Series Novel : The Afternoon of the Seventh of March : Selina Hossain

Translated by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam

Serial : 19

uerrilla warfare? What’s that?”

“To fight from a distance, hiding oneself, not any face-to-face battle.”

“I’ll also join the guerrilla fight.”

“Yes, of course, you will. Everyone of the country should join the war against Pakistan. Haven’t you heard what Bangabandhu has said? He said Turn each and every house into a fort?”

“Yes, I have. My house will also be a fort.”

Ashraf warmly grabs Fozor Ali’s hand. Both of them notice lots of crows flying above their heads, cawing uninterruptedly, turning the city chaotic. Looking up, Ashraf keeps his eye on the crows in the sky. Pakistani army have turned the city as if it belonged to crows, whereas the streets were brimming in hundreds of people until yesterday. People torched Pakistani flag, burnt Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s effigy. During the noncooperation movement, Sabiha had shouted slogans on the streets. If today she were beside him, she’d sure sing aloud to break this awful silence—Ashraf thinks. She’s such a brave girl she can’t stand this kind of unbearable silence.

Fozor Ali tries to hold him back, “Bhai, please go back to your mess.”

“I must see the condition of the streets,” Ashraf doesn’t want to bend.

“You can’t go anywhere, then why do you move on?”

“I know that, but I have to see how the Pakistani army have drowned the city into a debris, torching houses, declaring curfews. Today we’re incarcerated at home, but the curfew will be lifted tomorrow.”

Standing behind a shop at the end of the alley, Ashraf and Fozor Ali can see a few dead bodies lying on the street. In pain, Ashraf puts his hand on the chest. He feels as though Sabiha were flaring up in rage. A machinegun in front of her, she’s shouting We’ll kill them like ants too. Not a single soldier shall return alive. Ashraf’s body shakes as he imagines this.

“Do you love someone, Ashraf bhai?” asks Fozor Ali, turning to him.

“Yes, I do,” Ashraf nods.

“Where’s she now?”

“With her parents at the village home. All of a sudden, why this question, Fozor bhai?”

“The way your hands shook suggests you were imagining someone special, not parents or siblings. I thought she must be your beloved.”

“My goodness, you figure this out too!”

“Why not? Once I loved a girl but our relationship didn’t see the light of day. She committed suicide as her parents wanted to marry her off to someone else.”

“Why did she commit suicide? Couldn’t she elope?”

“Confined in a room, she wasn’t allowed to go out.”

Ashraf hugs Fozor Ali. Wiping tears, Fozor Ali says, “I haven’t looked at any other girl after losing Jorina, and tried to convince myself she was the first and the last woman in my life. Now forty three, I’m ready to join the war with you.”

Ashraf becomes a bit emotional and says, “Sabiha will also join the war with us. I haven’t seen her in this quiet city for long, but she’s always with us to fight. No one can hold her up at home. Grabbing your hand, I can feel Sabiha, Fozor bhai.”

“Let’s get into the room.”

They go back to the room when others were talking of Bangabandhu’s speech of the 7th of March, sometimes quoting a line or two from the speech. Some of them were humming as though those lines were notes of a song engraved in their hearts. Getting into the room, Ashraf shouts, “Bangabandhu, move ahead. We’re with you.” Closing the door and leaning against it, Fozor Ali asserts, “Out of everything, our independence is the last word.” Biplob stands up and gives out a shout, “Independence, independence.” The sound of slogans reverberates in the room. Together they raise their hands as though taking oath and can hear Bangabandhu’s words, “The history of Bengal is the history of rinsing streets with people’s blood.”

“Let’s shout out slogans in the alley,” Nayan proposes.

“No,” Fozor Ali forbids, spreading his hands wide, “please don’t get onto the street. They’ll shoot you and we shouldn’t turn this area vulnerable.”

“Fozor bhai is right.”

“Fozor bhai has become our good friend.”

“Not merely a friend, but friend in the war too.”

They laugh out loud. Fozor Ali works as a guard, but he’s a wonderful man. We rarely find this kind of man who’s sacrificing a lot for love. “You’re also a warrior in love, Fozor bhai,” Ashraf adds, laughing.

