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Chapter II: I Return Home A Wreck PDF Print E-mail
Written by Syed Sajjad Husain   
Tell me, mine own,
Where hast thou been preserved? Where lived?
how found
Thy father’s court
- Shakespeare

My family who had given me up for dead, were of course overjoyed to see me back home. But as I was lifted down from the rickshaw and carried in, they were alarmed to notice that I was a complete wreck. My chest and back (I had received six stab wounds) were still bleeding. My legs dangled like a couple of attachments not properly fixed. I was laid down on a mattress on the floor, given a warm drink, and covered with a blanket. People rushed in from an around to have a look. Strangers who would never have thought of entering our house, unasked, came in and gazed at me.

In the meantime Indian army officers who had been informed of the abduction the previous evening and had sent out search parties to trace me, arrived on learning that I had got back. The local hospital doctor was sent for; but he began vacillating and came only when he heard of the presence of the Indians. He however declined to bandage my wounds without an X-ray examination, saying that it would be most inadvisable to do anything before the injuries had been X-rayed. The real reason why he hesitated was that he did not want it said of him that he had attended to a person punished by the Mukti Bahini. His hesitancy did not prove much of a problem, for presently an Indian doctor attached to the Army medical corps arrived, washed and bandaged my wounds, and within half an hour arranged for an ambulance to carry me to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital for treatment.

I was put in Cabin No.10, and Cabin No.11, next door, was placed at the disposal of the four Indian soldiers guarding me. They were with me for a week, at the end of which a contingent from the Babupura police outpost took over. I was in hospital from 20 December until the morning of 30 January when I was removed to the Dhaka Central Jail.

The period I spent in hospital was uneventful except for small incidents. One was my transfer, decided upon at short notice, from Cabin 10 to Cabin 19 when early in January one of the Bangladesh ministers Khondokar Mushtaque decided, it seems for political reasons, to retire temporarily in a huff from active politics. The transfer was carried out after 8 P.M. I had not regained the ability to walk; so they put me on a trolley and pushed it out of Cabin 10.

A day or two later, an unauthorized group of militant students who wanted a cabin for somebody, forced my guards to vacate their room. From then on, the police party used to camp outside my cabin on the veranda.

Of course after the Indian guards left, the presence or absence of the police party made little difference to my safety. Their vigilance was not strict; anybody could walk in without the least obstruction, and for long periods, every one of the four policemen expected to stand sentinel outside my room would be absent I protested once or twice, but soon realized that protests from a 'collaborator' would make things worse. I should add that I had learnt from a newspaper announcement which appeared on 21 December that I had been arrested as a 'collaborator'. There was not a word about the assault: nor was the fact that I was in hospital mentioned. The public must have been under the impression that I was in jail.

During the first week I was in great pain. My shoulders, chest, back and the area around the waist, ached; there was a continuous tingling in the soles of my feet- (which persists to this day); and the lower limbs were utterly numb. I could not move my left leg, nor was there much sensation in the left foot. The nights were particularly painful. I had to try and sleep on my back; the legs felt so heavy that I could not turn from one side to another, and if anyone helped me to turn, the pain on the lower side would be unbearable.

The wounds on my chest and back, four in front and two in the back, turned out to be not deep and healed in a week. I found that the left knee had been so twisted that although there was technically no fracture, I could not stand erect. But the worst affliction was the damage to the internal organs which rendered micturition a torture. The agony was sometimes so great as to make me long for an early death.

It was nearly three weeks before my knees were firm enough to let me stand erect for brief spells. I had to teach myself to walk in the way toddlers learn to walk, first supported by others, then by myself but with the help of a staff. I was not steady on my legs; to this day this weakness persists, but after daily exercises I learnt to waddle about from one end of my small cabin to the other. I could in about three weeks, walk in this manner to the bathroom without assistance.

Occasional incursions by young people, mostly from the Mukti Bahini, drawn by curiosity, were another problem. They would dash past the guards, look at me and leave. It was clear that they were highly critical of the colleagues who had bungled by not being able to finish me off. The risk was that some of them might take it into their hands to rectify the error. I was obliged to keep the door bolted most of the time.

My wife and children visited me daily in the afternoon. A few relations, one colleague from the University, Dr Azizul Huque and an old acquaintance from the Calcutta Islamia College days, Mr Saidur Rahman, also called. But I could realise that most of my relations were too scared to come.

