Boshir Al Helal
Duration: 01:41:54; Aspect Ratio: 1.364:1; Hue: 32.738; Saturation: 0.045; Lightness: 0.342; Volume: 0.141; Cuts per Minute: 0.324; Words per Minute: 56.508
Summary: Author of one of the definitive histories of the 1952 language movement.
Let us start with... you remember British period of course?
What do you remember, how were relations with Hindus at this time?
In 1942, I was studying in the Hooghly Islamic Intermediate College and Madrassa.
There I became involved with the All India Muslim Students' League.
At that time, Shah Azizur Rahman was in Hooghly Mohsin College.
Later, he became Prime Minister during the Zia regime.
We were both activists of the AIMSL.
After passing my exam in '42, I came to Calcutta.
It was the war-time.
Air Raid Precautions (ARP) was an organisation in the United Kingdom set up in 1937 dedicated to the protection of civilians from the danger of air raids. It included the Raid Wardens' Service that was to report on bombing incidents. Every local council was responsible for organising ARP wardens, messengers, ambulance drivers, rescue parties, and liaison with police and fire brigades.
From 1 September 1939, ARP Wardens enforced the "blackout". Heavy curtains and shutters were required on all private residences, commercial premises, and factories to prevent light escaping and so making them a possible target for enemy bombers to locate their targets. With increased enemy bombing during the Blitz, the ARP services were central in reporting and dealing with bombing incidents. They managed the air raid sirens and ensured people were directed to shelters.
From 1941 the ARP officially changed its title to Civil Defence Service to reflect the wider range of roles it then encompassed. During the war almost 7,000 Civil Defence workers were killed. In all some 1.5 million men and women served within the organisation during World War Two. Over 127,000 full-time personnel were involved at the height of the Blitz but by the end of 1943 this had dropped to 70,000. The Civil Defence Service was stood down towards the end of the war in Europe on 2 May 1945
I was in Calcutta up to 1944-45.
I joined the first-aid wing of the Air Raid Precautions or ARP.
I worked with them in 1944 and '45.
After the war ended, I returned to the AIMSL, though I was no longer a student then.
In November 1946, I came to Faridpur with Shah Aziz to campaign for the poll to be held on the Pakistan issue.
Mohan Mian was then officiating as general secretary of the Bengal Muslim League.
We stayed at his house.
Shah Aziz and others went back to Calcutta before the poll was over.
But I stayed back.
(Q) Did you have any bad relationship with the Hindus? Otherwise why did you want Pakistan?
The relationship wasn't bad, but at that time all Muslims in India wanted Pakistan.
(Q) But did you have any personal issue with the Hindus?
(Q) How was the division between Muslims and Hindus in your village?
I spent my childhood in my maternal uncle's house at a village in Burdwan.
(Q) How old were you then?
I was about 14.
(Q) So you were in school?
(Q) Were Hindus in a majority in that village, or Muslims?
Many of my classmates were Hindus.
We didn't feel any difference then.
All were classmates.
(Q) Did any of your friends have strained relations with Hindus?
No, not at that time.
Frainkly speaking, the difference that grew later, whether it was the Hindus' fault or the Muslims', was because of politics.
I don't think it had anything to do with the social interaction between the Muslims and Hindus.
Maybe, the Muslim League leaders understood better that it wasn't possible for Muslims and Hindus to live together.
As common people, we had no issues with the Hindus, political or otherwise.
(Q) What was the attitude of your parents?
They were not in politics and didn't have bad impression about Hindus.
Though my father was a moulana, he was a very liberal person.
Then the polls were held.
The Muslims got a majority in Bengal.
In Burdwan, however, the Hindus were in a majority.
I stayed back in East Bengal.
I lived in several police station areas in Faridpur.
I joined service at the sub-registrar's office.
I was a deed-writer.
(Q) How far had you studied?
I completed up to class ten but coul'd pass the Intermediate.
What sujbects did you have to stury in the madrassa?
English, Bengali, Arabic, History, Geography and mathematics.
(Q) Did you have difficulties with any subject?
I had difficulties with English.
(Q) As a moulana, what was your father's attitude towards learning English?
Initially he was in favout of giving us general education, although there was an English medium high school in the village.
