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

Translated by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam

Serial : 20

“Yes, of course. Take rest for some time.

As Abdul Gani lies down, they go out, shutting the door behind. Instead of strolling around, they sit down under a large tree close by.

“Fozor bhai, do you know anything?” asks Ashraf.

“Many things happened at Police Lines. The heroic Bengalis have taken arms in their hands. Listen to Gani when he wakes up. Facing the mayhem, he left Police Lines.”

“Maybe many people have died,” Monir mutters.

Fozor Ali raises his head and cuts in, “You can’t say they’ve died, they’ve become martyrs—they’re the sons of independence.”

“O Fozor bhai!” Ashraf hugs him.

“This way I see everything that happens around me.”

“You’re absolutely a different kind of man.”

“Let me tell you something—I’ll fight for the country. And if I’m martyred, after the independence of the country, you’ll announce by the Bishkhali river Jorina, your Fozor Ali recalled you while fighting for independence of the country. Fozor Ali loves you as a heroic woman. Fozor Ali’s love for you.”

Fozor Ali wipes his tears as he finishes his words. Grasping his hands, Ashraf says, “I haven’t seen any lover like you. You’re a heroic fighter before us”

Fozor Ali breathes a long sigh and mutters, “My war is everywhere. War is my love.”

All of them take a look at Fozor Ali who lowers his head down, and they take their look away. Dry leaves fall, dust makes a small whirl. The sun has turned scorched as it’s the month of Chaitra.

They can see some people coming out from different houses, peeping out from the streets to watch the convoys of army patrolling. Looking around, Fozor Ali says, “Let’s get inside, see what Gani is doing—maybe he’s awake now.”

“Let’s go. We can come to know many things from Gani bhai.”

“Who are you?” asks someone, coming forward from the street. “I haven’t seen you in this area before.”

“Don’t you know me? Haven’t you noticed where I work?”

“Yes, I know you.”

“Then why are you asking about them? They are my close relatives.”

“I’m curious as times are bad.”

“Why do you say times aren’t good?”

“Pakistani army have been killing people and torching houses since yesterday. That’s why…”

“Haven’t you listened to Bangabandhu’s seventh March speech?”

“Yes, I have listened to him sitting on the Suhrawardy ground that day.”

“Then why do you say times are bad? It’s high time to go to war; this is an opportune time for us.”

“Yes, I know that. I can still recall You have to fight against enemies with whatever you have.”

“What do we have? What shall we fight with against the enemies?”

“We have to collect arms.”

“Don’t forget that we have a dream for independence, we have patriotism, courage, and we’re heroic Bengalis.”

“Bravo! I can’t think like you. I didn’t know you studied at the University of Dhaka.”

“I haven’t studied at any university, just passed SSC from a village school. I’ve studied on my own, learnt from others. I’ve changed dialect too so people don’t consider me uncivilized.”

“Have you forgotten your dialect too?”

“Not at all. While at home, I speak in my rural language.”

“Baba, you’re a…”

“Enough, you don’t need to say more. While returning from Ramna Racecourse ground on seventh March, I thought Bangabandhu is my master. If I ever get an opportunity, I’ll show him respect touching his feet and say ‘Sir, I’ll never forget the knowledge you’ve bestowed upon me. This is very valuable knowledge for any human being’.”

Everyone puts their hands together. When they take a look at their mess, they can see Abdul Gani standing by the door, so they walk hurriedly towards him. They almost surround Gani and get into the room. A rat flees away from under the cot, lizards run on the wall. Ashraf asks, “How are you, Gani bhai?”

“Now I’m absolutely fine. As I couldn’t sleep the whole night, I felt tired, but the way we fought against Pakistani army was just the initial phase of independence. In the coming day, we have to work hard. From Bangabandhu, we’ve received a signal of independence movement.”

“Let’s get inside, everyone.”

Ashraf shuts the door, entering the room on hurried feet and says, “Now we’ll listen to Gani bhai how they put up resistance. Indeed they’ve done a tremendous job.”

“I’m going to arrange food for lunch. The kitchen is empty; we can’t manage anything but pulses and potato pastes.”

“In these times this is the best food, Fozor bhai. You don’t need to worry at all.”

As Fozor Ali leaves, they shut the door again. Now Monir offers Abdul Gani a glass of water. All of them sitting on the mat are taking a curious look at him, as he’ll start talking after drinking the water.

“I returned to Rajarbagh Police Lines at around 9:15 on 25 March,” Gani starts. “As I didn’t have my duty after 2 pm that day, having lunch, I went to Dhaka University premises after 5 pm. The whole area—Ramna, Shahbagh, and TSC—was reverberating with slogans that I also joined in. I felt so happy that I didn’t put on a uniform. With ordinary dresses on and Bangabandhu’s speech in heart, I joined common people. In my mind’s eyes appeared Bangabandhu standing in the Racecourse ground with his head held as high as the sky. I lived on the third floor of the sixth barrack of Police Lines. The ground floor of the building was an armoury of Dhaka district police. In front of it was a vast field, and in another side there was a pond having clean water, the scene that soothed our eyes. The pond seemed to be a river I’d seen in my childhood.”

