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

Translated from Bangla by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam

Serial : 23

Now Taslim sits by the river, putting his head on the knees, thinking there’ll be a high tide in the river—will then Nonigopal’s dead body come back to the village? He raises his head and looks up—the river has become quiet, stream has slowed down, but he feels restless, mulling over how many dead bodies the Bishkhali will hold in its heart. Will the dead bodies come back and forth with high and low tides? As a dead body, will he himself too float on the river? Razzak Chairman won’t leave him unharmed. He can’t stay by the Bishkhali anymore; his heart is throbbing. Grabbing a broken tukri, a bamboo receptacle, he fills it with sand that he also spreads over Nonigopal’s blood. As the marks of blood are concealed, Taslim thinks that after a few days he’ll sow grass seeds here so the martyr’s blood sprouts up in green again. With sincerity and care, he dispenses sand there, and out of deep emotion, can’t control himself, feels agitated.

As someone from behind lands a kick on Taslim, he gives out a sudden groan and falls down, but instantly sits up. It’s Kader, the mercenary, who roars, “You’ve floated a Hindu dead body onto the river! You’re finished; your dead body will, then, have the same fate.”

Taslim also shouts back at him, “So what? Who’re you to think about this, the sonofabitch? It’ll then be a new river with our blood—in the independent country, it’ll be named Blood River. Bear in mind the new river will flow east-west alongside Sonatola on the southern part of Borguna, and the martyrs will live on in the river stream.”

Taslim raises his voice once more, “Our Blood River will be ready for our children to play, and they’ll pray May the memories of the martyrs be immortal!

“You scoundrel!”

“Behave yourself, I warn you.”

Now Taslim stands up. When Kader lifts his stick over Taslim’s head, people from all around come forward, and from a close distance, shouts up, “Beware, beware!”

Smelling danger, Kader runs away. And coming close to Taslim, people tell him to go home.

While walking with them, Taslim can realize he has launched a new journey in the river of people.

8

Sabiha’s training has kicked off at Musa camp.

Putting on uniform, Sabiha, along with other girls, is receiving training. Commander is introducing them to arms, teaching them how to operate them. This is indeed a training for only girls.

Commander speaks, “So far we’ve talked about guerrilla war strategies, self-protection and elimination of enemies, and the ways how to fight face to face in the battlefield. Today we’ll begin to learn the use of arms.”

Koruna enquires, “Commander, at the primary stage, which weapon shall we be provided? And I think the training of that weapon should happen first.”

“At the outset, we’ll learn to operate the three-not-three rifle, and after this, we’ll learn, step by step, the use of automatic weapons.”

With a rifle in hand, Commander draws everyone’s attention, “Attention, please! Now I’m going to tell you about the training of this weapon.”

Commander teaches one after another: how to hold the rifle properly, show the chamber of bullets, shoot, open and close a safety lock, put in and open magazines, crawl with a rifle, go into self-disguise, and use a rifle in the face-to-face battle etc.  He also does the demonstration of these tasks five to six times.

At some point, he calls Sabiha and tells her to do the demonstration, “Show every method that I’ve demonstrated to all.” Commander hands over a rifle to Sabiha and she follows his order.

“All of you, pay attention to how she shows the methods, and you have to mark the mistakes if she makes after the demonstration.”

One by one Sabiha shows the methods, when everyone follows her attentively. At the end, they clap and shout, “Sabiha hasn’t made any mistake. Not a single one.”

“This firearm is called SMG short machine gun that is used in between seventy-five yards when two groups fight. In it, three to five magazines are used at a time, and each magazine contains eight hundred rounds of bullets. And if this firearm is used with five magazines in it at a time, it might burst out for extra heat.” Commander is showing how to load and unload, log and unlog, and brushfire and single-fire with the weapon. He’s also showing how one can fold the machine gun, hide it into the wrapper, and walk in a usual deportment, evading people’s awareness about it.

