Salma Chowdhury: 1994-07-08
Cinematographer: Naeem Mohaiemen
Duration: 01:09:18; Aspect Ratio: 1.364:1; Hue: 22.286; Saturation: 0.059; Lightness: 0.292; Volume: 0.264; Cuts per Minute: 0.144; Words per Minute: 124.014
Summary: Salma Chowdhury has had many roles over the years, but in the context of the 1971 war, she had two roles linked to feminist struggles of the pre and post-1971 era. Before the war began, she was involved with schools where girls were starting to be trained to match the more dominant image of boys "preparing for war." How widespread this was, and whether girl students being trained with sticks was more than of symbolic weight waits more research. The second aspect was the much more sensitive question of "rehabilitation" of rape victims from the war. Salma Chowdhury had been involved with rehabilitating some of these women, but the generosity she witnessed was not widespread. The discourse around such women moved through a very tortured circuit from "nostha meye" to "birangona." The latter term came about precisely to convey the idea of woman warrior, those who "also fought." But that contested term is still being wrestled over today, and the decision to not publish Yasmin Saikia's book on 1971 in Dhaka reflects how only certain birangona discourses are still permitted.
They are all talking openly
Many of them are wives of big government officials
They were open, Eden had some big people, people from good backgrounds
There are many things going on here and I am trying to decode them at a gap of 20 years. Eden as the premiere "elite" or "good" girl's school (later, that was Holy Cross and Viqarunnisa– in my time, 1980s, Holy Cross was the Eden College), and therefore the ultra-signification that even those "good girls" were joining the movement. Also, crucial to understanding the dynamics at play, the teachers were allowing "Eden girls" to go out with boys to join the movement. Later, things were not so sanguine– later there was a menace to movements, she was no longer as relaxed about the girls leaving class. Here she keeps saying "after 1971"– this confuses me, what movement were people joining after 1971?
Children and women from Bangladesh were all in Eden and Bokshilbari, in both the places
From the conversations one could figure out what their big government servant husbands were thinking
They were openly talking, they did say “your uncle was also well placed isn’t it”
There was a promise that they wanted to join the movement, some of them directly said so.
The girls did not directly say anything but they went for the protest march
On the day of the parade the boys came and took the women
We allowed it
The boys came and said we have to take the women for some protest here, another protest there etc
We allowed it, the Principal also allowed it
The girls were not unruly
The girls would not run away, from the protest they would not go somewhere else
In 1968-69 the our girls and those girls were quite similar, they lived under regulations, so there was no reason not to allow them
Later after Independence, the boys from Dhaka college used to come, they wanted to know why the classes were going on
They were rough boys, quite rough
Then we did not feel like letting the girls go; it didn’t feel that the girls would learn something with these boys
It felt like whatever girls had learnt would also get lost, they were small town girls afterall, who lived in hostels.
We were scared that they would not understand the protest’s objective and get their family destroyed
Most the teachers wouldn’t say anything, they would leave the classroom
I wouldn’t, I thought the class was more important; what would they learn from the weird boys in such a short span of time
And if they went, maybe they would have to walk back home because they had no money; and thus would fall sick
And all this is after 1971, the process before was way more healthy
Like after 71 the boys would come in Honda and all
It's clear that there is a shift in roughness of the movement. Salma no longer wants girls to leave class to accompany the boys on the protests. There are multiple references to Honda motorcycles; somehow the fact that they rode to the school on bikes was seen as a sign of "rough," "beyadobi" (rudness), etc. A darker tenor had entered student politics. The confusion is that she refers to before and after 1971, but later says "revolution." In her generation's time, nothing but 1971 would have been referred to as the "revolution." There may be a translation problem here, needs further investigation.
Before they would quietly come by the class, speak to the girl captain and she would take the rest of the girls and proceed for the protest march
Whereas now they would drive rash on their Honda and the security personnel would run away
And these boys would come upstairs and without any greetings of Salaam Walequm would take off
“Why is the class going on, there is no class going on anywhere else”
I was seriously taking the class, giving company to the girls
I took them to another room and assured them I supported their endeavor; I agreed with them, because the causes for the protests were good, issues in the education system.
They had no manners. But the reasons for the protest was right
So then I would say “Yes we are with you and the cause, tell us what to do, give me the leaflets, I will distribute it”
They went away, content, thinking the teacher also supports us
So it was easy to tackle the boys; they were good boys after all. One could speak nicely to them and get rid of them, without them realizing it.
I did not stop taking my class, or refuse to listen to them. I also did not preach to them as to why they are not in their classes or not studying
It’s very strange that these boys in the Honda were not from well to do families, someone was giving them money
One can figure out from the appearance that the boys from well to do families never were a part of this.
Then I thought maybe the political parties were only using boys whose fathers were not doing so well, or could not send them money for their own agenda
I used to feel even worse, that lives of these boys being ruined was more dangerous. The boys from well off families could go back home after being involved in politics for some time. But these poor boys do not have a way to go back.
There are a lot of boys whose lives were doomed, like Tamal’s grandfather and Piyal’s grandfather. They could not integrate themselves in mainstream society.The ones born with silver spoon go back to silver spoon. The others are wasted.