I was the eldest, my two brothers were 12-14 years younger than me.
My father used to teach me Arabic at home.
My maternal uncle told him it would be difficult to cope with the modern world if one didn't learn Eanglish, Bengali, etc.
He wanted to take me to his village and admit me to the school.
Though it was a madrassa, it used to teach English.
I studied there for seven years.
(Q) Was your uncle also a moulana?
No, they were very modern.
They had a leather business.
They were pretty well-off.
(Q) Did they use to hob-nob with the Hindus?
Yes, let me tell you about an incident.
Two of my grandfathers also lived in that village. It wa a joint family.
They were very fond of playing cards.
Two Hindus used to come to play with them.
One Muslim used to partner with one Hindu.
If there was a dispute, they quarrelled, and the partners always remained toghether.
One Hindu and one Muslim quarrelled with another Hindu and another Muslim, not two Hindus with two Muslims.
It proves that there was no communal feeling towards Hindus.
(Q) At least in your village.
We used to visit our Hindu classmates' homes and they used to come to our house.
They gave us muri to eat.
(Q) Was muri considered a 'Hindu' food?
No, the Muslims also had it.
We never saw any communal attitude.
(Q) Your uncles seem to be a little liberal in respect of education.
Why do you think it was so?
Because they believed one needed a modern outlook in order to survive in the modern world.
(Q) But your father must also have thought about this.
Yes, that's why he didn't object to my uncle taking me to school.
(Q) Didn't your father's religiosity come in the way? We often hear that Muslims were unwilling to learn English.
The British made education, in English—a high priority hoping it would speed modernization and reduce the administrative charges. The colonial authorities had a sharp debate over policy. This was divided into two schools - the orientalists, who believed that education should happen in Indian languages (of which they favoured classical or court languages like Sanskrit or Persian) or utilitarians (also called anglicists) like Thomas Babington Macaulay, who strongly believed that traditional India had nothing to teach regarding modern skills; the best education for them would happen in English. Macaulay introduced English education in India, especially through his famous minute of February 1835. He called for an educational system that would create a class of anglicised Indians who would serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and the Indians.
He, too, was liberal. But historically, it was the moulanas who led most of the battles against the British.
Maybe they had a grudge since the British had snatched India from the Muslim rulers.
So they hated the British as well as they language.
My father also shared this mentality.
Did the common people also think like that?
Yes, and this resulted in the apathy to give their children English education.
But my father accepted the demands of changing time.
So he agreed to give all three of his children English education.
My brothers studied in English medium schools. I studied in a madrassa where English was taught. We've been brought up like that.
(Q) When it became clear that Pakistan would be formed, did the Bengalis have any separate thoughts about that?
No. All the Muslims loved their leaders like Jinnah, and supported the demand for Pakistan irrespective of the possibility of their own area being a part of it.
We didn't think over the matter as deeply as, say, Maulana Azad.
(Q) What did you think?
We thought that the Indian subcontinent belonged to both Hindus and Muslims, and they should stay together.
But the majority, I'd say 99 per cent, of the Indian Muslims thought we should have a separate country.
So we, too, supported it.
I was a member of the Muslim Students' League.
I came to Faridpur before Pakistan was formed and later took a job at the sub-registrar's office here. I didn't want to go back to Calcutta.
I took the job not just for subsistence. I wanted to seen more of Bangladesh.
(Q) Did you call the entire land Bangladesh then?
Yes, it was known as Bangladesh. The terms East Bengal and West Bengal were not current.
In East Bengal, I lived in Faridpur town as well as in several thana areas.
I found people here had more affable than in West Bengal.
So I was welcomed everywhere.
Everyone loved me.
Maybe it was because I, too, behaved well with them.
Were you a famous person?
No, I was a common man.
From there I went to Dinajpur in north Bengal.
After a brief stay at Dinajpur town, I went to Setab Gunj.
There I met a gentleman who was well-to-do and enlightened, though not very much educated.
He was a nice man.
I met him while he was going on a bi-cycle one day. He lived and ran a business in the neighbouring village. He was a Muslim and was a Kabiraji doctor earlier.
After we became friends, we started discussing politics. I was a little nore knowledgeable.
He was impressed by my experience.
