What happened in 1971 – Part 1 – Based on a True Story

Present day, Dhaka

The guard sitting on a tall wood stool below, looked up.
It was a natural reaction to the sounds of loud and happy laughter. A ‘party’ was going on inside. Tables filled with intercontinental dishes from the best of restaurants, popular drinks of every kind, music that only tingles the ears – a sign of classiness.

Omor glanced at everyone in the room. He felt happy – lucky – to have come back after such a long time, and yet be in the midst of friends, he left so long ago. Their laughter was only a fraction of what used to be 35 years back.
It was his welcome back party. As he glanced around the room, full of middle aged men and women, he saw a reflection of him-self. The corners of his temples began to show very slight wrinkles. What used to be jet black hair, has shades of grey in it now. What they used to call eagle eyes, now had a pair of heavy frames on them.

Omor was distracted from his thoughts by a very excited voice of Mirzafor describing an event from mid December 1971:
“…and we dragged them to the top floor of our house and bound them tight with robes. The fright in their eyes. That was such a satisfaction. Bloody war criminals…bloody rajakars”,

Omor said under his breath,
-“And some of them are well known politicians, now”.
A friend next to him replied,
– “You know what they say! Forgive and forget.”, as he took a sip of his drink. Omor turned to him with a look of disbelief.
His friend continued without returning the gaze.
-“Don’t look at me like that! You haven’t been living in this country anyway. You won’t be able to differentiate between New Market and Nilkhet”
He added,
-“If you live here, you gotta go with the flow and throw your ethics out the window. You’re new here now, you’ll learn the rules soon enough”
The bitter friend raised an eye-brow towards Mirzafor who was now relating another war-story.
-“See that bastard singing his old glory? Two days ago, his was bidding for a government tender. A few strings here and there, and guess who gets the contract?”, now he turned to Omor.
-“So? That happens all over the world.”, Omor knitted his eye-brows.
He whispered the name of the MP, in Omor’s ear. Omor cowered back in disgust.
-“But, he was the one who attacked Sharif Chacha’s house that black night! How can Mirzafor do business with a Razakar who killed his own uncle?”, Omor was shocked.
And he could see the frustration in his friend as he took another sip of the drink, pressed his lips and smiled,
-“Forgive and forget.”

-“It’s Bijoy Dibosh tomorrow”, said Omor trying to detour the conversation.
-“Oh yeah! I think the kids are going to put up some flags or something.”, his friend commented.
-“Do you tell them about 1971?”, Omor asked, knowing the answer already.
-“Hah! What’s the point? The past is gone. Why scar the kids with such violent stories of war. ”
-“Then how do they know? How do they know what this Independence cost us? Can they differentiate Independence Day and Victory Day?”, Omor countered.
-“Schools have history and drama, I think. They end up dressing in Saree or Panjabi and sing patriotic songs. ”, his friend replied indifferently.

***

The next morning Omor woke up at the sound of Fazr-Azaan . He also heard the faint sounds of canon – thankfully, it was not blown to drive away attackers.
He recalled a full length of eight months, when the sounds of gunfire was more common than the sounds of rain and the blows of canon were more frequent than Boi-Shakh thunders of the monsoon season.
He bowed his head to Allah, and prayed for the departed souls on that day, all those years back. Something he had done since 1971 and taught his kids to do the same. Regretfully he awoke the half-asleep old night guard blocking the entrance of his building. He was obviously doing this job at this age for a meal.
On a conversation with him earlier, Omor learnt that he was a freedom fighter, too. He lost his son in the war.
The surprised guard informed him that he would not find a rickshaw at that hour, maybe a bit later, and suggested him to wait for sunrise. He urged Omor to take his car; it would be much faster and safer. The guard did not say it, but Omor could read the concern in his eyes.
The old man was concerned that this new-guy-in-town could not measure the risks of walking on the dangerous streets of Dhaka. He could get mugged or get seriously injured in a road accident – or worse killed.
He smiled and assured the old guard that he will be okay.

As he walked towards Mirpur Road, and rays of the sun began to spread, chasing away the dark colors of a beautiful blue sky.
Omor thought of the time when this same sky was filled with the dusts of burnt mortar, fire and smoke; the air was filled with stench of burnt flesh and blood; when the eyes were tired and droopy from the horrific scenes of war and destruction.

To be continued… &copy Tasnim Hafiz 2012

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