The others either go to jail, or do drugs, though there was not such an outrage of drug in those days. So they kind of become disintegrated
It was better before, maybe because we were sympathetic towards them.
The economics and political science teachers were vocal about the support, we could not be vocal
Now things become clearer. The "better" movement she is talking about is the movement to unseat Ayub Khan. 1968-69, the pan-Pakistan movement. What Tariq Ali referred to in "Can Pakistan Survive" (in its earlier edition) as the coming of a united left movement in both wings. The more "rough" time she remembers is post-69 pre-71. But if that is the case, this is a heretical way to remember 1971. More on this later.
Then the revolution started, everytime, Sweta did not tell you. I asked her why she did not tell you, we used to stay in Azimpur, so the police used to chase the boys and they got in our area
They would be beaten up, and there would be bleeding. Sweta would cry and shout, there was no way one could get her away from the window. There would be firing.
So Sweta would be standing at the window or the balcony, watching it, till it was over. The entire 69 revolution she watched from the window.
Where would have I kept the injured? I sent them to the hospital, the firing was still on
I was told to leave the house. Her father was in the hospital, he was unwell. So I sent all the kids to the hospital, the same hospital
There were major incidents in the hospital also, the doctor Raghbir, they killed him later
All the doctors, many of them took refuge there, they would survive if they were in the hospital
This is 69, no 70, after the war started….ahh ok that will be 71, yes 71
Naeem: The protest was on till 69 then Ayub Khan resigned. Then was the year of election and it started again after the election; there was a gap for a year
Salma - when was that?
After Ayub Khan resigned, there was some issue
You are talking about…in the election we came in, which year was that
You are saying 71, we decided to teach the girls to use the baton and the pistol
Which year was that?
Naeem - After the election, year…
Salma - We were training them, started in March, 26th March we were already training them
So this was 71, so the women were ready. We had gone to Kabul Hassan, then to Dr. Luth-un-nisah, he is now the director of physical in the department of education
He and me got some people, who all…Kabul Hassan and the most famous swimmer of Bangladesh
They said lets get the best sports stars, all the women sports stars were about 40-50 years old
With them we decided to start, start with atleast the girls in the neighborhood
So they all came, sat in the ground; we had asked some one or two women, whereas some 200 turned up
Imagine so many women, and you have seen the Azamgarh field; we could only make them march there
Kabul Hassan himself got down and taught the girls to use the baton; Bakul Apa and the others came down on the field, sang the songs of their times and the girls marched and did exercises with the baton
What was it called…umm…it was the Bratachari Byayam
It was discovered by Gurusaday Dutt, he was a well known person from Sylhete
He decided to use songs with the baton exercises or with tricks with the knives, his point was just because there are songs the children would enthusiastically learn the exercises
It’s happening today, he was the one who discovered it
So this was well received and thus they decided that make it compulsory in all schools
Basically every teacher would learn the Bratachari Byayam and some and teach the students in the school
Then whether it was a government or a non government school, everywhere Bratachari was practiced; now there are newer set of complications with government and non government schools, but back then the inspector would go and everyone would practice Bratachari
We knew of the name Gurusaday Dutta since we were what7,8,9 years old, he had discovered this; he was involved with education
So Kabul Hassan was showing the same tricks, which we had seen since childhood, ever function when we were children started with Bratachari; with the Baton (Salma Sings) Mind the baton brother mind the baton, if it strikes your hand and face, what beautiful lyrics
So he sang those songs and taught the women, and everyone was so excited. Beautiful songs, that makes you one with nature, and earth
Kamal Bhai was singing, the girls, all of us were singing. It was fantastic. At that point there were no boys who came and intruded. What I liked the most was during that time nobody did anything unpleasant
There were no boys to be seen; we were all so excited, and the girls were very enthusiastic, they were performing Bratachari, teaching Bratachari. Nobody post afternoon would want to be at home, everyone was in the ground
Even the parents of the girls were excited, they did not stop the girls, didn’t even accompany them; it was the spirit of the revolution. People were honest, there were no thieves. The jewellery on the women were not being snatched away by thieves
That’s what iran has done and I really like that, they have rekindled the feeling of revolution by telling their people that you are in midst of a war; so that leads to a feeling of oneness, as a result there are no petty crimes. You are in a war, if one keeps saying that, the zeal is alive, right!