'What do you do?' he asked me. I said I was just roaming around.
He proposed that I stayed in his house, looked after his sons' studies and taught at the local primary school.
The school had a dearth of teachers.
So you didn't take a government job?
The earlier one as a deed-writer was casual. I got paid per page.
I readily accepted his proposal.
I got a salary of 7 taka from the school.
It was January-February 1947. Pakistan was yet to be formed.
How much value did 7 takas have in 1947?
If one had a house and a little land to fall back upon, one could maintain a family with 7 takas.
He was the secretary of the school.
When I placed my salary bill to before, I wrote, 'high madrassa plucked' (failed).
He didn't like it, but that was my qualification!
He had three sons.
One of them was appearing in the matriculation exam.
It was under Calcutta University then.
I was asked to guide the boy.
I used to take him to the exam centre. But he failed.
He appeared again next year.
At that time, his father told me to sit for the exam along with the boy, Hasan Ali.
The subjects were the same, so there was no problem.
I had studied three papers in Arabic in high madrassa. In Matriculation it was not compulsory.
So, I knew better Arabic than high school students.
One night he told me that I would miss the date of enrollment unless I went to Rajshahi and registered immediately.
He gave me money. I went to Rajshahi in the morning and registered.
I had to sit for a test and I was allowed.
I prepared along with Hasan. I didn't have any books, but he had.
I though I'd fail in English, so I prepared brief notes.
It helped both of us.
We two and one of his relatives sat for the exam together.
After the exam I went to Dhaka.
There, I put up with an uncle who was a deputy secretary.
Hasan and I passed in third division, but the other boy failed.
(Q) Was it usual for the Muslim students to be placed in the third division?
Passing even in the third division was not easy at that time, either for Muslims or for Hindus.
Second division was rare.
My younger brother got second division from the same school, much later.
(Q) Did only well-off students get first division?
Generally speaking, yes, because they could afford tutors.
But the Hindus did better.
Their success rate was higher. Of course, Hindu students were more in overall number though Muslims were in a majority in Bangladesh.
Then I went back to Dinajpur to tell the gentleman about my result.
He advised me to get admitted in Intermediate course.
Since it was the last Matriculation exam under Calcutta University, they gave pass marks to 70 per cent candidates.
From the next year, Dhaka University would conduct the exam. Meanwhile, there was the Partition.
(Q) Was the Calcutta University syllabus a little easier?
I found it quite easy.
Dhaka University had a huge syllabus.
But I was a student of Dhaka Univeisity from Class I, since all the madrassas in Bengal and Assam were under it.
To give you an instance of how bulky the DU syllabus was, it's Bengali paper had 40 poems!
Whereas CU had probably 20.
There were five essays, even out of that I studied only three.
But the DU syllabus had 10-12 essays.
And there were difficult pieces, like Churchill's wartime speech in the English syllabus.
(Q) Was the DU syllabus meant for the Muslims, or East Bengalis?
It was meant for the high schools in Dhaka city, which had both Hindus and Muslim students.
But since Calcutta was the capital, shouldn't one expect the CU syllabus to be tougher?
Yes, but they were wise. It isn't that the standard of education would be high if the syllabus is bulky or tough.
Students can learn better if the syllabus is light and easy.
But the Dhaka University thought otherwise.
Of course, it also had briight students and a Vice-chancellor like historian R.C. Majumdar.
Anyway, the Kabiraj advised me to enroll for the Intermediate along with his son.
But I didn't get a hostel seat and came back to Dhaka.
I tried for the Jagannath Hall in Dhaka, but couldn't get a seat.
I went to Brahmanbaria, where a new college was being opened.
But I couldn't get a chance there.
I decided to go to Bhairab.
I was standing at the railway ticket counter, when I met a gentleman. He was a Hindu.
He asked me where I was going. He could make out that I was not a local boy.
He said Bhairab's almosphere wouln't suit me.
Because there was a red-light area beside the college.
I accepted his advice and returned to Brahmanbaria.
I got down at the station at the dead of night.
I was very tired and lay down on a bench.
In the morning I went to the chairman of the college, Shahidul Haq. He was a government pleader and a gentleman.
He was impressed by my name, which meant 'God's gift', and said he'd recommed me to the secretary, the SDO.