Last, Commander advises everyone to remain careful about the use and abuse of the automatic firearm, “(1) Don’t use the weapon unnecessarily; (2) check the weapon over and over if it’s locked while loaded with magazines; (3) check well if the brushfire button is off when you open the single-fire button; (4) never submit the weapon to anyone as long as you’re alive.”

As the first session of the training is over, Commander tells them, “Now you’ve got a break; we’ll prepare for the second one, doing fall-in on the field.”

All the girls gather in a place where they eat hog-plums and guavas. Now they scatter, weapons in their hands. In a corner of the camp, Sabiha sits with Koruna who’s wiping her tears.

“For independence,” Koruna says, “I’ve sacrificed my husband, whereas my son is with my mother—I don’t know anything about him. Only the Almighty knows if I have to lose him too.”

Embracing Koruna, Sabiha consoles her, “Never think of this, Didi. Your husband was a freedom fighter who is a martyr—with this pride you’ll see an independent country.”

“I feel sad for my son.”

“He’s indeed well with his grandmother.”

“O my dear, can anything else appease my mind?”

Again as Sabiha hugs Koruna, she weeps profuse tears.

Training starts off again at noon. Commander says, “Earlier we’ve shown how to operate and protect two firearms and their usefulness. Now we’ll know about the third automatic firearms called SLR (Self Loading Rifle) or Semi-Raquel Rifle.” Just saying this, Commander fishes out a rifle in his hand.

“This Self Loading Rifle can be used when two groups fight from a close distance, and with this SLR, you can destroy the enemies within 200 yards. The name indicates it’s an automatic arms. You can preserve ten to twelve bullets in a magazine of this SLR, which is made in various countries. Before pulling the trigger, you have to carefully set the safety lock of brushfire or single fire. At the end of the safety lock, there’s an indicator to completely lock it.” Commander shows the indicator. “The mark at the end part is of the single fire, whereas the topmost mark among the three indicates brushfire. The fighters using SLR can carry eight to ten magazines in their waist belts at a time. Indeed SLR is a very reliable automatic firearms for guerrilla and face-to-face combat. The producing country of the firearms employs different technologies in making it.”

“You’ve mentioned the fighters,” Sabiha enquires, “but can the common soldiers use it, or it’s for the commanders only?”

“A troop usually consists of a commander, two deputy commanders and eight soldiers. Due to a scarcity of arms, the commander can be called SSG or SMC. Deputy Commanders are provided at least two SLRs, and the rest eight soldiers get three-not-three rifles, whereas eleven of them carry hand grenades—this is applicable only for the infantry.”

“SLR is a long weapon,” Koruna says. “How is it concealed in the battle at day time?”

“In different countries, SLR is made in various ways. The one you can see in my hand can be made smaller. As most of the time we’ll fight as guerrillas without putting on uniforms, we can hang it on the shoulder. Besides, if we wear wrappers, the weapon won’t be visible at all. As a result, we’ll be able to move and crawl easily.”

“From how far can we shoot the enemies and topple them down with an SLR,” asks Sabiha.

“It’s certainly a reliable weapon to destroy enemies from a distance of 175 to 200 yards. Bullets of a blank fire reach twice from the normal distance. A fighter can carry lots of magazines of the weapon with his waist belts.”

“How many SLRs are given to a troop?” Bula wants to know.

“There’s no hard and fast rule for this, but considering security of the fighters, every troop is given at least two SLRs. If the enemies are well-armed, more than two are also provided. That’s all for now; it’s time for a tea break. Next we’ll learn different strategies of guerrilla warfare and know how to overpower enemies hiding ourselves.” Saying this, Commander Faruk chants, “Joy to Bengal.”

The girls join, “Joy to Bengal.”

All the girls are waiting, rifles in their hands. After the tea break, training starts off again.

