CHAPTER 7 – WHEN PAST MEETS PRESENT
25th March, 1971, Dhaka, East Pakistan —- The city was painted in red today. The scene was disturbing, with bodies scattered like lifeless rocks all around, people panting for breath, running for their lives. Corpses of young students lay all over , teachers were being mercilessly killed , the highly educated section of the Bengalis were being brutally eliminated.
Operation searchlight has begun.
This operation was an attempt to crush the rising resistance of the Bengalis towards several decisions taken by the higher authorities of West Pakistan. It aimed at eliminating nationalist Bengali civilians, students, teachers, armed personnel and religious minorities. Several students and teachers were killed in Dhaka University, by armed forces from West Pakistan in a series of planned attacks . Jagannath hall which housed the students of the hindu minority, was turned into a death trap. Several hindus in there, were killed mercilessly. There were genocidal rapes all over East Pakistan, where targets were Bangladeshi women and women of hindu origin , some killed , some taken as sex slaves. Some of them committed suicide while amongst the others who survived, some later gave birth to war babies. This was a sad period in history that saw lots of abortions, infanticide and suicides as a result of the mass rapes. The streets of Dhaka were bathed in blood . Besides the mass killings and rapes, several Bengalis were deported and millions fled to the eastern states of India , some to Afghanistan and other neighboring countries.
A little girl and her mother crouched beneath the bed. The girl was breathing heavily , and weeping in between each breath. Her mother covered her mouth tightly so that no one would hear her. Along with them, were lots of luggages , big boxes , rolled mattresses that fought for some space beneath the bed. The mother and daughter were kneeling down in an uncomfortable little piece of land squeezed by the stuffs surrounding them.
Two pairs of shoes were all they could see. Bending down , checking every corner of the room two men proceeded towards the bed . The mother of the little girl prayed that they should not be seen. They were scared to death with sweat trickling down their forehead.
“Arre, apnara ekhane?”*, a male voice called out. The men stopped their search midway and looked towards the door. It was Javed. He had a word with them and the men rushed out of the room. As soon as they left, Javed hurriedly closed the door and rushed towards the bed. He bent down and moved a box and a mattress and said, “Neera , Uma ma baire chole aaye “*.
Neera felt devastated as she knew, she has lost everything she left behind. Her husband worked in Dhaka University and they have traveled to meet him and spend some time together. She doesn’t know how he was . She sat down on the edge of the bed with a blank look on her face and her hands on her womb. Looking down she sighed. Neera was expecting her second child. She was clueless as to where she should go , what she should do to make everything normal like before. Uma hugged her and cried. Javed placed his hand on Uma’s head and said,”Kaandish na maa. Kende ki hobe bol. Jaa howar toh hoye gelo.”*
Meeting Javed was a coincident or rather destiny. Life is indeed like a circle where you would eventually meet some people you left behind. Neera knew Javed since the time she was very young. He used to be a dear friend to her brother and Kabir bhai, Rahman chacha’s son. Today when she was rushing with her daughter, desperately looking for a place to hide, it was Javed who pulled them in his house. Before leaving his place she got to know a lot about Kabir bhai.
And yes, Kabir was alive. While narrating Kabir’s story, Javed’s countenance was filled with wrath. Kabir betrayed all his friends during the language movement or bhasha andolon in 1952, and got many of them killed, for his own selfish motives. He always supported West Pakistan and their decisions, since he believed that was necessary, to establish their religious superiority in the country . He went underground when his friends came to know of his reality and they decided to teach him a lesson. Several years passed by, and he re-surfaced as part of the West Pakistan militia to create more trouble. Though today he contributed somehow in saving Neera and Uma. Javed used his name to tip-off the armed men who barged in his apartment. All of this came as a shock to Neera as she visualized Rahman chacha and Fatima chachi crying and looking for their son, knocking every door they could, touching every rock on their way, begging for Allah’s mercy all the time — leaving no stone unturned to find him. She could see the blank stare in their eyes when they finally started to believe -ALL HOPES WERE LOST and in reality ….they were.
Without wasting much time , Javed arranged for their escape to Calcutta. It was a stressful journey upto the railway station. After Neera and Uma boarded the train, which was then almost over crowded– it was Javed’s turn . But again, they were greeted with another shock. Javed got shot on his back, while struggling to board the train. He turned back and saw a group of armed men running towards them, led by someone he knew. He muttered, “Kabir”.
Neera and Uma tried their best to pull him inside. But, the train started moving, and the crowd inside was overwhelming. They failed miserably. Javed fell on the edge of the platform as the train sped off. Neera screamed and leaned forward to see the good man who saved their lives, one last time. But, what she saw next, she would never forget. The armed men surrounded him and one of them, shot him multiple times until he breathed his last. Neera can never forget his face, the birth mark on his cheek and the last words of Javed, “Kabir .”
A few months after reaching Calcutta, Neera gave birth to Kanai. They took shelter in Javed’s sister’s house. Javed scribbled the address on a piece of paper and pushed it into Neera’s bag, before they left for the train station.
Finally after the liberation of Bangladesh , Neera traveled back to her own land , with little Kanai in her arms and Uma clinging on to her , fear in her eyes. The little girl still couldn’t forget the blood shed and loss of lives in which, some of her favorite people died. Yet, they have to return, to where they belong.
Durga looked terrified as she did not know what was the reason behind the old man’s hatred towards her. Did he know her? Has they ever met ? The man had a big black mark on his cheek, which can’t possibly be an injury. It looked like a birth mark. His face was emotionless yet his eyes were filled with rage. Who was he ?
He spoke in a voice, stern and heavy, ” Ki chhilo sobuj bakshe Wasim ?”*
Durga looked confused. Why was he calling Sujal by the name of Wasim? How were they related?
She was startled to hear the answer, “Abbu , baksho Khali chhilo .”*
Her heart was beating so fast that she could almost hear it. The man they knew as Sujal all the while, was Wasim, and this scary man, his father. So, it was an entire family after them. Why were they after the green box? Why did Neera advise her to keep the box safely? Durga carefully glanced towards her right arm, on which was tied a chain of gold . It peeked from under the sleeve of her blouse. From the chain protruded a pearl like globe, supposedly a locket. She tried her best to hide it well under her sleeves, as the father and son focused on their discussion. But alas! The old man looked at her, all of a sudden . The expression in his eyes was such, that she could not describe .
He bent down and fixing his gaze on her, said, “Ei maiya’r moddheo sheyi Neera’r jholok .”*
Durga could not move a bit, but, her brain stormed with questions. How did this man know her grandma ?
- Arre, apnara ekhane? – Hey, you are here?
- Neera , Uma ma baire chole aaye- Neera , Uma come out .
- Kaandish na maa. Kende ki hobe bol. Jaa howar toh hoye gelo – Don’t cry ? What would you gain from crying ? What was destined to happen, happened.
- Ki chhilo sobuj bakshe Wasim- What was in the green box, Wasim
- Abbu , baksho Khali chhilo- Father, the box was empty.
- Ei maiya’r moddheo sheyi Neera’r jholok – In this girl too, I can see a glimpse of Neera
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