I said I wouldn't be able to pay the fees and asked for a waiver.
He asked me where I had spent the night and I told him I was at the station.
Didn't somebody steal your shoes, he asked.
Then I remembered I had kept my shoes under the bench. But no one took them away!
Then he sent me to the SDO.
There, by chance I came to know that he was posted in Katwa earlier.
He was a Muslim.
My maternal uncle was the district president of the Muslim League in Katwa.
His home district was 24-Parganas.
Since there were few Muslims in the town, he was very close to the SDO.
He agreed to admit me.
I got a half-waiver.
And I was the first to get a hostel seat.
But after studying for two years, I couldn't pass.
I came back to Dhaka.
I was looking for a job.
(Q) Were there any riots during Partition in your locality?
I was at Setab Ganj in Dinajpur when Partition took place.
I didn't see any disturbance there.
Not even any dispute between Hindus and Muslims.
The Hindus accepted it silently.
(Q) Did the Hindus leave the area?
Not right then, but afterwards.
There was a riot in February 1948.
I was then a student at Brahmanbaria College.
(Q) Where did the riot take place?
It took place in different areas in East Bengal.
Pakistan had been formed then.
In Dhaka, it was a little more intense.
In Brahmanbaria, I saw one person being killed.
He was our Bengali professor, a Hindu.
He was very well educated and taught very well.
He was a good man.
He was going to Comilla on jury duty.
He was killed in a train.
(Q) How did they recognise him as a Hindu?
The goons have their ows ways.
(Q) Was it because of his clothes? Did you wear pajamas then and they dhuti?
They had begun to discard dhutis grdually.
(Q) Because of the disturbances?
Yes, but when we were 15-16 years old, we too wore dhuti.
Pajama was not in vogue.
And very few people wore lungis.
Both Hindus and Mulsims wore dhutis.
Only on certain occasions, Muslims wore sherwanis.
In Dhaka, I got a clerk's job at an electric supply company with the help of my cousin.
Both the general secretary and the president of the company's union were Hindus.
The union comprised the labourers, but not the office staff like us.
Most of the employees were Hindus.
Many Hindus fled during the February 1948 riots.
So they were forced to take us Muslims.
It was a British concern named Octavius and Steele Company.
Their business included electric supply and tea gardens.
Did the British owners stay on even after Partition?
Yes, for a long time.
The Dhaka Electric Supply Corporation was nationalised after the 1954 elections, in which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became a minister and Ataur Rahman the chief minister.
Before the government takeover, they visited our office. We felicitated them.
We had a dislike for the British at that time.
After a few months, we the members of the clerical staff went to the secretary and president and wanted to enroll in the union.
But they refused to give membership to the "educated people".
We asked, "Why?"
"Because they always quote from the British Constitution."
Actually, it was the Hindu office staff who used to argue with the union leaders. The labourers followed them without a question.
The two union leaders found it difficult to argue with the clerical staff since they were somewhat educated.
So, they drove them out of the union. They were all Hindus.
It was like that for how many years I don't know.
Then we started requesting them repeatedly for membership and assured that we won't create any trouble.
We'd maintain union discipline and cooperate with them.
At last, they agreed to take us.
(Q) They didn't object because you were Muslims?
No. All were Muslims then. The Hindus had left.
So why did these two stay behind?
Trade unionism was their profession. They might not get the scope in India.
They understood union matters very well, though they were uneducated people.
Then we became involved in the union.
There were two sections, one for the clerical staff and one for the labourers.
I became the general secretary of the clerical section.
Jaman Saheb was the president.
Then the government took over the company.
We continued our union activities.
(Q) Was your father alive then?
No, he'd already died.
(Q) Could you join the union had your father been alive?
He would have still lived in Murshidabad and wouldn't pay attention to all these matters.
(Q) Since the union was a little pro-Congress, weren't the Muslims discouraged to join it?
No, there was nothing like that.
Everybody was aware about the need for the union.
And the unions were very strong, unlike today's "tout" unions.
At that time everyone was dedicated and idealist.
Now the entire country is under the Bangladesh Power Development Board and the unions are still there, but their character has changed.
Some honest people, of course, are still there. Like Salam Saheb, who was our union president when I was vice-president.
