While memory serves


first_imgIf I remember correctly, it was Thursday, March 25, 1971. My M.A (History) final exam was round the corner. We in India then had the audible, omnipresent, omniscient and ubiquitous “All India Radio” but no electronic visuals. Hence hearing the evening radio “news” and reading morning newspaper was my childhood “addiction”, exam or no exam. My father – an extraordinary scholar of income tax law, English, Bengali & Sanskrit languages, with expertise in Mathematics, Astrology and Economics, and a senior civil servant of the government of India, was born in, and hailed from, 2 Toynbee Circular Road, Tikatuli, Dhaka (then India, in 1917) and was not the type to disturb his son for radio “news” in the exam season. That day, I too, seem to have something else in mind for emperor Ashoka and Buddhism as a possible question for my paper. Also Read – A special kind of bondNevertheless, there suddenly came a stentorian voice from our C-II 17 Wellesley Road, New Delhi-110003 “radio room”. “Come immediately” was the two-word command. Usually serene, serious yet ever-smiling, he suddenly lit upon hearing the All India Radio news that the charismatic Bengali leader, widely respected and revered as “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman” had given a clarion call to the people of (then) East Pakistan, firing the first salvo at the West Pakistani Punjabi-speaking military junta, from Dhaka’s Ramna Maidan: “Aamago share shaat koti zanagan re tomra dabayya raakhte parbaanaa” (You oppressive rulers, you will never be able to suppress us seven and half crore Bangali people). We instantly felt the electrifying effect and potential tremor, almost after 24 years of the Partition days, in the “radio room” of the Hindu Bengali refugee in Lutyen’s zone of New Delhi. Also Read – Insider threat managementThereafter, things moved at high speed. Owing to his professionalism, probity and spotless past, my father was one of the two Bengali speaking senior civil servants whose residence was identified by the Government of India as an “informal meeting point”, should the need arise in future. My M.A exam ended on Saturday, May 15, 1971, and results were out on Monday, July 05, 1971. I was happy with my result, but was happier owing to the fast unfolding scenario of possible emancipation of an enlightened and inherently simple Bengali-speaking people in a geography which is so dear to our heart, mind and thought owing to shared history, culture, language and tradition. Soon, however, came Wednesday, August 18, 1971, the ‘appointed date’ of an “informal meeting”, closely coordinated by Shri Ashok Ray, then Joint Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs, and other organisations of the state. Commencing at 5:30 pm. and ending around midnight, it was a gala party; a reunion of sorts, high on emotions, love, tears of joy, passion, fraternity, feasting. A gathering of 150 people of whom at least 80 were from the land of Bangabandhu, including the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh Tajuddin Ahmed. The best (and most surprising) part of the gathering emerged from the fact that despite Ahmad being eight years younger to my father, they knew each other very well. It was an incredibly sensational scene. Also, half of the guests had escaped, God only knew how from the army junta’s clutches; and at least two families had driven down in their “Made in Japan” Nissan and Toyota cars which were a rare commodity in India of 1971. Some of us were mighty impressed. As we were then used to Ambassador of Calcutta; Fiat of Bombay; Standard Herald of Madras; watch of HMT; steel of Tata; and shoes from Bata. All “Made in India”. Indigenous. Not imported. The outcome of the meeting was essentially a commitment to do everything necessary. The government and the people of India were one with the Bengalis under Bangabandhu. All present in the meeting had the same goal, in different ways, irrespective of their nationality and ethnicity. I vividly recall the spontaneous, repeated and vociferous slogan “Joy Bangla”, reverberating through the hot, humid night of that 1971 “August day”. Two more meetings subsequently took place in two different places in Delhi, which I could not attend owing to my preparation for competitive examinations. As things were heating up, I travelled to spend the winter with my maternal aunts in Asansol and Calcutta. My stay in Asansol lasted five days as war broke out on Friday, December 03, 1971. I took a train the next day, December 4, for Calcutta. The three-hour journey was an experience by itself as the train moved with all “lights off” in the “chair car”. Howrah station was pitch dark but packed with passengers, police, and personnel of railways. Home guards were extra vigilant, navigating all and sundry, and the half an hour road to Alipore residence of aunt turned out like a two-hour air journey from Delhi to Kolkata, as I reached at 11 pm. The following day dawned with my frantic attempt to catch up with Major General Bishwa Nath Sirkar (whom I had known before) in Fort William, Headquarters of the Eastern Army Command. Major General Sirkar, a Second World War veteran, saw action on several fronts, was an armoured corps officer par excellence (belonging to Central India Horse). Being strict disciplinarian, with frugal habits and exemplary probity, he never sought publicity and was never flashy. The Major General was handpicked overnight (rather plucked) by Army Chief Sam Manekshaw and transferred from the post of Military Secretary (in Army Headquarters, New Delhi) to a newly created post in the Eastern Command Calcutta, exclusively for cooperation with the Mukti Bahini. Consequently, whereas world today knows who did what in 1971, hardly anyone can either remember or recall his invaluable contribution in the liberation movement of Bengalis in the east and role played in actual combat of the 14-day war. After the 1971 war, Sirkar became Lieutenant General but resigned after a serious difference of opinion with then Defence Minister of India. He had several years of service left at the time of his premature departure. I remain eternally grateful to that great soldier and noble soul for helping me to “see the front” for two days after Sunday, December 12, 1971, when the writings were already on the wall. After a resounding firing to deter me from “seeing is believing”, the gentleman in the General relented and “put me on” to II Corps operating from Krishnanagar. The rest, as they say, is history. At the age of 23 years, I had a remarkable, unforgettable side view of the moving procession of history, resulting in the crumbling of old (dis)order and the birth of a new nation, not in the distant horizon but in our vicinity. Between 1947 and 1971 came alive two nations: the first under bondage, second as an uncaged bird with the unrestricted horizon of thought and action as its domain. (The writer is an alumnus of National Defence College and author of ‘China in India’. The views expressed are strictly personal)last_img

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