for long. Yet this is the only spirit that could have removed all our miseries of toady. Could we go back to those days, re-live the spirits of the Victory day of ’71 and start it all over again? May be we could find a sense of direction from there. Otherwise, we’d fail to build a viable nation for our posterity. And that is devastating even to think of.