Though he was an MA, he never took a promotion.
I got promoted step-by-step and became an assistant secretary from an LD clerk.
After becoming assistant secretary however, I lost the right to be a union member.
But he never took a promotion because he wanted to remain in the union.
Those people have made such sacrifices.
Some of them have become moneyed men though.
Anyway, I was involved in the union for about 33 years.
After nationalisation when Salam Saheb and others formed the East Pakistan-wide union, our Dhaka district union didn't join it.
But their union was split into two factions.
One of the factions had a union in Dhaka, but our union was stronger.
Salam Saheb and the general secretary of his union, Moinullah (who was also very dedicated), were after me.
They wanted us to dissolve our union and join theirs.
They convinced us that a small union wouldn't find enough support if it say, calls a strike. So, it's better to join a countrywide union.
So, we merged with them.
At first I was made the assistant general secretary and then vice-president.
(Q) Was there any non-Bengali officer in the Power Development Board?
(Q) How were your relations with them?
I had particularly good relations as could converse with them in Urdu.
And to tell you frankly, since I had been active in the agitation for Pakistan, I had a soft-corner for it.
There was no movement like what we see now. There were a few Urdu-speaking Hindus, too. There wasn't any division between Bengali and non-Bengali Muslims.
I respected Maulana Bhasani very much. During the Bangladesh liberation movement, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman betrayed him subtly.
He wanted to control everything.
Fortunately, Suhrawardy had died by that time, or else he'd be betrayed, too. Chief minister Ataur Rahman was betrayed.
Sheikh Saheb is also blamed for the mental derangement of Shamsur Rahman of Tangail.
He simply went missing! People aren't sure where he died. His wife taught at the Eden College.
When did you start noticing that such things were happening?
Ever since I came to Dhaka in 1950.
I first saw Maulana Bhasani in Brahmanbaria in 1949.
At that time he went to Maulana Akram Khan, chairman of East Pakistan Muslim League, and wanted to receipt books for enrolling members.
Everybody was in Muslim League then, including Sheikh Saheb.
Akram Khan didn't give him.
Because he was a conservative and Bhasani a liberal.
The conservatives wanted to make it an Islamic country. Of course, Akram Khan had many contributions. He owned the Azad newspaper, was a learned person, and wrote very good Bengali.
But Bhasani was a pro-communist leftist. So, both sides tried to corner each other.
When Bhasani found it impossible to stay with the other faction, he left and founded the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League.
The movement went ahead, but Sheikh Saheb was trying to corner everyone else.
(Q) How did you know that?
We could see from their activities and behaviour.
Some people really have luck! Otherwise, he wasn't much highly educated and all his high-voltage speeches were basically the same, though they seemed so moving at that time.
Even the words were the same. Since most of the people were uneducated, they couldn't make out.
He was, of course a graduate from Islamia College under Calcutta University.
He gave the final exam in Dhaka. He was probably in the third year when Partition happened.
Maulana Bhasani didn't read even up to class II. But his speeches were of much high quality than Sheikh Saheb's.
I had a hobby of attending public meetings. Even when I was in Calcutta for two years, a friend and I went regularly to rallies at Shraddhananda Park.
And we used to sit in the front row. The next day's paper would inevitably carry our photo.
We attended communist party meetings more often. I was a little inclined to communism. But we went to Hindu Mahasabha meetings, too.
We listened to all.
Not that we wouldn't listen to what Hindu Mahasabha had to say since we were in Muslim League.
Here, too, I went to every meeting.
Even though he visited China, Sheikh Saheb began to speak against communists.
He was moving close to America.
Maulana Bhasani and all the leftists were at that time totally opposed to America.
China and Russia were in the same group then.
Sheikh Saheb was clever enough not to show any disrespect to Bhasani.
But he was always trying to corner him.
At last he became successful at the Kanmari conference.
Later were realised that he had always collaborated with India.
But how subtly you'll realise -- he got erected several gates at the conference venue named Indian leaders.
Like Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Bose, etc.
Maulana Bhasani was the founder of the newspaper Ittefaq.
Earlier, they used to write, 'Founder: Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan (Bhasani)'.