As Abdul Gani stops here, Monir gives him another glass of water.

“I’m feeling very thirsty as I’ve walked from Rajarbagh to Kalabagan.”

“Not only for that, but for excitement, spirit of resistance, initial days of the war, and so forth as well—all these have consumed you. Could you stop talking for a while?”

“No, no, let me continue. I’m excited to tell you everything; besides, co-fighters will understand the situation of the crucial times of the war.”

Everyone’s face turns bright in an air of happiness.

“The night of 25 March is a black night that I can never forget in my life. We were getting a hint that the situation in the city might have worsened, but couldn’t understand anything, were only feeling restless. It was coming to our minds again and again that something was going to happen. To calm myself down, I walked to canteen to eat something. As soon as I started, electricity was gone; my heart throbbed. Instantly, waiters lighted torches so we could continue. Everyone in the canteen was speechless. We all were worried at the thought that something might happen. None of us could eat properly.”

Abdul Gani stops and remains silent for a while. Others keeps silent as well, waiting for him to start again. All of them think he’ll start again soon. Now he looks around the room, pushes fingers into his hairs and twitches, and then looking straight at Ashraf’s face, he starts again, “I wondered if power-cut happened only in Police Lines or around adjacent areas too. To check, I went up to the 3rd floor; there was no high-rise building nearby. As there was no electricity anywhere, the whole city seemed to have sunk down into a dark den. In fear and tension, I ran to the telephone office but found that the telephone line had been disconnected too. I felt extremely sad. Angry too. Then I went to the bank of the pond. In darkness, water was not looking clean. Still I couldn’t look away. I was getting furious, my head was spinning. After coming back from processions, I experienced all this, so my anger was mounting up.”

Abdul Gani takes a breath in. Monir gives him another glass of water that he drinks and puts the glass down on the floor. All others get restless keeping their eyes on him. They think he’s telling all this only to control himself, but they want that he describes quickly what happened that night. But Abdul Gani isn’t doing that. Getting a few people listening to him with rapt attention, he’s expressing everything he has in his mind. After some time, he begins, “I wait by the pond quite a long while. I was feeling restless and scared, because there was no electricity in the area and telephone line was disconnected too. Then I went to the Wireless office; the surroundings were dead silent, no one was to be found anywhere. As soon as I stood by the workshop, I could see a motorbike screeching forward through gate number one. Its light dazzled my eyes. I couldn’t recognize him; nothing was clear in a play of light and darkness. He told me Pakistani army would launch an attack upon us at night. Bangabandhu gave a direction to the police to put up resistance, and the news must be reached to them immediately. Just saying this, when he began to move, I ran towards him to ask, ‘Who are you? Give your introduction so I can tell others about you’. He said, ‘I’m Sheikh Kamal’. Instantly my body trembled. I saw the motorbike going away, while checking time. It was 10 pm. I felt very excited and was shaking incessantly. Waiting for a while, I somehow controlled myself, and then ran and shouted ‘magazine guard, magazine guard’. I went to the sixth barrack, and finding a sentry, hugged him. Astounded, he asked me, “What has happened to you? Instead of telling him about the attack of Pakistani army, I asked him, ‘Where’s the havildar guard?’ He nodded his head and said, ‘I don’t know. What’s happened to you? Why are you trembling?’ Instead of responding to him, I went upstairs, 2nd floor, and then 3rd floor. I convey Bangabandhu’s message to all I met, and then thought it wouldn’t be possible to convey this to everyone individually. How many people could I reach this way? Rather I have to take a special measure, I thought.”

Abdul Gani stops yet again, looks around, and shakes his head as if he was trying to figure out the way of the war. He witnessed havoc of the war as well as resistance just last night. He’s trying to cope up with the war situation; war is going on both inside and outside. Ashraf mutters, “Brain and body—now he’s in the war of the two.”

Abdul Gani resumes, “That moment the alarm siren appeared before my eyes, and I thought I could bring all together with that. On quick steps, I paced up to the armoury where the siren was hanging with a pillar. If the siren rings, all the policemen are bound to appear before the guard of honour—they must come from wherever they stay. This is the rule. I decided to convey Bangabandhu’s message to people this way. Gathering courage, as soon as I began to ring the siren, all the policemen ran to the guard of honour. Then entrusting a sentry with ringing the siren, I ran to bring the key of the armoury. The word ‘attack’ creates a storm in my inner world. We won’t leave the enemies without giving a lesson. The Bengalis won’t surrender before their arms. Victory to Bengal—with all force, I shouted this slogan. Racecourse ground floated before my eyes as if Bangabandhu stood at the top of the Police Lines. A flurry of slogans erupted—Above everything else / Freedom of Bangladesh. Pindi or Dhaka / Dhaka, Dhaka.”

