When you are a non-resident Bangladeshi living ten thousand miles away from where you were originally born, you are most torn between being yourself and being the one you once signed up for. So, anything worrying happening in Bangladesh triggers an extra nerve pain. You shudder and then call “home”. The first phone call that we received post-execution of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury was from a brother living abroad: “Are you all ok? What about hartals? Reactions? Vandalism? Violence?” It took us a while to calm him and tell him that we were all fine and all was well with the world and that nothing would ever go wrong again, like before and that the whole nation had stood in silence, seeped in memory, watching the news till about 1:00 am of November 20, 2015. Many tweeted, failing the Facebooking option. Many placed regular calls to loved ones in place of Viber and WhatsApp. Many even blogged. I just tweeted and rested.
At around noon on the 22nd, a bright young lady, in response to my tweet, wrote: “Where has all your compassion gone?” To make things even harder for me, she quoted another tweet from an acquaintance that read, “Hate cannot drive love.” I stopped for a minute and wondered if I should explain to the young lady that I had lived through 1971 as a young kid and had watched friends, brothers, fathers, cousins leave for war never to return. On November 20, 2015, at a lunch, amongst friends, Shimul Yusuf, the actor, breathed heavily and said, “Yesterday was a long night for me. I was awake the whole time.” When asked, she pointed to her sister (wife of late Altaf Mahmud) and said, “We are waiting.” Needless to say, that many like Shimul, Nasiruddin Yusuf Bacchu and their sister, have waited a long time for the 22nd to happen. For many like them, it was the longest wait ever.
For the brother who had called from abroad, instead of explaining the local situation, I ended up expressing my sympathies to him about the multiple trips he would have to make in the next couple of months from New York to various cities in Europe. Securities in those cities were super heightened and opening and reopening bags, belts, laptop cases, iPads, and jackets were serious hassles. Carrying a Muslim name lately has been raising alarms for many of them leading some to even slightly alter their names to anglicised tangents. The terrorists have just made life difficult for Muslims instead of making their point.
For the brilliant young woman who ended up questioning me on my compassion, I ended up sharing with her that I had no regrets, no remorse of having written: “Done, SQC. Done, Mujahid.” I ended up sharing with her that the portrait of Rumi, hanging in the living room of late Jahanara Imam, at her Elephant Road residence opposite the Aero plane Mosque, with a quote from Jibananda Das, “Abar Ashibo phirey ei Banglay” (I will return to Bengal again) haunts me till date. As much as I currently appreciate these young people not carrying any burden of the history of blood, and for moving on as fast as they can, for their own lives and livelihood, I, for one, cannot betray the emotion of a seven-year-old, who watched war from the lens of a full grown adult, changing three houses in nine months, and living on potatoes and toast biscuits.
For Shimul Yusuf, silently I only had memories to share. I had ridden on her husband, Bacchu bhai’s shoulder, wearing a black and white dotted frock, singing: “Moder gorob, moder asha, amori bangla bhasha.” (Our pride and hope, Bangla language will live forever). For the rest present in the lunch, including Minu Billah, a freedom fighter herself, I had the same old feeling, in unison, charting all their hopes and history through the execution of the verdicts.
The same night, a private television channel was quick to air a few bytes from SQ Chowdhury where he had said: “I am proud to be the son of Fazlul Quader Chowdhury and yes, he did not believe in the independence of Bangladesh.” That byte was, perhaps, the last reminding nail in the coffin for many of us. That one could deny Bangladesh, defy 1971 and still be a minister in the free soil of this country, and that collaborators, killers, conspirators, from time to time, have taken turns and have all ridden in high might, hoisted our national flag in their cars and have enjoyed heights in this land of ours, stand as a mark of shame that we ourselves have to bear and remedy.
So, to our children, the message stands clear. Memories are to be passed on to you. What we have seen and gone through must not trouble you but they must all become a part of you. Whether you question the trial, the proceedings, or the witnesses is for you to judge, but it is also upon us to share with you tales of our nights of watching shells killing our neighbours, of our homes turning into ashes, just because ugly birds flying up in the skies had decided to kill us all. Since there cannot be any refuge from memory, live partly through us and decide whether it is ever worth siding with those who have today surfaced as post-modern apologists for brutality.