When the editor, Manik Mian, took Sheikh Saheb's side and removed him, he began writing, 'Founder-Editor: Tofazzel Hossain (Manik Mian)'.
Now they're writing, 'Founder: Tofazzel Hossain (Manik Mian)'.
Humiliated constantly, Bhasani was forced to quit and form NAP -- National Awami Party.
Many of the leftists you see today in Awami League joined it at that time.
Since then, I became disgusted with Sheikh Saheb.
Since I didn't support his party, I was never involved in their movement.
I opposed particularly one thing. You know I believed in communism and also a Communist Party member for some time.
Lenin said revolution could not be imported. So I used to say, importing revolution from India wouldn't be fruitful.
So, I do not support your revolution.
You can seen its results now.
India had supported the secession of Bangladesh for two-three reasons.
One, to reduce the huge defence expecditure in this sector.
(Q) Do you think for the same reason they haven't occupied us either?
Yes, and we've seen how they looted and plundered when they had entered.
They looted all the factories.
Major Jalil was shocked to see this.
He ordered the liberation fighters under him to fire upon the Indian soldiers.
(Q) When was this?
(Q) Was it December 1972?
Probably a little later. Or maybe 1972.
Some Indian soldiers were killed.
And Sheikh Saheb got him arrested.
He was jailed for 14 years.
You can see how sincere was Sheikh Saheb towards his country!
Despite being the supreme leader of the country, he didn't even have the patriotism which Major Jalil had.
This makes clear that he was nothing but an Indian stooge.
(Q) When was Major Jalil released?
They were forced to release him. I don't remember after how many days.
Then he formed a party, JASAD.
For such reasons, I didn't even support Sheikh Saheb.
Anyway, then the country was divided.
(Q) But during the Pakistani regime, Sheikh Saheb used to talk about "independence" and Maulana Bhasani, too, demanded "autonomy".
(Q) You might not have supported Sheikh Saheb, but what did think about Bhasani's claim that West Pakistan was exploiting us?
In the Kanmari conference itself, Bhasani had warned the Pakistani authorities: either you change your ways or Good By.
But Sheikh Saheb and Ittefaq opposed him.
(Q) What did Sheikh Saheb say?
I don't remember his exact words, but he said Bhasani shouldn't have said that.
Here too, we can seen how subtle Sheikh Saheb was.
He was clever.
Then we got independence.
I continued my trade union work.
But did you think Bhasani was right?
As leftists, we supported him till the end.
(Q) Did you personally feel that West Pakistan was dominating the East?
We, too, have always said so. What Bhasani said was what we felt.
(Q) Did you have any bad incident with the Punjabis?
No, I didn't have any direct interaction with them.
(Q) Or did you face any discrimination in your job?
No, that was also not the case.
(Q) Did they have any tacit disrespect for you?
Personally, I didn't disrespect anybody and they, too, didn't disrespect me. But I certainly felt that there was a tacit disrespect among them towards Bengalis.
And I also protested that.
(Q) Do you remember any such incident?
One instance -- when Abul Mansur Ahmed was the industry minister of Pakistan, every year some students were sent abroad for higher study.
That year, 11 students were sent.
Abul Mansur was a Bengali from Mymensingh and a Bengali writer.
He was also founder-editor of the newspaper Ittehad.
Ten out of the 11 students he selected were Bengalis.
The secretary of his department objected.
He was Urdu-speaking.
I don't think any of the secretaries was a Bengali. Maybe one or two ...
The minister remained firm.
He said: so far, 10 out of 11 happened to be Urdu-speaking. Let it be the other way round this year.
The secretary complained to Pakistan Prime Minister Suhrawardy and sought his intervention.
Suhrawardy later advised Mansur not to raise such disputes.
(Q)But Suhrawardy didn't feel that the Bengalis deserved more?
That't the point. And still Bengalis respect him so much even today!
They've named so many parks, hospitals, etc., after him, but only one road after Bhasani.
They've forgotten what he was like!
Had he been alive, he would never support the creation of Bangladesh. He would've been a collaborator No. 1.
Bengalis had never had such a mentality.
(Q) You said sometimes you had arguments with your Urdu-speaking colleagues.
Yes, I used to tell them they were not doing the right thing.
(Q) Do you remember any occasion?
There were many of them. One died here.