The girls hold rifles. Faruk helps some of them grasp the arms properly and instructs, “This is the chamber of bullets, and you have to load the gun this way.” As Faruk shows them how to load a gun, the girls follow him. Then Faruk instructs further, “This is the safety lock that you have to open and shut this way.”

The girls open and shut the safety lock as Faruk demonstrates. They’re trying to understand everything they’re shown with sincerity and deep attention, because the war is approaching. Their indomitable spirit has isolated them from anything else.

Prostrating on the ground, a rifle in his hand, Faruk says, “Now I’ll show you how to crawl with a rifle in hand, the act which is very important. In any operation, crawling is necessary. Follow me.”

All the girls begin to crawl, following Faruk. At some point, he orders, “Halt and take a position.” Instantly they stop and, lifting the rifle, takes their position. At once, Faruk orders, “Open fire.” The girls open fire and with a thunderous sound, bullets come out of the rifles. Pleased, Faruk shouts, “Excellent. Very well done. Now it’s time to take a break.”

Submitting arms, they go forward to the camp, when Sabiha intensely feels Ashraf. If he were here right now, she’d tell him, “Now I’m ready to join the war, so I can’t wait anymore.” The girls walk along the narrow road in the woods, trees shading them, grasses under their feet. Sabiha laughs and says, “The trees, woods, and the grasses under feet are also our weapons—we need to know how to use them.”

“You’re right. Pakistani soldiers coming from deserts have never seen such woods, rain and rivers. Like fools, they’ll keep their eyes on all these beautiful things. So we’ll be able to make our way to victory, we’ll certainly win.”

Everyone shouts out loud, “Joy to Bengal.”

All of you, in the woods, listen to Bangabandhu’s speech, “Today the people of Bengal want freedom. The people of Bengal want to live, and they want to have their rights.”

As Sabiha stops, Chandana emits, “This woodland is our Racecourse ground. As long as we stay here, we’ll hold the afternoon of the seventh of March in our heart with courage, when helicopters of Pakistani army will fly overhead, producing unbearable sounds that we won’t pay heed to. Neglected, the sounds will evade away. The bright afternoon will enkindle our courage, so we’ll never yield defeat.”

“You’re right, absolutely right.”

They can hear a sound, sometimes in chorus and at times coming from two or three people, as though the sound would be united with the matters of the training if they walked uttering it, and they’d be more determined and courageous.

Suddenly Monjuri says, “It seems someone is strolling behind us.”

All of them stand still.

“Yes, someone is coming over.”

“Let’s hide behind this thicket, see who’s coming.”

Leaving the narrow path, they stand behind the thicket, can hear someone walking forward, weeping. Sabiha can recognize her, “She’s our Koruna Didi.” Badal is bringing her here. Sabiha first comes forward and others follow her.

From a distance, Sabiha wonders, “Koruna Didi, you?”

“Badal has brought me here. I couldn’t stay in the village anymore. In the name of a peace committee, Chairman has formed Razakar Committee to create anarchy. They’ve torched all the Hindu houses along with ours, and your brother . . .”

Unable to finish her words, Koruna breaks into tears.

With a wailing voice, “Sabiha asks, “Where’s Dada, my brother? My boatman brother?”

“He’s no more; they’ve killed him.”

At once Sabiha intervenes and blurts out, “My boatman brother hasn’t died, he has become a martyr, and a martyr never dies.

“But his dead body hasn’t been cremated?”

“Remember, this happens in the wartime, so don’t feel sad about this. Where’s your son?”

“Keeping him with my mother, I’ve left home to join the war. Good luck that Badal Bhai knows this camp.”

“Indeed he should know this—everyone is working together, so they’re supposed to know about everything.”

“Go to the camp with Koruna Didi; I have some other work.”

“Okay, Badal.”

“All of you, join me War, war, the liberation war. In the words of Bangabandhu The people of Bengal want freedom.”

Giving a salute, Badal takes his leave, eventually walking back through the path he came along. Everyone, along with Koruna, comes back to the camp.

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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