Afsan Chowdhury

December is the cruellest month

December 16, 2012

BA-20December has become our cruellest month as we lurch towards an absurd collective destiny. What the managers of Bangladesh have created is both tragic and pathetic as the role of political parties seems to be as much about holding elections as it is about sheltering criminals. Every national event whether it’s the mourning of the martyrs or celebration of victories, becomes a puny homage to political party leaders themselves. 1971 had two main objectives: (a) Defend ourselves from the Pakistani attack; (b) Build the platform for a Bangladesh that is just and fair, prosperous and courageous, hopeful and democratic.

The first objective was met in 1971 but the second one lies in tatters.  Every December is a reminder of our failure and an embarrassment caused by that making it the cruellest month.

* * *

Few remembered his real name in the training camp in 1971. They called him “Shaheed” because he would say that his only ambition was to be a shaheed. He was very categorical about it. “Don’t you see how the camp is a mess? People fighting with each other and doing petty politics with everything. This is what is going to happen after liberation. You all live with it, I want to die so that I experience only the best and never see the dark. I want to be a shaheed.” So he became Shaheed to all.

There was Pakistani machinegun nest near the border where the camp lay. It was an effective one and made crossing almost impossible. One day a bunch of BD and Indian officers came and laid down a plan. If a lot of noise and distraction was made, they could cross the river and then attack the Pakistanis from behind.

Hundreds of people from the refugee reception camp gathered near a hill and began to beat plates, sticks, whatever they could lay their hands on and screamed rhythmically under “Shaheed’s leadership to make as much noise as possible. As this was on, a raid party crossed the narrow river and mounted the attack. It was a successful attack. When it was over, there was only one casualty, Shaheed. At the final moments he climbed to the hill top and beat the two sticks together screaming at the Pakistanis. A bullet to his chest ended his defiance, his anger, his madness and fulfilled his ambition.

After all this years, I think he knew what was going to happen and just didn’t care whether he lived or died. He chose the greatest moment of our history, the moment of endless possibilities and guessing what would happen to our collective dreams, he chose to step out. This journey from 1971 to now, it has not been worth it and Shaheed knew it already.

* * *

December in Dhaka in 1971 was cruel, brutal but full of hope. Maybe there were more dreams than hope. There was shortage everywhere and smart people were making money almost from the day the country was free of Pakistani control. Looking back, I think this was the true reality reflecting the things to come. In the dusk of the 16th, soldiers were strolling the streets, Bangladeshis and Indians and people were shouting, “Joy Bangla”  and the slogan has never sounded so sweet and so dear. In the most unbelievable of days, we saw victory and we believed it. We believed in the possible.

Or was it the impossible, seeking a better and sensible life for all?

* * *

Suleman was a friend who while crossing to Bangladesh with his group was   caught unaware by a stray army truck. As the Pak army fired and his friends stood confused and rooted to the ground, Suleman jumped up and fired till a panic stricken Pak army jeep retreated leaving behind a Suleman with a cluster of bullets in his back but his friends safe. He never recovered and ended his life in a decrepit home for the paralyzed spending out his days in a wheelchair.

That didn’t mean he was full of cheer about his life in the present. He was the most foulmouthed person I have ever met and in his final days spent time finding new ways to abuse all that Bangladesh has become today. Yet he never said a word of complaint about the injuries that disabled him so terribly.

We all know it has never been about suffering in 1971. It has always been about suffering and the indignity people have experienced after the war was over.

I have always thought the slow crippling death of Suleman was the most apt metaphor for Bangladesh.

* * *

In just one month, we have seen like a real life movie what Bangladesh has become. A young man called Biswajit was murdered in front of everyone in a manner that reminds everyone of the killing of 1971. To say its brutal is absurd because this defies any description. Each of us must battle with our own demons to say what it made us feel. He was an innocent person, whose only crime was his proximity to the scene of the crime. It reminds me that in 1971, innocents too were killed with just as much brutality.

* * *

But what has been equally brutal is the way the Government has dealt with the matter. First, the killers were outsiders, then expelled activists from Chhatra League and then relatives of Jamaat-BNP leaders. What next? The handling of the affair has been so messy and silly and pathetic that this could only have been done by a group that simply doesn’t care what happens, who says what and knows that nothing can happen.