Nobody was worried, even if it was late evening, everyone was chilled. The girls had become so fearless, that they used to bring skulls from the nearby graveyard and play with it
The girls are moving freely, women who have not played for twenty years would show up saying we want to teach and learn
So it was first the games with which one warms up, then the baton and knives and then Kamal da said (shows on sign language) the pistol. We figured there will be a war, so without the pistol there was no point
That we thought we would have to do it in secret; make smaller groups and then learn shooting. Take the girls to big houses, a lot of people had big houses; even if we would go to (NAME OF THE PLACE) field, no one would say anything to us. Because people supported us
Incase of some issues here and there and if ever anyone complained to the police, the police would say, its not in my jurisdiction, call the tofail; the whole thing was being controlled by the Tofaile and some four others
Their names were Ram, Lakshman, Chirag, no not three, four, oh with Tofaile it was four. He became very powerful, I wonder how, everybody asked for him
Whatever Tofaile said was right, it was perfect. It was the right things, the steps were not wrong, neither were the steps scattered
He was an intelligent man, but he was not educated. I told him why don’t you study? I told his wife also. She would say “ya there are many books, he flips through them”
He had played a vital role in the whole situation. I feel sad about the fact that he did not study; I wish he did, if he did we would have had a great and wise leader
Anyway our boys had learnt the art of communication through radio, how one can receive and send news. Technology had not progressed as much. But they had created radio centres in their own houses.
There was the English professor, so one day there was a hue and cry, if you have older girls at home, beware, you might not find them, they would have been kidnapped
I used to leave my daughters alone at home. I used to be afraid. I would pray and go, but the flat was open, one could easily break into the house. And the raids would happen when we would be at work, or the men would be at their workplace. So that the people raiding the house could look and avail the stuff.
We were given a mandate that we had to be in college from 8 am to 4 pm, no matter who's dying, whether one is ill, one had to be present. And so all scared we would be there at 8. But no girl student came to class, for about close to six months, nobody came to class. We would go and come back
Sometimes they came to inspect, and check with our supervisors if we were present or it was just a façade. There were teachers who read namaaz and prayed for the country, and the others sewed
Suddenly one teacher said what would I do, I am in deep trouble, what if they raid my place today, what would I do.
I asked her that even if they go what would they find; she said you never know, I have children, one doesn’t know what transpires
Later I heard, after the revolution, after 16th December that her two sons had a few radio centres in the house. They used to deliver and receive news, her sons were doing that
I figured that’s the reason she was so restless, otherwise she was a peaceful person. She would come to work and go back very peacefully. Then I had told her ypu should write a novel, she was a good writer. She used to sit and write.
I never wrote that was a mistake. I would sit, so I could have easily written.
So you can imagine how open people had become, one is in a government job and letting their children take part in the revolution. A lot of people’s children left, saying ok Mother, I am going
Men just left letters and left, many of them. That one, Nizam, he left, the one at Swati’s in-laws, they were very systematic. I don’t know how he left. He was an architect
I think if we women would have had one more month, we were with Kamal and people like that from the British era. With those ideas, we could have. At first we did some meetings
We were deciding what would we do, would we sit and look through files. Kamal Hasan said “Sister-in-law we will go from the field to the house”, what a beautiful phrase
So we figured that’s true, we are an agriculture driven country. Bangladesh is about agriculture, so if people would work in the fields from the noon to the afternoon, there is no need to go back home and open files and documents and write
So after the guerrilla training we would ask them to disperse, go back to their own places. We would not keep them in the cities, because if they were here, they could be traced back and taken hostage
Else they would figure that the girls in Aadimpur were being trained. So we asked them to go away; they had learnt a lot of things
We chartered a way for the girls, who go where, which one of us go as a guardian so that the girl does not get into trouble. We had accomplished a lot in two months, we had the country in control by then
On the last day of the training, everyone was celebrating, my daughters were also there, in the evening after the magrib, though then no one was so particular about namaaz, around 10 or 11 it started, major firing
We figured the boys who were firing here were our people; Some of them died in the process, and some while providing cover, backtracked and got near our area. I was about to light the lamp and he whispered, please don’t put the lights one, then I figured they were our people
Once they whispered it became clear, we did not however understand, if they were people of the government, we could have been of help. Kept the doors open, given them shelter; if only we were informed. But anyway, they had to run away
Next day we got to know all the Palashis were dead, so everyone went. I couldn’t go because my mother in law was at home, she would not appreciate me leaving like that. I heard in a room there were dead bodies of many women and children, the rickshaw pullers in New Market were dead near their rickshaws; the small shopkeepers were also dead. So many dead bodies were all over.
But what was surprising is that none of them were injured, yes the firing was in the night but not a single one injured, all of them dead
Ya, maybe they could have taken the injured, but how is that possible? Like lets say one person was hurt in their leg and couldn’t move, there was no one like that, I was rather surprised by that
What is the name of that rifle that has a swarm of bullets that are charged and people die, Chinese rifle, that has a swarm of bullet that kills people. They know the art of mass killing, otherwise with one bullet nobody will die like that. They must have used those kind of guns
The girls who came back, the ones who were aware shared what had happened, so the boys kind of hid themselves for a while and then came back. What I like is this fact. Again if there is a revolution nobody will go hide
People got used to it, there were firing throughout. Infront of New Market there would be these trucks all covered; I would think why were they covered? I got to know that those were dead bodies of people from the Army, it was always covered
The operation that was done by the gentleman’s son, it was all in the vicinity. Elephant Road, Green Road, these places were all near Azimpur. But I never saw it.
The regret is our boys were never a part of it, they were never sent to the Dhaka city, every other person’s boy went, but why not our boys? They said we are not connected with the women of the country, but why not our men allowed to go?