“Fate, my fate,” Fozor Ali reacts, stroking his forehead with both hands. Others keep talking about this.

“What’s the war in love? We don’t know anything about this.”

Keeping his hands on the chest, Fozor Ali says, “It’s the war within the heart, the war of tears—not a matter of knowing only. I need to leave; the landlord will look for me.”

Opening the door, Fozor Ali goes away, others looking at him. After two houses stands the one he works in. He gets into the house where he has a little space in this vast world. As soon as Fozor Ali leaves, Nayan asks first, “What about his love affair? Tell us, Ashraf.”

“He didn’t win his love.”

“That’s what I get, but what’s the story?”

“As her parents forced her to marry someone else other than Fozor Ali, she committed suicide.”

“Suicide!”

“Fozor Ali couldn’t stand her death, and since then he began to pay the debt of her love for him—he has neither loved nor married anyone else. He’s leading absolutely a lonely life.”

“A memorable life in the sands of memories,” says Biplob, giving a loud laugh.

“Don’t laugh. I respect Fozor bhai. I don’t know how much he studied, but it seems he’s educated. He speaks well and logically and can understand the situation quickly.”

“You’re right. And how sincere he is too! Look how earnestly he offered us watery rice. We might remain unfed otherwise.”

“Oh, stop, all of you! Don’t speak too much.”

“Now we need to think about how we should prepare for the war.”

As they sit on the mat together, Ashraf says, “I’m wondering gradually we’ll go to the area, I mean the coastal area, where Sabiha lives. I know not only Sabiha but Bula, Chandana, and some others, who participated in the noncooperation movement, live there. It’ll be easy for us to communicate with them. And then we’ll receive training there. After the training, we’ll launch different operation and attack Pakistani camps. They’ll be fighting around the country, but we shouldn’t go into hiding.”

“You’re right. I agree with you.”

“We too. We know Sabiha will wait at her home for Ashraf. She’ll die if she can’t join the war―moreover, we need her strength during the war.”

With a louder voice, Ashraf says, “We don’t know where we’ll stay, but we all must fight. Women should also come out to join the war.”

“In these critical times of the country, why will they be staying home? Even they won’t be happy.”

“As soon as the curfew is lifted, we’ll start leaving Dhaka.”

“First we’ll go to Barishal by launch and then somewhere else.”

“Not anywhere else, our place is Amtoli, Barishal, where we’ll gather.”

“Why Amtoli?”

“My maternal brother Hasibur, an EPR member, lives there―we’ll receive training from him.”

“Oh, EPR?” Nayan lets out a long sigh.

“Stop, Nayan. We know about them, but it’s not time to mourn.”

“Let me weep for him, as he was my closest friend,” Nayan says, wiping tears. “They psychologically participated in the noncooperation movement. We can never forget their role.”

Nayan gives a loud cry again.

Everyone remains silent for quite long. At some point, Ashraf says, “We’re making movements on the street, whereas remaining under control of Pakistani forces, EPR helped Bangladesh—from the perspective of armed struggle, they stood up for the movement.”

“You’re absolutely right. We all know this.”

Biplob also wipes his tears.

“To unarm EPR forces, 22 Baloch were sent to Pilkhana.”

“I can’t forget what happened on 23 March,” Nayan wipes tears, while saying this. “On the Pakistan Day, we all hoisted Bangladesh flag everywhere around the country. How brave the Bengali EPR soldiers became that day! Under Lance Naik Bashar’s leadership, they hoisted Bangladesh flag at the Parade Ground of Pilkhana.”

Nayan is still weeping, now almost uncontrollably. When he stops, Ashraf informs, “In the flag was written in Urdu Pashchimara avi Bangla chorhke vaag jao, nehi to edhari toum logoko kobor banayega, meaning West Pakistanis, leave Bengal now, or else we’ll bury you all here.”

“Standing before firearms, they wrote all this that day, which is why our slogan is ‘heroic Bengalis, take up arms, free Bangladesh’.” Everyone begins to chant the slogan, as if softly singing a song. The room―its door and windows closed—is still dark, because sunlight hasn’t yet reached, but their voice has sparkled the four walls. Ashraf imagines Sabiha in the room, preparing to sing a bit later “Durgomo giri kantar moru—Unreachable mountains, vast deserts.” No sooner does he feel her than a waft of cold breeze blows within him, as though the surroundings have turned pleasant. Excited, he glances at everyone as if to say Love and war go hand in hand.