In 2000, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Prof. Muntasir Mamoon and I went to Pakistan to talk to the Pakistanis about 1971. One person, an ex-member of the Pakistan Planning Commission told us that Bengalis did not get any development projects in the Pakistan era because they just were not intelligent enough to propose decent projects or handle them if they were given any.

As I hear the home minister tell us what happened, who committed the murder and their identities and how everything is an attempt to thwart the war crimes trial, etc. I heard and saw Pakistan. Just as Pakistan would respond to every Bengali complaint with the ‘Islam is in danger’ slogan, the present Government is doing the same. We are just too stupid and dumb to even understand what is going on. Nice to see Pakistan alive and well in Bangladesh in the mind of those who are supposed to be the most ardent anti-Pakistani.

* * *

But listen big people, you haven’t got my flag, you haven’t got my 1971. It’s ours forever and none of the misdeeds of the politicians — civil or military — can ever taint that. No matter what, the flag will be pure and clean and forever and it will belong to us.

Salute 1971!

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Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.

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13 Responses to “ December is the cruellest month ”

  1. Ahmed Zaman on January 14, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Let’s cut it to the chase. Nobody had the slightest idea of what a war for national liberation is like. Except a few (like Tajuddin in the political arena and Col. Taher in the military front)everybody was waiting for the opportune moment to strike a dialogue with the Pakistani regime and end the “turmoil”, wash off the stains of blood and go as it is under Golden Pakistan. The ground reality is that India intervened and CREATED Bangladesh and tossed it out to the panhandling Awami leaders, saving them both from the emerging left forces.
    What else can you expect from an accidental nation and its political thug leadership?

  2. Abdul Huq on January 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Afsan Bhai:
    Does it really matter, if they haven’t got my flag, they haven’t got my 1971. You may tell long stories of me having the memories of 71 glued to my chest. Will it take away the sufferings I have been going through? Do I really care about the ceremonial Gun salutes? Does the laying of wreaths at the memorials amid pomp and grandeur really matter? No. Afsan Bhai, you don’t know how the world looks like when you go hungry for days or the excruciating pain you feel every now and then. Let me propose something. You take the glory and trophy of 71, deserved or undeserved, and give me three square meals a day and a shelter to stay. Will you?

  3. Furqan on January 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Actually its like we divided ourselves to produce countless poor human beings & play good game of cricket between the three. Looks like more teams to come. Let’s keep fighting.

  4. Raihan Mujib on December 17, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Shaheed knew well in advance what was in store for us. That the politicians will ruin the country he was fighting to free.

  5. dunno on December 17, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    This was a moving piece.

  6. Sadat Karim on December 17, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    I share your frustration Mr Chowdhury. But we shouldn’t lose hope.

  7. Rimin on December 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    My heart goes out to Suleman! How we have failed the greatest sons of our soil! Shame on us!

  8. Pandu on December 17, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    ‘Shaheed’ indeed had foresightedness!

  9. Lipi on December 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you Afsan Chowdhury for this moving piece. I also feel utterly frustrated at times seeing what our country has come to. But I really think all is not lost, at least not yet.

  10. M.Rahman on December 17, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Now at the fag end of life I ask myself did i do the right thing fighting an evil force to invite another demon? I know people will brand me as Razaker because it has become a norm to brand anyone as a Jammati if some one even catches a thief red handed who belongs to Awami League. Now if you ask why Abul Hossain and Hassan have been exempted from being sued, Hasina might very well call you a Jamaati who is trying to thwart the War Crimes Trial.

  11. russel on December 17, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Saute 1971!. Thanks Mr. Afsan for speaking the truth in a simple manner. And really we are passing a pathetic time that reminds us the 1971 and its significance. We are not free at all.

  12. Golam Arshad on December 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Afsan: Can all the pain be put to rest, and the Red and Green, Fly High and Free ? Still in Pain but are we FREE? Your pen stroke the rhyme of Faith in Truth.. Let us Pray for those who let us FREE!!

  13. Kamal Ahmed on December 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Enjoyed the piece. Yes, we are back to square one. The Pakistani elite were not listening in 1971. Sadly, the Bangladeshi elite is immune to the sensitivities of the masses… Alienation of the “civil society” from the rest of the country is emphasised by the Biswajit and the exposé on ICT. This pathetic community representing themselves as the nation’s conscience keepers have been marginalised by their partisan stance – way out of the popular wave band. A vibrant civil society has denigrated itself into a spectre that is not so civil. The nation continues to pay in miser for the inadequacies of the elite.

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