This is maybe on the third session. Salma Chowdhury starts talking about why there were so few war veterans in the family. Besides "Sadi" (Shahdin Malick, now a senior lawyer and frequent TV talk show host) nobody else went to fight. Her explanation was that it was the upper middle class character of the family that meant nobody went to war. What does that actually mean? a) They could stay in jobs, unlike villagers who faced a Pakistan army "trail" of death, b) They were, and now the essentialist argument comes in, class-selfish.
Like Bablu my son was taken by his uncle, our family was of a very protective mentality
Sadi also went, come one Naeem, haven’t you read the Naxal movement? None of the parents left India, neither they willingly allowed the children, the children would just say Dad I am going, Mom I am going
I am not saying joining the Naxal movement was good, but that conscience that I have to go for my country, that’s very good. Even during the British period, no parent wanted to let their children go, but the children still went
Was Khudiram or Masterji allowed to go? They went on their own. Was Hena Das allowed, no. But they went. Sadani was there, Bablu, Sadi, Sibli, from that space there were many boys
There were no boys from our family; I don’t get it. He is right in saying this, this emotion for the country, its like leaving everything and being there for your mother, the mother is unwell and is in the hospital. The child will leave his exams and everything and be there only for the mother, sitting with her in the hospital.
This is the point when Salma apa also breaks the fourth wall and references me. Why is Naeem here from America to research 1971. The "CIA" comment is tongue-in-cheek of course.
Regarding the subaltern peasant composition of majority of fighters, this topic comes up frequently. In the finale of Masuds' SONG OF FREEDOM: "will anyone raise the uncomfortable questions about the inherent contradictions of a war fought with peasant cannon-fodder, yet led by the bourgeoisie-dominated Awami League"http://archive.thedailystar.net/forum/2011/September/gaan.htm
The value of that emotion is way stronger and priceless. Way more than the exam. The other day in Zee TV they were showing something like a dog is dying and needs treatment and there goes the bell for the exam. What would you do at this point?
The person answered I will tend the dog. So what happens to the exam? The exam can go take a hike; maybe he said it in good humor but this is a great emotion. You are willing to sacrifice, for your mother is priceless
Except for Sadi, because he was from the village, no man from our family was willing to make the sacrifice; maybe because he did not have the mindset of a city bred, like I would look at you with suspicion, why is Naeem doing what he is doing? What is his motive?
Maybe he has come for a bigger job, or maybe he has been paid money by the CIA. But such thoughts will not occur to someone who is bred in the village, or in such an open environment. He would be very open minded, that maybe you have come to just visit.
This selfishness that’s inculcated in the minds of the city bred people, I was appalled by that. I remember from a small town when I came to the city, one day after college, I came out to get into a rickshaw. Suddenly another teacher jumps at the rickshaw I was about to board saying “this is my rickshaw”. I was stunned. I had not seen anything remotely like this
I said yes please take it, that is what we do usually. Even now if there are girls waiting, since they are young, we say, please take the rickshaw, I will figure. Its easier for me to figure if its raining or there are other issues. Isnt that natural and good as well?
I mean this grown up teacher saying this is my rickshaw is astounding but that’s the complex city bred mind. That is why maybe nobody went from our family. I would have loved if they would have taken part in the revolution, maybe we would have lost him in the process
I would have proud if the boys would have gone; What if they would have fought the war and come back, that pride is priceless! How many of our boys went? What have we done for the war?
I sat in my brother’s house and wrote poetry on the war; we have sat and discussed about the war, that’s all. Even if we could complete training the girls in shooting and sent them it would have been worth.
The girls would ask us what after the baton fights, we would signal that they would be taught shooting. Everyone was getting a feeling that this was training for a war. Otherwise why would someone like Kamal Hassan come and teach the students himself in the field? If the trained students made use of that after they went back to their respective villages, it was perhaps worth.
We have not done anything proactively in the war therefore. I have heard someone’s daughter blasted the bomb herself, another someones daughter did the same thing; she is still here, you have taken her address right? So take it and speak to her. Take the address and go to America. You’ll be able to catch her in America. She’s married and staying in America
Forgotten her name right now. Everybody knows her name in America. She will also give you the address.
She will also be able to tell. There were other women also. Very young. They were with her and then. She gave them that same kaslesher knife and said GO
Break the box and spoil everything. We are there, nothing will happen. Because of them it was completed next day.
To complete this in the heat of excitement takes power. And see this its in the gene, her daughter only went and did the bomb blast.
That requires courage. The girls who were with her, you’ll be surprised were very bright.
These girls have been caught.
And you must know the story of Barishal’s Supari garden story?
There is a..umm.. Guava garden in Barishal. Barishal is very green, the soils are extremely fertile.
