He stopped at every print. Getting close to scrutinise every character, pausing more at some that perhaps stirred a memory. He smiled broadly when I approached him. ‘eto amar chobi tulsen’ (it is me you’ve photographed) he said. This was his war. He remembered the pain the terror, the joy. He had never applied for registration. No card, no land, no perks. He had never been asked to speak at a dais extolling his glory. Victory being won, he had drifted out the way he had drifted in.
He was a Baul singer, living off the alms given by visitors to Suhrwardy Uddayan, where the deed of surrender had been signed on the 16th December 1971. He had no regrets for his lack of wealth, or for not having had his share of the spoils of war. It was our departure from the values that had driven him and his fellow muktijodhdhas (freedom fighters) that saddened him. He had a great love for Mujib, and felt we had let him down.
He sat me down and sang me a song, he had composed. It was a sad song, for it remembered the pain. It was a joyous song, as it was full of hope. We had approached many to try and find support for our exhibition. With 1971 being so important in our rhetoric, Robert Pledge and I, the co-curators of this historic exhibition on our war of liberation, were sure we would draw support. The hard realities were sobering, but this generous gift, by this ageing freedom fighter made it all worthwhile.
He drifted back into the background. Taking his ektara (one stringed instrument made of gourd) with him. Sitting here in Kochin, miles away from Suhrwardy Uddayan, I remember not only my freedom fighter friend, but also a young man, Biswajit, brutally murdered in broad daylight, by youth who claim to be the followers of Mujib.
This is an ode to Biswajit .
I remember your joy Biswajit, you and thousands of other Bangladeshi youth had donned red and green, the colours of Bangladesh. The whole nation had celebrated the joy of victory, but you were the most jubilant of them all, as you all danced in the streets, taking pride in our nation’s success.
I remember you Biswajit, when I saw terror in your eyes in the same streets. The red this time was your own blood smeared across your hacked body. You had pleaded for mercy, but they taunted you, letting you loose on a leash only to draw you back. More torture., more pain, more pleading, more taunts.
They beat you till your body was limp. Till you could plead no more. Till their thirst had satiated. Then went in search of other prey. The police had watched silently letting it happen. The media watched in fear, letting it happen. The opposition, vying for power, let it happen. We as a nation stood by. We let it happen.
I remember you Biswajit, through the ages. You were the muktbahini, who fought for our freedom, you were Noor Hossain, who died in the hands of the tyrant. You were the workers in Tazreen Fashions, your charred body, dumped in a body bag, buried in an anonymous grave.
You had hope in your eyes, once. You dreamed of a better future, once. You believed, once. They made promises to you. Post elections, we will fix it. I remember them. They were the colonisers who ravaged this land. The Pakistani soldiers who killed, looted and raped. They were the Razaars, the Al-Badr, the Al-Shams. They were the generals who bled this nation. They were the soldiers who occupied and terrorised our forests. Sitting in ministerial offices and prime minister’s secretariats, in ministerial offices, in party meetings, from lavish stages facing paid crowds. They were the war criminals. They are the war criminals. They will remain the war criminals.
I remember you Biswajit. The helpless look when all stood by. The hurt when you were abandoned by all. Did you know you were dying? Did you realise you would never see your loved ones again? Did you wonder why it was you they picked?
I remember Biswajit, and I hang my head in shame. For I too let it happen. Not only when the final blow fell, but when war criminals stood for elections and we believed their lies. When guns roared on farmers wanting fertilisers and water to till their land. When they took away your brother and mine in the dead of night, and I read in the morning papers of the “Crossfire”. It was my vote that gave them this power and I failed to see the deceit.
I have failed you Biswajit, but I shall fail you no more. Your limp, pained, abused body has long been buried. But I will touch you Biswajit, and the red of my flag will be your warm blood. Smeared across my body it will be my war paint.
You have died Biswajit, but you will die no more. We will bring the war criminals to justice, but the trial will be at the people’s court. The garment worker, the farmer, the migrant worker and you Biswajit and the thousands like you who have been trampled, abused, wasted. You will be the judge. Your blood will flow in my vein and I will rise along with a million others.
You too will rise Biswajit, along with Salam and Barkat and Noor Hossain and Milon and the garment workers and the crossfired. We will gather Biswajit, from Phulbari, from Garib and Garib, from sunken launches and we shall storm Gonobhaban. On this day of our victory. I promise.
You will die no more.
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