One, named Fakhruddin, was awful.
(Q) Was he a Punjabi?
No, he was a Bihari.
He used to threaten everyone.
And used to taunt me saying, "You're Maulana Bhasani's man, I won't tell you anything."
"But I won't spare you if you don't mind your ways."
He used to threaten us since we supported Bangladesh.
(Q) Anyone else?
There was an officer.
He was a deputy director.
He was the chief of accounts.
He used to show us a list and say, "There's also your name in it. If I send take it to the cantonment they'll come and pick you up."
The war had already started then.
But Fakhruddin used to behave like that even before that.
The officer was more clever.
But he used to scold very much if one was late.
But at that time we didn't feel he was doing so because the latecomer was a Bengali.
Later we realised that he was communal.
He behaved particularly badly with the Hindus.
But there was another Bihari gentleman.
He was executive engineer.
The war had begun. A Hindu was coming to draw his salary. On the roof were Pakistani soldiers with machine guns.
Someone tipped them off that he was a Hindu.
They picked him up.
The Urdu-speaking Behari executive engineer rushed and got him released.
He gave him his salary and told him not to come to office anymore. His salary would be sent to his home.
So you seen the difference between two men of the same community.
There's good and bad among all.
But Fakhruddin was cunning and escaped. Otherwise he could've been killed.
Later we heard that he mingled with the Pak soldiers and got away.
He was arrested by the Indian army with them. When they were released, he went home.
(Q) How was your experience during the 1970 elections and the riots at Rawalpindi which spread to Dhaka?
From 1969, blockades started in offices, etc., at the call of Maulana Bhasani.
This agitation led to the liberation movement. The funny thing's that Bhasani united the people and Sheikh Saheb enjoyed the fruits.
(Q) Didn't you participate in the agitation?
No, I wan't into direct politics. I did trade union work.
I had to do hard work since I was at the top of the union.
I had to do everything.
But did you think the agitation was a good thing?
Since Maulana Bhasani wanted it, I also wanted it.
I just disliked Sheikh Saheb.
(Q) So you didn't vote him when Sheikh Saheb contested the 1970 elections?
No, we voted NAP.
(Q) Did NAP contest?
No, I decided not to. Probably I voted Sheikh Saheb then.
(Q) Was there any difference over supporting Sheikh Saheb in your family?
There was no difference between me and my two brothers. Only Kakali, the eldest daughter of the family, later joined Awami League.
(Q) Did you have arguments with her?
No, not quite. She's our daughter, after all.
(Q) Do you try to convince her about your views on Awami League?
Sometimes there are mutual disagreements among the siblings. Maybe Ghalib writes something and Kakali tries to change it to something else.
It's nothing serious.
(Q) Though Kakali is the eldest, she was too small to understand things at that time...
But then she grew up and formed her own opinion.
(Q) How was your experience when the disturbances began to break out?
(Q) Say, between 1969 and March 1971?
There was a grim atmosphere in Dhaka city. We were afraid to go out.
While coming to office we walked lokking towards the ground.
We disn't look around.
Lest the soldiers thought otherwise!
People had been arrested for spitting!
But during the one-month strike earlier before that, we walked boldly and didn't go to office. Instead, the Urdu-speaking ones were afraid.
99.9 per cent of the people were united.
(Q) How was your relationship then with the Urdu-speaking people in your office?
Before liberation, everybody valued one's job. No one went beyond that.
Did the Biharis in your office become particularly gentle with you in March, thinking that these people might come to power?
One or two, like Fakhruddin, still behaved badly.
(Q) Weren't they aftaid in March that the Bengalis might come to power?
Yes, to some extent.
Everyone avoided Fakhruddin.
They also avoided arguments in office.
Except some Urdu-speaking people.
They used to taunt us saying, "If you win, hair will grow on my palms."
So, there was no particular incident before the war?
Maybe some disputes. Nothing beyond that.
(Q) Can you recollect them?
Nothing in particular.
What was your experience after the war started?
We were absolutely cornered then.
Largely out of fear.
There were soldiers in every nook and corner.
We used to have some arguments with the Jamat-e-Islami people.
We had an accounts officer from Gopalganj.
He was arrested after liberation.
He would've been killed unless Razzak saw him while going that way.