Everyday, Padma’s extremely fertile soil is picked up. This sounds like a novel actually, everyday. Nowhere else other than Bangladesh this happens. Every single day the pick up the soil brought in by river Padma with their spades and put it in the field
I found this amazing. I thought this would make the land grow lower. But no, that does not happen. Its their job, for everybody in the household to take the silt from Padma every morning when the tide is low and put it in the field
And it is here that there was a guava forest. It was so thick that if you went in you won’t be able to get out. In this forest women from an entire village were hidden along with some freedom fighters
Army was circling nearby but they didn’t dare entire in case these people have bombs and all
And also there were snakes and all in the forest, so they avoided it but the village women with the freedom fighters were there
One woman was carrying a baby in her arms. It’s a baby, so you can imagine, mosquitoes and bugs started biting it, and it started crying.
Immediately mother strangles and kills the baby
I should find that mother, she killed her own baby..When I heard this (chokes and cries)
Whoever has heard this story, has not been able to hold himself/herself back
So how did an uneducated woman understand that my baby’s life is not more important than so many people’s lives?
So that’s why I say so many men dies, another died there. What great thing have you done?
Now you are enjoying the independence, but you did nothing back then.
Yes Mahmood helped with money and some other way definitely but they way the boys and girls from our home dies, nothing like that.
This person, he was in some department in Hotel, used to get huge cakes for his son’s birthday. I used to find it quite amusing and asked him how do the cakes come? He said the hotel kept a tab of their birthdays.
And that women, they should have traced her. Even if she doesn’t come publicly on television, she should have at least been part of history
This is more important than Thek Shaheb
She was uneducated poor girls and strangled her baby to death. It was somebody who was with them who told me the story.
It’s a very famous story. In the Guava forest of Barishal. People who were associated, people from Barishal will also be able to tell you the name of the place.
So if you bring all this in it would be very good for you…No I don’t remember who told me. I should have maintained a diary.
So many stories are there. In our childhood they used to call the burqhas “Ashirvad”. Not burqhas like this, the full burqha from head to toe. The women used to hide guns under these burqhas and transport it from village to village. Countless number of times.
These people should be easy to trace, when you get time. A lot of women must still be alive. Nobody used to check inside the burqha’s, whether police of informants and hence a lot of guns were smuggled in this manner
And a lot of other things were carried as well. That’s why a lot of people say if the war had carried on for a longer time, lest say another year, our women would have learnt as well.
They would have got the training. They killed with sickles. A lot of time army would just enter the house and the sickle was lying near them and the woman would just kill them with the sickle.
No I don’t personally know anyone, but I know women killed with sickle
But it has happened. Army went in and out of feared they hacked them
But they have given them shelter also. That you must know. After the independence. How could they kill them? Mother after all. Its like Russia. They hid them, under the bed, in hay stacks. However, they found people like us and killed them also.
This I found very disappointing. This is international law. And they act in accordance with international law This is all governed by internal law
[Cut]…killed the women in the streets. This is why motivation is needed, training is needed. Make sure you motivate them. […….] Omar was a complete enemy, killed his sister. But he still motivated Omar.
And that where I felt very bad. Why did our people become so violent and killed prisoners. We could have exchanged prisoners.
Like in Cuba they did. For one person give us 100 trucks. We could have done something similar.
This political training should have been there. Whenever they found that woman and the woman said take us, they were killed.
Some people may have been kept alive, I don’t know. But whatever news I got most people were tortured and killed.
They were guerillas or even outlaws and murderers. There was not dearth of murderers. And what is one death to them? Places like Barishal, for example, in a land dispute they will catch you on the road and chop you into pieces and put the pieces in a pot.
Then they seal the Pot and dig a hole by the side of the river and bury it. [Off camera conversation]. Yes, there are instances like these and it happens.
But we need that political training, in case we have a war again. How to take and behave with prisoners should be taught in school - 9,10,11,12 maybe.
We teach ethics in school, it should be part of that. Like how we teach Surah, teach Surah laos. Like Surah teaches you “protect the mankind”. Teach them how. Then the training would be complete in the school period itself.
During school period this training is needed. This is not happening in our country. It’s happening in lot of other countries. How? How does a Vietnamese boy know all this
Vietnamese boys know, Korean boys know, Malaysian boys know, Indo-chin boys know, Iranian boys know.
Then why don’t the boys of the subcontinent know?
If that woman in the village knew, she wouldn’t have given up so easily, she would have called the police. Taken a bus and got the police to help.
They would have written and signed that so and so army personnel was handed over to so and so and when Pakistan asked us we could have shown here is the document that this person was found and handed over to so and so.
It’s a human being after all. Taken shelter. After that you punish him, jail him ask for ransom whatever. They asked for ransom.
Money and jewellery was asked for in return of release. It was a new country, money was needed. Those who didn’t have money they were told to teach kids. Teach ten kids and you’d be freed.
If we knew this, if we had been taught the act, it would have been helpful. If that person who was killed or if that woman had known that holding the person prisoner would have helped the country more… So don’t we need political training?
General knowledge, I would call this general knowledge. If we have general knowledge we can help our country.
This you should bring out in your book somehow. Through various connections. I often think people say things are hard to do, I find somethings easy. Working with murderers. I read and learnt from Erik Maria. She wrote a book sitting in Germany
If I can learn so much from one book - dealing with poor people, dealing with murderers dealing with criminal doctors
Criminal doctors are those who are criminals and take money etc. and I learnt to deal with all of them from one novel. So if you can put all this in your book, through some narrative or otherwise, this will become part of the training.