Then Biplob informs, “Just two days ago, the EPR forces were unarmed. We don’t know what has happened to them.”

Nayan began to weep yet again, “I don’t know what fate Lance Naik Bashar has succumbed to, but can realize they won’t leave him alive—Bangladesh flag was hoisted under his leadership.”

“The last night was menacing—they started killing the Bengalis, torched houses, and what not. We can figure out right only after the curfew.”

“We have only one night more before us.”

“A day is passing from us too.”

“Why not? Time never waits for anyone.”

“Does the war have day or night, then?”

“Indeed, it does.”

“They began in the dark of the night.”

“We’ll break their necks at daylight, wipe them away from the land of Bengal.”

“We won’t leave a stone unturned to teach them a lesson,” Ashraf says in a bit louder voice. “We have the most valiant leader like Bangabandhu, whom millions of people around the country hold in their hearts. The speech of the seventh of March at the Racecourse ground was so powerful that no one can stay home and lag behind after hearing the words.”

“Stop, Ashraf, stop,” shrieks out Arif, terrified.

“What’s happened?”

“How is Bangabandhu? Let’s go to House 32.”

“Could Bangabandhu leave the house?”

“He’s not the man to flee away. Indeed, he has declared independence of Bangladesh.”

“But we don’t know what’s happened after that.”

All of a sudden, everyone gets silent—the atmosphere turns heavy because of pin-drop silence. No one even looks at each other. At this point, Ashraf lisps, “We don’t know anything else.”

“Can we move forward to House 32 through alleys?”

Everyone is startled at Nayan’s offer. “The soldiers are patrolling,” says Arif, “we can hear cars honking.”

Now Ashraf raises his hands, keeps them on his chest, and says, “They’re certainly guarding Bangabandhu’s house. There must be tanks there too.”

“That’s right. The Road 32 is perilous for them, so they’ll try to deploy a big platoon of army in front of the house.”

Again, they become silent.

Ashraf says once more, “Besides Bangabandhu, other family members are also staying in the house.”

“We can’t come to a conclusion about all this. We should rather chalk out plan for the war.”

“I’ve decided to send Nayan to take Sabiha from home. I’ll write a letter so she comes with him. She’ll be in the camp fixed for women.”

“Yes, I know her house, so I’ll go take her along. If we don’t communicate . . .”

Ashraf gives out a loud laugh.

“If we don’t communicate, she’ll die out of frustration.”

“It’s true she can never think of staying home during the war.”

“If she weren’t home,” says Badal, laughing, “we’d now take her from Rokeya Hall and arrange her marriage with Ashraf.”

Before anyone saying anything else, someone knocks at the door. “Who might there be?” asks Badal, whispering. Then the sound of knock gets louder. “It might be Fozor bhai,” Ashraf guesses.

As soon as Monir opens the door, Fozor Ali storms into the room, an unknown man with him. Closing the door, he stands against the wall and introduces the man as Abdul Gani, his cousin. “He could safely come here from Rajarbag Police Lines,” Fozor Ali confirms.

Stretching two hands, Ashraf holds him and tells him to sit.

Immediately, Abdul Gani sits down. Taking a look at his face, everyone can realize he hasn’t come here empty handed; something must have happened at Rajarbag Police Lines. But it’s not wise to ask him anything right this moment. He needs time. “Take rest for some time, Gani bhai,” offers Monir.

“I’ll drink some water,” Gani says.

Pouring water from a pitcher, Badal gives him a glass of water. Without delay, he drinks the full water, and taking a long breath, he says in a choked voice, “I’ll tell you what’s happened at Police Lines, but please give me some time.”

Selina Hossain : Fictionist in Bangla Literature

Mohammad Shafiqul Islam : poet, translator and academic, teaches English as Associate Professor in the Department of English at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet 3114, Bangladesh

Illustration : Najib Tareque

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