By Imran Chowdhury

Victory belongs to the most persevering – Napoleon said these few words to denote a victory in a war.  Indeed, it is all so true. 1971; a year which I shall never be able to run away from, It made me who I am today. The liberation war of Bangladesh will always haunt me for the rest of life.

The most vivid of all memories and the momentary exclamation of joy overshadowed by a greatest of all losses in our lives left a massive void. Yet I am so jubilant and so joyous that , at the cost of  all that sacrifices and losses , We have gained a country ; an independent country of our own – snatched away from ugly clutches of foreign invaders and rulers ; who ruled us well over a thousand years.

Bangladesh a name whenever I utter it my heart bleeds a little and looks like it will never stop bleeding for the rest of my life.

It all started on the most tremulous day of my life the 17th April 1971 when we evacuated our house to run away from the town to hide and save our souls from advancing Pakistan Army after an hour long 3 aircrafts bombing. As soon as the bombing stopped the cloud of the fume started to dissipate on the horizon there came the news that the town of B. Baria is enveloped by the advancing army from two sides. Run! That was the call in the air.

We just left bewildered from the bombings noises and disoriented with the ferocity of the blasts, the ear drums are exhausted and trembling with fear of death and now these advancing army coming to shoot us all indiscriminately was the worst feeling for a 11 year old boy – in his adolescence. We were 6 people in the house 5 siblings and our mother. Just left home with what ever we were wearing and a couple of handbags whatever we could gather in that mad rush of fear.

Left everything in our house, all belongings and just close the door and started the Exodus – a never ending, excruciatingly painful journey of 8 months. A travel of misery, starvation, destitution and time of the most uncertainty coupled with the fear of death. There appeared to be no light at the end of the tunnel and at times, it felt forget the light there was no tunnel to walk to the end.

From the pristinely cleaned, ironed and immaculately tucked white bed linens smelling of fragrance of love and comfort night before we ended up in the streets of the villages to run ; run as far as possible to avoid the avalanche of these killer bullets – finally exhausted, trembling with fear my 2 little brothers, sister and elder brother starving of food took shelter in a house and slept the night in the cowshed wrapped in straws on the damp floor. The family by the time we reached have sheltered 4 other families of the exodus and had no more rooms for us to spend the night. It was just so generous of them and I still remember them for their act of kindness. The bombs were blasting all around and the bewilderment of the eyes of fear and coarseness of the throat could not be stopped. The fear and the lack of amenities overnight made us so very different overnight.

No breakfast, no pauroti(loaf or bread), comilla butter and tea in the morning instead a piece of generous chapati and a chunk of Jaggery (molasses) was the breakfast. It was the worse of all things that came in my life. Just could not swallow the roti and the molasses together. Life just overnight threw us into the deeper end of the pool. No means or ways to overcome or fathom the future what was holding us all.

After breakfast we started another walk; a long walk of running away. These walks never ended till finally we reached the borders of step into India; and ended up as a homeless refugee. Meanwhile, every villages we seek shelter were not keen to help us for the fear that, sheltering a family without the father ; who is allegedly a  member of the armed forces will endanger their lives and what if any of the collaborators tip off the Pakistan Army nearby.

Finally, having no options opened to us left us with one choice to pour into India and seek refuge ; These 15 days were really painful for us and found the people of these villages to loving, so innocents, so backward, and they lived in a world million miles away from the modern life and science but they were perhaps the best hosts one could ever imagine. Despite all the fear and the threats of life they never attempted to go away from their hospitality but we have had no choices to leave them. These people brought together and their spirit and their tenacity to make the country into an independent county was an inspiration for me specially.

Another long journey starts another day; the day we walk to our intermediate destination and become a refugee.  Walked more than 18 miles in one day on a day the when April’s shower did not stop outpouring for one minute.

Refugee camp; a few days later our eldest brother leaves home to join the war; he was 17 years old and father fighting in Sylhet Sector and we are stuck in Agartala; I became the bread earner for the family of 5. Long cue of ration, going to the jungles to cut fire wood for cooking and fearing for the father; when will he be the future casualty! Was a constant fear of my life.

Nevertheless,, nothing could faze my vision of an independent country, nothing could dampen my spirit no matter how tough life was.