We have grown up reading Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore, Saratachandra Chattapadhaye, Vidyasagar. We have mbibed them in our manner and behavior what we learn from reading their books.
What I’ve read in Sraatachandra’s novels I have imbibed. There was once a lady who wanted my help, my moral support. She urged me to come and literally from the streets wanted to drag me to her house.
I told her its my daughters exam and I have come photocopy something and it will take time and by the time I’ll be done it’ll be late evening. But she had extreme urgency to take me to her house.
I felt very bad. Why would a young woman and a lawyer on top of that be so desperate? She must be in some mortal danger.
I couldn’t go, but that night only I heard she has been identified as a “criminal”. Now educated women are not usually identified as criminals. I understood that she actually needed shelter. I have lots of stories like this in Saratchandra’s novels.
Characters like her I’ve already dealt with Saratchandra’s novels or Bankim chandra’s novels or Nazrul. Even English novels. English novels deal a lot with criminals
For example Anna Karenina, I thought this character resembled her.
I learnt all this from books. Hence it’s very important that you should put all this in your book. For example you can put in a conversation that you find someone doesn’t know history. If he doesn’t even know history how will he become a country’s head?
A DC cannot not know history. DC, SDO whoever. So if they read your book, they may think and get ideas how to change the education system. That can happen, can’t it?
So think about it. Anyway till how far did we reach?
…. No I didn’t see. I didn’t go. My house was unsecured. My mother-in law was there she was also not secured. So I got the news.
I found it odd. Nobody came and told me that he was suffering. Maybe he was dead since early morning. Everybody ran. All the girls ran. Women from University and all.
They went and saw and said you people should move no, yoday because there may be a raid today.
26th March, morning. 26th March morning, we took our training and came back, and this happened.
Then we went away to Dhanmandir. There was house next to Feroza Begum.
Mahmood was there. There we began to get all kind of news. We were told to get away, run away as far as possible.
When we wen we say almost 20 - 25 people staying there. [Who was he?] Mahmood Saheb. He was involved
He was involved, whether by giving money or otherwise, he was involved in the revolution.
That's why he had to run away. He knew he would be killed. He was away the entire time. He came back after the independence.
All those people who fled outside were spares. Your grandfather had said. People who hid outside survived.
They are all still alive……..[question]….About what?
[Question]…Who told you? [Jaed]. Jaed? Jaed your brother
[Off camera]…No. who wrote the book. [Peace committee member]. Oh ok ok.
…Had to sign it. Comrade must have told them to sign it and they would. That time life was important. In college if they had asked me to sign I wouldn't have.
A lot of times in college we didn't attend a lot of things. But then it went to the Principal and the Principal used to say no come with me, come to these meeting. We have to show crowd in these meetings.
Show crowd of the protestors against the Government. This is why it must have been done. Like people talk about Shahad Ali.
Very famous author from Sylhete sunamganj. Wrote [Jibe alir] Dana. You haven't read?
Write the name. Its fantastic [Jibe alir Dana]
Shahad Ali. He will actually be able to help you. He stays here only. He will be able to tell you this happened here. He has a memory like a computer.
He was called "radhekar", but he was not. He was a famous author. Satyajait Ray wanted to make a film on hi Jibe Ali'r Dana. Ray had liked it very much. But he couldn't contact him.
It would have been a fantastic movie. It would have been internationally famous. There is so much scope for photogenic scenes, I can't tell you
Jibe Alir dana is a small piece but he writes very well. You would have read one of his pieces. Although that is average. "Samatale" You have read that.
Eki Samatale, yes. It was a story. Village based
He was a village based man and probably still is. I don't know now if he has changed. But unlikely. He has a big house in Bonami
I can give you his phone number. Anybody can. He was the director of Stern Foundation. Sheikh Shahib only made him. Sheikh Shahib did some good work. He made Shahd Ali director. Shahad Ali was not that renowned
There is some good work done thanks to Abu Hashad, Shahad Ali in Slum Foundation. They have a huge library you know
There are some rare books there. They don't let you bring it. But some very rare books. From Akbar's times,..oh Whats the name? Written by Akbar's historians
….Yes we took shelter there. What fear was there. Every gin shot we thought we would be killed. Next day in the paper, the orders came that every Government servant had to go. People in college.
All government servants were ordered… Curfew was declared. You need to see the papers from that time to see the orders the army used to issue.
Instructions used to come This had to be done, that had to be done. Before that Toofai was there. One day Government, and then these people became kings.
Very amusing. So people who have witnessed this will remember it more clearly. Better than me.
So the proclamations stated that government servants had to attend between so and so time, college teachers so and so time to 4 PM. So and so person so and so time. After 2 days when the curfew was lifted again the people left. Those who could fled. Most people didn't . They used to do their work routinely. But that is when we understood that the times were really bad
People were thinking of moving to villages. Suleiman uncle was asked. He was worried that we didn't have a base in the village. He had to take all of us. He couldn't leave us behind. He to find a place where there is doctor etc in case of diseases and all.