While I was still in Cabin No.10, a hirsute young man came one day to see me, touched my feet in the usual Eastern manner, and introduced himself as a former pupil. I forget his name. He said he had been detailed to shoot me during the civil war; he had also reconnoitred the area around my residence but had decided on second thoughts to wait until the war was over. He was courteous but firm. Their plan, he stated, was to liquidate all 'collaborators', in fact, anybody who could be suspected of having collaborated with West Pakistan over the last twenty-three years, and purge Bangladesh of corruption and treason. I thought it inadvisable to argue, but only pointed out that the programme might prove difficult to carry out. 'We have', the young man replied, 'lost over twenty-thousand people in the civil war, all members of the Mukti Bahini, and we would have no truck with collaborators '.

The visitor who really gave me a fright was another young man, not so hairy as my pupil, but with blood-shot eyes such as one associates with frenzied or drunken fanatics. He dashed into my room on two occasions, accompanied by others, on one occasion by some young women, just stared at me, and when asked who they were, said pointing to his companions, "These are the people who have freed the country.' He would not be drawn into further talk. I felt alarmed. On both occasions he dashed out of the room, as he had dashed in, like a gust of wind.

That all young people did, not even then, take the same view of what happened on 16 December, became evident from the conversation of a youth who visited me towards the end of December. He was a stranger, shy, aged about seventeen. He said he had been planning to study English literature in the University, but he was not sure that academic work was any use now. "We have lost our freedom'. When, to test him, I reminded him of the feelings of other young people of his age, he said that with the Indian soldiers all around, he could scarcely believe that the surrender of the Pakistan army had brought Bangladesh independence. 'We have sold ourselves into slavery.'

This youth, I must say, was an exception in those days to the generality of young Bengali manhood or womanhood. Indian propaganda had infected the minds of some of our own relations. They naively swallowed the fantastic lies they heard about me, although they were almost daily in contact with me. A nephew, son of a cousin, came one day to repeat what he had heard about the women's hall, how girls were supplied to the army from this source, with my knowledge and consent. 'Of course', he commented half quizzically, 'I don't think this can be true of you'. His tone however suggested that he wasn't prepared to dismiss the story as wholly baseless. I could only express my astonishment at his naiveté. He had studied economics in the University, and proceeded with great show of scholarship and a flourish of statistics to demonstrate to me how East Pakistan had been fleeced by West Pakistani capitalists.' It has taken a civil war to convince people like you and my father of the truth of our grievances. Now that the yoke of Pakistan has been thrown off, you’ll see Bangladesh growing from strength to strength.' I told him that I would be happy to see peace and tranquillity re-established after the horrors that we had been through but I could not share his shallow optimism. He was disappointed that even the terrible ordeal that I had passed through had not cured me of my old beliefs.

Stories reached me daily of the horrors let loose on Pakistan minded groups by the guerrillas, of vengeance, murder and shootings, of spiralling prices, indiscriminate arrests and of the general breakdown of law and order. No one except persons like ourselves felt dismayed by all this. There was a general tendency to think that a brief period of anarchy or what looked it, was not unusual after a protracted and bitter civil war, and that the situation would presently right itself. The term 'civil war' was seldom used; the more conll11on appellation for what happened during the nine months from March to December was 'war of liberation'. The Pakistan army was referred to as the army of occupation, and the naive young men who fought against it were freedom fighters. Supporters of the Awami League who had lain low during the conflict now came forward in their thousands to greet the victorious survivors and erect memorials to the dead who were all described as martyrs. No matter how a young man died during those nine months; no matter what his character and status; no matter whether he was known to be a criminal or a rogue, if his name could be shown to have been associated at any stage with any phase of the 'war of liberation', he was a martyr with a claim upon the grateful remembrance of his countrymen. A strange situation, but who would in this country of the insane pretend to wisdom and sanity?

One cheap, and therefore popular, way of demonstrating the new nation's gratitude to the dead was to change the names of roads, parks, schools, colleges and other institutions overnight without the slightest regard for either tradition or euphony. Such names as Jinnah, Iqbal, Ayub Khan were naturally anathema to the younger generation; they were effaced wherever they occurred and replaced by those of the new heroes. Dhaka University students took the lead in this campaign by renaming Iqbal Hall and Jinnah Hall after Zahurul Huq and Surya Sen. Sgt. Zahurul Huq, a young army officer and one of the accused in the Agartala Conspiracy case had been killed during the trial. Surya Sen was the name of a terrorist who organised and led a raid on the Chittagong armory back in the thirties; the students were anxious to honour him as one of those whose example they had done their best to emulate during the 'war of liberation'. Most painful of all for us was the proscription which fell upon the word Islam and its derivatives. The stink of communalism in these terms was considered unendurable. The name of the Islamic Intermediate College, where in the High Madrasah attached to it, I had had my schooling--- a historic institution with nearly a century of tradition behind it, was overnight changed to a horrid monstrosity, 'Kavi Nazrul College'. Intended to honour a great literary figure, Qazi Nazrul Islam, this hybrid, compounded of the first part of the name with the definite article of the second attached to it, would shock anyone with the slightest acquaintance with Arabic and Persian; it was a sad reflection on the level of culture among the new elite.