He was Razzak's classmate. They were from the same place. Razzak was an Awami League leader.
He saved him.
He told the men to take him to the police station.
Razzak also called the police station.
(Q) Did you have debates with the Jamat people?
Yes, often. I particularly had debates with that officer.
They taunted me calling me a communist and I, too, said of course I was a communist.
Even the Awami League members saw me differently.
But I was very sincere in my duties.
I understood my job well and never came late.
Once I was sent to Narayanganj on deputation for six months.
I wasn't late even there. Or on strike days.
So they could sayd nothing against me.
Otherwise this officer would have done me harm.
This was before liberation.
(Q) Was the Communist Party banned then?
No, but they didn't like it, not even the Awami League people.
They taunted us in various ways.
(Q) After the war started, were you there when your house was attacked?
Yes, I was there.
(Q) Do you remember anythig about that?
My middle brother, who's no longer, used to supported the liberation was a bit too openly in his office. It was a mistake.
There were many Urdu-speaking officers.
They used to say, Bengalis who knew good Urdu were likely to be more treacherous.
My brother Bashir knew Urdu well. So, they provoked the soldiers to loot his house.
They came and knocked the door.
Though Bashir was nervous, I advised him to open the door.
He opened and they asked, "Who's Niyamal Bashir?"
I said, "He's Bashir."
"Were you in Karachi Radio?"
He said, "Yes."
"You're a traitor!"
He remained silent.
I was asking him to speak to them.
But he was too nervous.
Then they entered, hurling abuses.
They looked in every room.
May they were looking for weapons.
Then they left, taking away a pen and a watch.
Bashir said they would come again.
If I took his word seriously, we could have escaped.
He was right. They came back.
We didn't open the door. They broke a window pane and jutted a rifle in.
Kajari was sleeping right there.
We hid behid a wall.
But they'd shoot! So we had to open.
My other brother and his wife ran away to a neighbour's house. They were Urdu-speaking.
Kakali's mother was then at the hospital for delivery.
Only Bashir, my wife and I were there.
The children were too afraid to get up from their beds.
They made us stand facing the wall raising our hands.
Then they took my wife upstairs, forced her to open all the cabinets and took away all ornaments.
The soldier guarding us asked, "Whom did you vote?"
"Whis party do you support?" etc.
We said we didn't vote, our names were not on the voters' list.
Bashir was answering his questions in Urdu. I kept silent.
"Were you in the Muslim League or Awami League?" he asked again.
Bashir said we're not involved in any party since we were in government service.
When the others came down with their booty, this man told them, "He speaks good Urdu! He can't be bad."
My brother always got the first prize in Urdu elocution in the university.
His Urdu was flawless.
This man was convinced, but the others didn't listen.
Maybe it wasn't possible for them to return their booty.
They now took Bashir upstairs as my wife was not being able to open a cabinet.
I was locked up in the toilet.
Bashir was too nervous to remember where the key was.
Then my wife told them she'd a duplicate key.
They again brought her down to take it from our almirah.
It was in a secret chamber.
But there were many key and she couldn't tell which one would match.
They didn't let us switch on the lights. So they were lighting one after match-sticks to see the key.
But from inside the toilet, it seemed to me they're trying to set the house on fire!
However, at last she found it. They took her upstairs and gotit opened.
Then they locked up iBashir n the second-floor toilet.
"Where's your husband?" they asked my wife.
"He's gone to his native place," she said.
Actually they couln't make out our relationship.
"My mother-in-law is ill. So he's taken her home."
After they left, the biggest problem for her was to look after my other brother's baby, Murad.
He and his wife didn't return , the whole night and we thought they had been shot dead for breaking the curfew.
We didn't bolt the door the whole night.
So that they could enter without making noise.
In the morning they returned.
Our neighbour was a good man.
But there were a wicked man in the next building. We heard he had spotted our house.
(Q) Bashir Chacha was telling me that the informant had later gone mad...
I don't know about that.
(Q) Did you have any experience during the Language Movement?
1952 Bengali Language Movement
I was in service when the Language Movement took place.
I lived in a mess at Bakshi Bazar.
Bashir stayed in a hostel of Jagannath College.
None of us had married then.
He studied in the university.