Also I had a job. So then my brother said to come to his place. So I took all my children and went to my brother's place.
Gushan. There we stayed 4 months. Shifted a bit. Took a house in my name as well.
Took all my belongings there. In between college I used to do this….Gulshan. Brother's house, and my own….
…He used to bring it, then it used to be hidden, then it used to be given to someone else. Put it in someone else's bag. It's the same thing which went around.
It came to my brother as well. My brother will also give it away. Not keep it with himself. And it was all banned. This magazine banned, that magazine banned. Any piece on independence war was banned
Because if you were caught with such material, then you would be deemed as a freedom fighter. Our people only gave us away. Who gave them information? Their spies amongst our people.
We are the traitors. Millions of sons of Mrizaffar fill this country.
All Mirzaffar's sons. The first picture in the magazine came like this. Maybe just a month after the war…Have you seen that picture? You have it no? You can show it if you have it. Holding a head. See we have killed the army.
It would have scared people…teenagers with no training. No training to fight no training to swim but left in the waters. Don't know how they left them without any training
And most people in the army were illiterate. Didn't understand Urdu or English. How can you take illiterate people in the army?
I don't know. They were told, these people have become Hindu, kill them. That's why that prayer was read. For Shansubai. Very emotional reading of the prayers
So everybody was praying and they said, what is this? You pray? You pray like us read our prayers? You are all mussalman?
We said yes we are Mussalamn. They we haven't been told this. We were told you had all become Hindu.. Kill them all etc.
If you kill them all Allah will reward you. That's why we are here. And they started crying. The captain started crying and he started praying
Those who killed came and prayed with us. I think Shamsuba may have forgotten to tell you this.
Yes he told you all the big incidents. These were the small stories. They prayed. They cried.
Many went back and became insane. Like Vietnam. Many went back and hugged their mother - "Where did you send me mother? What did I do? If I told you, you will never accept me back."
These accounts you wont find anywhere. Because they wont tell you. If you were there or if you are very close friends with them you'll get to know.
Some Pakistanis are very good people. I have found so many good people. Even today, people who come, very good people amongst them
Like I hear we have fights with India. What fights with India? We are the same country. Same people, same food, same clothes. Then why don't we live like Switzerland?
No fight with India. Live like free market. We started something during the revolution. We will wear only home made clothes. No foreign clothes. Indian or otherwise, only home made clothes. Then somebody asked me you wearing American chiffon or something. Then I said then not once country we should not wear from any country.
So that's when we started. Took cheap sarees and weaved them together. After 1971 independence, no.. during the whole revolution, Army would come and kill everyone including the weavers. We started hiding the clothes. Not from the army but from the local gangs. Army wont take the sarees, the local goons would.
Generally, there is less theft in the community of weavers, because if you steal one that itself is worth 10 -20 thousand rupees.
But if you went and saw. They kept the sarees in the open, all night, but no one took them. It was a good understanding usually. But in those times there was no understanding, the local goons would only take it.
So they used to tie it together and hide it in the forests. And those who had their own house, it was brought to them (house not flat like mine), it was given to them and they kept it. Everybody did.
Kept it in my house also. Some Sarewallah would have come and said keep it, I'll take it later. During the revolution we started buying local sarees like mad.
We thought what will these people eat? The educated amongst us thought all these people, what will they eat? The person who used to roam around screaming "Buy Sarees", Buy Sarees", didn't have the scope anymore. All work was stopped. What will he do? He will die.
That's why started buying sarees like mad. For example I bought one and for our college 100-200 sarees we bought from one person. Just to help.
We started buying, gifting. Whoever was getting married, or is supposed to get married, we bought for all of them. We bought in Jamdanee sarees like mad. Taant Sarees also but Jamadanee specially
To save the weaver. But see the funny thing, we tried protecting the weavers,by buying sarees, keeping sarees, giving them shelter - but after that the trend for home nationalism came. Because of Vidyasagar, Mohammad Ali. Saugat Ali, what we grew up reading, we were the older generation and we had nationalism in our heart; we read how women threw away their gold ornaments when protesting against the British. When there was protest against the British, this is a picture that has been captured.
Women from Second Storied building taking off gold ornaments and throwing them away. Apart from gold ornaments women didn't have much luxury, they used to do that. So some of this was imbibed in us. So we all started helping these weavers.
The what happened was the revolution of 1971. All these started about a decade back from 1961 - nationalism, how to save people, how to save culture, where will they eat? Some people even went back to the village during the revolution. Realized once they went to the village how badly off the weavers were. The educated women were not forced to return to the villages but they did go back and make friends with the villagers.
If there were 2 more years, every village may have benefitted. I would also have gone to a village. So much I could I have done. Could have improved the village in one year. Every village would have come in contact with every educated person.
So after all this after independence in December there was a realization that there are no clothes. What is this? No threads
All threads were finished. None left. Our Government's department of strings was responsible for bringing strings from other countries.