Changes of this kind were daily announced. As I read about them, I felt disquieted because, partly, of the manner in which old traditions were being profaned, and partly of the hurry exhibited. How foolish to imagine that the effacement of a few names could transform the spirit of a people!

Significantly, Christian and Hindu names were spared. Notre Dame College, St. Gregory's School, Ramkrishna Mission Institutions were not thought to stink of communalism. The discrimination against Islam was carried to lengths which subsequently drew protests from the Awami League circle itself.

Of the small group of people, apart from my own family, whose loyalty to me during this period remained unaffected by the change in my fortunes, I was particularly touched by the devotion of a young man whom I had given a job in the University of Rajshahi. His mother used at one time to work in our family as a maid; I had known him as a little child. After he grew up- he was about twenty- I tried to help him in various ways, getting him not only a job but also a wife. But the solicitude he showed in this crisis had been beyond my expectations. Mukhtar rushed down from Rajshahi on hearing of the assault, and spent nearly a month with me nursing me night and day, not caring whether his job lasted. It was on his shoulders- he was a strong, well-built youth-that I used to lean when re-learning to walk.

The daily visits of my wife and children sustained me greatly. We mutually rediscovered each other. To have constant, ocular proof of the attachment of the children, the realisation that they really loved me, not as a matter of duty or because custom demanded it, was---how should I put it?---no expression that I might use would be equal to the emotion I intend to convey--- let me compromise by saying, soothing to my nerves and spirit and heart. It filled me with emotions which sometimes were a torture. I felt that I had done little to deserve this attachment not only not having laid up enough treasure for them but having many a time in the past been extremely selfish, spending more on myself than on them. I have never been demonstrative, but even an undemonstrative parent or husband would have done more. My family used to keep itself to itself, seldom mixing with outsiders, not from motives of vanity---we had little to be vain about--- but because we often felt bewildered by the fast-changing ways of the world around us. The result was that my wife and daughters, deprived of whatever protection I afforded them, were now comparable to some carefully nurtured hot-house plants jolted out of their sheltered existence into an environment hostile and unfriendly. How were they going to survive? What readjustments would they be called upon to make in the pattern of their life? Of the artificialities which society now-a-days favoured, they were innocent; the tricks and stratagems which passed for cleverness and smartness were unknown to them. I felt uneasy, distressed even, when I thought of all this.

An elderly relation arrived one day to assure me that an amnesty would in all likelihood be announced upon the return of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to Dhaka from Pakistan where he was still held prisoner. (This was in the first week of January) He was a gouty old man, with a weak heart. He wept, not trying to conceal his tears, when he saw me. I was touched. Months afterwards, the same man declined point-blank to append his signature as a witness to a petition to the High Court challenging my detention. Surprising? Was the emotion he displayed early in January then entirely insincere? I would never have suspected the old man of being such a superb play-actor. But these are the surprises and paradoxes of which life seems full.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, hailed all over as the father of the nation, President of the Republic of Bangladesh, was released on 9 January from Rawalpindi and arrived in Dhaka by way of London the following day. The reception accorded him, when the R.A.F. transport plane carrying him touched down at Tejgaon Airport was hysterical. The press estimated the welcoming crowd to have exceeded half a million. From the airport he drove straight to a meeting at the Ramna racecourse, where thousands waited to hear him. I followed the proceedings on a small portable radio set I was using in my cabin. The elation of the cheering crowds, the atmosphere of revelry, the sense of final victory won in the face of stupendous odds were conveyed to me not only by the commentary broadcast but by the sounds, indistinct but insistent, transmitted direct of a large mass of men vociferously celebrating a great event.