“While the siren was still ringing, my head was burning in fury. The armoury was locked, whereas everyone gathered before the guard of honour hearing the siren ringing. Then I told the sentry to break the lock because I didn’t have its key with me, but we needed arms. Shooting at it and then beating it with a shovel, we broke the lock. On the other side, all were shouting slogans, heroic Bengalis, take up arms. I entered the armoury. Three-knot-three rifles and bullets were arranged there in rows. Grabbing arms, all the policemen stood there in heroic postures. I also took up arms and got out of the room and could see the other armoury open too. The police were shouting, ‘Give us arms, give us arms; we have to resist them and give them a good lesson’.

All the policemen stormed into the armoury and fished out rifles and bullets in a while. At one stage when fire was flaring up in one corner, everyone went forward and began to open fire.

Until then Pakistani army couldn’t enter the premises of Police Lines; they were attacking from outside. That means everyone in Police Lines was prepared to put up resistance. The alarm siren stopped ringing. I took position near the garage.

At around 12 am, they launched attack again, shooting from the Police Lines hospital gate. We responded by opening fire too. We didn’t step back from using all the bullets and arms taken out from the armoury. As we all took position around the police reserve office, they hurled light bombs and petrol bombs at the tin-shed barrack on the north of reserve office. At the sudden incident, a few policemen were severely burnt, whereas many others were wounded and fell down unconscious. As flames spread around rapidly, the whole barrack was torched. Many of us went up the roof from where we opened fire at them too.

We could hear them shouting through microphone ‘Tomlog surrender koro, haatiar de deo, nahito khotom kor dionga, tama ho jayoga’—‘All of you guys, surrender to us, submit your arms, or else we’ll kill you, and you’ll be destroyed.’

Disregarding their announcement, we continued shooting at them heart and soul, but we didn’t have any way out at the end, because we ran short of bullets—at one point we had to stop. There was no way to bring bullets from the armoury.

Later I could see Pakistani army inside the barrack. Upon the decision not to surrender to them, we went away to wherever we could. Just before dawn, I went out from Police Lines, and then secretly walked to Fozor bhai.”

“Where will you go now?”

“I’m from Jamalpur, the district which shares border with India—on the other side is Mahendraganj. I’ll observe the situation closely and then take next steps. For the sake of war, I’ll cross border if necessary, but we have to wait to know what steps will be taken after Bangabandhu’s declaration of independence.”

“That’s right. We’ll also go to the village. Training first, and then war.”

Abdul Gani handshakes with everyone.

“Please stay with us, Gani bhai,” asks Ashraf. “You’ll train us for war.”

“That’s a great idea. I can conduct a training.”

Delighted, everyone raises their fists, and then as someone knocks at the door, Monir opens it—Fozor Ali enters the room with a pot of rice. Biplob extends his hand, “Please give it to me. Why have you brought it alone? You could call me.”

“Please, one of you come with me to bring pulses and potato paste.”

Ashraf rises to accompany Fozor Ali, while others wash plates and pour water onto glasses from a pitcher. If curfew is lifted, they will take to streets, so it’s important to make plans today—where to go and how to advance, and so on. Taking out rice from the pot, Biplob serves it in plates, feeling extremely hungry. Three of them have come to Monir, but they’d fall in troubles about food if Fozor Ali were not here. Handing a fistful from his plate, Biplob begins to eat rice. Others give a laugh and say, “What’s up, friend?”

“What else? I’m hungry, that’s it.”

“War days are approaching fast.”

“What’s the connection between that and being hungry?”

“Yes, you must be hungry, but we shouldn’t make an expression for what we’re eating.”

“We know that; you shouldn’t offer advice.”

In the meantime as Fozor Ali and Ashraf come back, they start eating together. As they finish, Ashraf thinks the times are really deep for all of them, and they have to remember these significant days throughout their whole life. Tonight he’ll write a letter to Sabiha and send it through Nayan as he knows her village home. Besides, she’s well known in her locality, especially because of her study at Dhaka University as well as her great quality of singing; she can awaken people through her songs.

“Hello, what are you thinking?” Monir pushes him with his left elbow.

“I’m thinking about writing a letter to Sabiha.”

“Love letter?”

“Yes, love letter. If love is missing in war, it’s difficult to win.”

“My goodness! Bravo!”

One by one they make different sounds that echo and get intense inside four walls. With a smile, Abdul Gani emits, “We’ve indeed shown them that we can resist too—now they’ll realize.”

“We’ll make them realize by any means,” they utter in unison.

“In our inner world we carry weapons of Bangabandhu’s words. We couldn’t learn the whole speech by heart, but the sharpened words sparkle like lightning.”

“You’re right, we also think alike.”

They spin blank plates above their heads, and at some point think they’ve spent enough time.

6

A month has gone by.

Sabiha feels agitated within herself. Moreover, she didn’t know any recent information about Ashraf. She’s confused if she’ll go to war alone or wait.

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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