India or elsewhere. The Bangladesh that was once famous for it strings, I don't know who was responsible for shutting down of - making threads, weaving cotton, making infrastructure for the same, providing money for the same. It was all shut down
If for some reasons the weavers can't make good strings - weavers have come and cried to us "we can't make good strings".
After Independence between December and January in 1972, the weavers would come with small and thick clothes, imagine this from the country that used to have muslin clothes. They did not have the any way to produce the thread. The process of weaving was alive but not making of threads.
Then they started getting threads from India, there were numbers and names assigned to those. Something like 60,40 etc. the finer ones were 60, but these weavers were getting the 40 demarcation ones
Now we could see the weavers of the other part were getting good threads, and our guys had these really thick ones; they managed to make stuff out of it but it wasn't the clothes we were used to. We have been buying the jamdani for ages now. So some of us decided that we would not buy stuff from India anymore
We had heard about the stories of the weavers in the British times; how they were beaten up when the protests started happening banning the cloth from Manchester. We had heard these stories of our ancestors, of Jawaharlal Nehru and others who protested in their times. So we decided to follow their path
Basically it was the rich who could afford those fine saris; the poor could not, so by that logic 90 percent of the countrymen were loyal to their country, and we were not. There was nothing written but we women decided that we will not buy Indian saris.
In my college no other teacher used to wear Indian saris, atleast in front of me; I didn't understand these things but then I was also not so savvy to know which sari is what. Once I complimented a teacher on her sari and she left out of embarrassment
She did not want to say that she was wearing an Indian sari, so she left. However I could implement the ban of Indian saris with the girl students. On a regular basis we had a uniform, but for cultural functions, since I was in charge of those, they asked me "What sari should we wear Apa (aunty) " And I said "wear the Bangladeshi sari"
I used to propagate the use of our own cloth, in between lectures, whenever I got the opportunity. People like Kamal Hassan I have heard him talk and tell the boys, that no matter what, and whatever we might have to do, we should save the art and handicraft of the country.
Oh yes, Kamal Hassan, he was the Chief Designer in the Pakistan era. He was at the crux of it. Ohh ya, he was the pioneer
Ya and he, Kamal Hassan was the one who started this movement of banning Indian cloth; he went to the villages and told the weaves the measurement of the saris, and he also said if they follow the measurement then everyone would buy those saris.
Thus we did not do anything new; it was already in process, the protest against foreign cloth; we implemented it and the weavers knew by then the ways to make decent saris with our threads
The weavers had gotten used to the whole way of making local saris without any foreign threads, they would take a whole bunch to the landlords; but I don't know why were they tortured or beaten up; you can probably get those stories from either the villages of Sonargaon or those places; that story I don't know
Since their produce was soiled and taken away, maybe that's where the torture on them started; but who started it why, we need to know. I think it was our people and not foreigners who started snatching and taking away the clothes. That is why probably the weavers when they made enough saris used to go and dump it in someone else's house, who they knew and trusted
Or they would sell it in bulk. Someone bought ten, someone twenty. I bought some 20 saris at one go. People used to ask me for the saris also. Infact the teachers really helped as well by buying the stuff
So those days from my brother's place in Dulshaan I would come to the college in Badrunisah; I used to come by rickshaw, not many people took out their cars. So I would reach college by 8 in the morning. I was still in Badrunisah, it was in 1975 that I came to Eden
From 71-75 I was in Badrunisah because they promoted me to and told me to open the Honours department of Bengali in the college, there was no Honours department. So for five years I was there
During that time when I used to travel I would see, the roads were kind of empty, no hawkers on the road. Then we heard the theatre house, ahh that theatre house between Narayanganj and Dhaka, there was enough commotion there during the Muktijuddho; This theatre house is just 10 mins from here by bus
In that entire area there was a big fight. Its very well known. You can find details about it in every book. Also talk to people, they will have stories; and even better if the people are from that area
That war was a successful one, we fought well. The Muktijuddho was the guerilla warfare; people would fight and the survivors would run away. We used to get all the information in college.
Everyday there were new stories; something happened here and this happened there; the network was very strong, once a teacher said "ohh my brother in law was saying this has happened"
There were many stories, I don't remember them, didn't write them down. And then two days later someone told me that I had spoken about that person
So Mahmood had said something pro us about the war and whatever happened there, I must have spoken about it to a colleague who sat beside me and that travelled within two days to Mahmood and he accuses me of talking about him, imagine!
I was a little lost, because we would talk about so many things at so many situations, I couldn't remember it and I confessed that I have no memory of the same. But he gave me specifics with details of his name etc that I had spoken about
He got to know it from the rival party; not even from our people, so imagine the network and the spies involved, and they were among us and we did not know anything about it
I could not figure who, and I had no idea. I talk to everyone, and trust everyone. I am taking classes with them, spending so much time, I could not figure out who could it be.
Yes this happened at my place, me and Merilyn. You remember Merilyn? You must meet her before you go, she was a photographer, so that story and that history would be very interesting. Its Marilyn Stuffoh
So she and Mulk Raj Anand came to our place together, they are in proper London, you would find them there.