I strained my ears so as not to miss a syllable of the new President's speech. It filled me with foreboding about the shape of things to come. What I heard was the speech of a victorious party leader who had led his faction to a triumphant conclusion to a struggle, and was determined to teach his rivals a lesson. There was not a word about the expected amnesty. On the contrary he referred pointedly to those who had acted as witnesses in the trial against him in West Pakistan. No general forgiveness; no exhortation to the entire nation to forget the bitterness of strife, to bury the hatchet, and dedicate itself now exclusively to the task of reconstruction. That the Sheikh would repeat his usual grievances against the Pakistan army was understandable and no surprise. But where, I asked myself, was any proof that now he had won after what had been a civil war between federalists and secessionists, he viewed himself as the President of the state, the architect of a new Republic, who, whatever his role in the past, was called upon by circumstances to rise above factional jealousies and divisions and help his people to achieve peace? Even while urging the erstwhile guerrillas to lay down their arms, assured them that the task of routing and mopping up the enemies would be taken over by the regular state forces, an assurance obviously intended to suggest that the enemies would not be forgiven. Particularly sinister was the reference to his trial, already mentioned. If those opposed to the Awami League or the Sheikh himself deserved punishment, few could escape, and as subsequent developments showed, few did. Thousands continued to be arrested and hauled up on trumped-up charges of having obstructed the war of liberation. The Collaborators Order promulgated in January empowered the police to detain anybody it pleased without warrant or specific charge; anybody could get one arrested. All one needed to do was allege that the person incriminated was a collaborator. Swift punishment followed. If the fellow was lucky, he found his way into the Dhaka Central jail. Those not so lucky were straightway liquidated; many were publicly lynched.

Lest anyone ever reading these lines should suppose that I have distorted the truth, I would mention that there was in the Sheikh's address an invitation to his people to take up urgently the task of rebuilding their 'Sonar Bangla', also a summons to peace, a warning that further lawlessness would be ruinous. But when saying these things, he seemed to exclude from his purview those who had disagreed with him. Am I exaggerating or imagining things? No; apart from the direct reference to the witnesses in his trial, there were hints, rather plain than subtle, that the opponents of the Awami League were to be treated as a class apart. The legislation that followed, the arrests and executions certainly showed that the apprehensions aroused in my mind were far from baseless.

I shuddered when I thought of the immediate future. It was very clear that the guerrillas had not yet had their feel of blood.
I had serious problems of my own to worry about. A day or two after I was abducted, another, or maybe the same gang again raided our house, this time at two o'clock in the night. I do not know to this day all the details; they have been deliberately kept from me. But I understand that they first rang up my wife saying that they knew she was sheltering other miscreants. The children were truly scared; they were sent away to neighbouring houses before the gang arrived. I am told that my wife had to pacify them by paying them a bribe. The actual size of the sum paid has not been disclosed to me.

This was followed by a raid by a police party who came to arrest my cousin, Mr S. Qamarul Ahsan, politician and writer who had been staying with us. Apprehending that he would meet with the same fate as myself, he hid himself as best he could. The whole house was turned topsy-turvy, every room searched, even wardrobes ransacked. My cousin was ultimately traced down to a dark pantry where he lay cowering.

Immediately afterwards came yet another raid, this time, in search of another cousin, Mr S. Manzurul Ahsan, a member of the Nizam-e-Islam Party. He had gone into hiding. So they arrested his elder brother, Mr S. Fakhrul Ahsan, a lawyer aged about sixty, who had never in his life dabbled in politics. He was let off after questioning. The police believed Mr Fakhrul Ahsan knew Manzur's whereabouts, which was not correct at all. There was an element of poetic justice in the humiliation suffered by Mr Fakhrul Ahsan. Ever since my arrest, he and his children had been trying to be on the right side of the new law by adopting a positively hostile attitude to my family. One instance, among many, of the way close relations fell apart in the civil war and its aftermath. All these Ahsans were my cousins and my wife's brothers.

Mr Fakhrul Ahsan was transported to the police station in my car, and while he was returned, the car was not. The fact that it was owned by me provided sufficient justification for its confiscation in the eyes of the police. It took my wife a month and a half and nearly half a dozen petitions to various authorities to get it back. The restoration was facilitated by a fortuitous circumstance. The car had been bought and registered in my wife's name.

After Mr Qamarul Ahsan was arrested, there remained no one among our near relations to whom my wife could turn for help or counsel.

Of the dangerous unfriendliness of the environment in which we lived in those days, further proof was provided by the attacks, both oblique and direct, which appeared every now and then in the press. 10th January, the day Sheikh Mujibur Rahman reached Dhaka, was singled out by the Dainik Bangla, an influential daily with a wide circulation, for the reproduction in facsimile of a document showing that I had received payment for my trip to Europe in 1971. The intention was patently malicious; it was to draw the attention of thousands on that day, of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself, if possible, to my 'treachery'. I heard a group of Medical College students discussing the document and repeating sarcastic remarks intended for my ears.

These incitements to hatred had their effect on the hospital atmosphere. Groups of young people would sometimes hover menacingly about my room, uttering threats. On one occasion, one of the policemen on duty reported that a man, obviously a drunkard. had made an attempt to snatch his rifle away, his avowed purpose being to enter my cabin and shoot me and the children who were with me. He looked really concerned.

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