Joining a local cultural team organised in our refugee camp ; Surzomoninagar special camp – going with Karim commander – a freedom fighter group of 20 – 15 freedom fighters fighting their own task ; posing as a cow keeper reconnoitring enemy bunkers – drawing maps and showing them where was what position , weapons and troops numbers. Going out with Local BLF commander Aziz uncle to the newly freed town of Kasba in his jeep as soon as the Pakistan army was defeated and the waving flag of Joy Bangla flying high on the railway signal post.  The urge of the independence and making the country an enemy free were top of life’s agenda. Distributing Bengali newspapers in the FF camps and refugee camps published by Bangladesh Government in exile was another task which I enjoyed the most.

The final war commences  and countdown starts – little did I know with all those precarious days amidst hunger, eating broken rice ( khoot)on it’s own, cold nights, the constant noises of thundering bombing in Akhaura – Salda Nodi —Kasba & Modobag fronts, the fear of becoming an orphan and above all the uncertainty of future, 5 people sleeping in one 10 X 10 feet shanty thatched roof hut is coming to an abrupt end so soon.

We were playing in the foyer of the camp’s entrance and there came the news that. Pakistan Army has unconditionally surrendered & We are a free nation.

The birth of Bangladesh just took place in front my eyes. The joy and relief and breathing of a long breath of satisfaction which I shall never be able to forget in my life.

Bangladesh; my country was born and all my sufferings and hardship ended – but the fate had the last laugh on me.

After coming back to the freed land and when all the Freedom fighters started to come back home! Our brother had not come yet! Finally we unearthed the saddest of all stories

21st November 1971  our eldest brother Babul Chowdhury was killed by the Pakistani Army in B.Baria. Bangladesh.

It was Eid day – the barbaric Pakistan Army did not let him have his last eid.

11 of them Freedom Fighters were captured in Bitghor Village in Nabinagar (B.Baria district) on the 10th November day time when they were taking rest after a long night of Operation in the Area – A Razakar – Collaborator group tipped  the Pakistan Army off about their hide out deep inside a rattan bush full of thorns.

They were encircled and raided and captured.

Brought them to the B.Baria Pakistan Army HQ ( 14th Divison HQ) and tortured for 11 day and finally killed them all near the bank of KORULLIA KHAL ( Canal near Niaz Mohammad stadium in B.Baria- same place where him and I in march helped the resistance movement to dig ditch to stop advancing Pakistan Army coming from Comilla).

They killed him and left his carcass there unattended and no burial ritual was given; one day slowly and gradually his remains, decomposed and recycled back into the muddy slopes of the canal and washed away with tide.

He was only 17 years old – a SSC candidate in 1971.

They were fighting with Sector 2 Melaghor – Student FF’s attached with the Baby Tiger (4 East Bengal Regiment)………

What genocide and what a tragedy. A prisoner of War is killed by a regular army (where was Geneva convention?)

We had no knowledge of his capture and subsequent death; came back from Indian refugee camp in December – everyone; the FF’s were  coming back home but not him; no trace of him; no one could talk about his whereabouts.

My father and I started to look for him from Sylhet – Srimangol – Shahbazpur – Sharail – B.Baria – Comilla- Daudkandi – Dhaka – Tangail and we were exhausted and returning back to Sylhet ( even went to see so many Pakistani POW camps manned by the Indian Army ) and whilst in B.Baria – A FF from a village called Shimarail came to see us and he narrated the whole story – he was captured too but he saw from the room where he was captivated in the cells of the make shift cells in the staff quarter of C&B building on the bank. We then saw the place and made some prayer. That was the place of his rest.

All my father was saying after that day; What an irony of fate – both father and son join the freedom fight; where the father comes back home but not the son – with a big sigh. He continued to utter those sorrowful words for many years after that day.

What a poignant tragedy

He was not just my brother; he was my best friend and till date I miss every day; he was my mentor and my role model – a tall, dark and handsome man he was.It’s 45 years gone past he would have been 62.

Bangladesh ; The birth of it did not very cheap for me.

Nonetheless, It was worth every penny no matter how precious the sacrifices were.

it reminds me an epitaph I read once,

‘’When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow,

we gave our today’’

[ Writer is a Public Speaker and a historian]

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