Friday, March 06, 2009

Memories of 7 March

March 7, 1971 seems a long time ago. While I have no memory of what I did on March 6 or March 8 of that year, I have a clear memory of the afternoon of March 7.

At that time Bangladesh was called East Pakistan. It was a province of Pakistan.

A few months earlier, after years of military rule, elections had taken place all over Pakistan. Awami League - led by Sheikh Mujib (Father of the Nation of Bangladesh) - won convincingly. However, the military ruler of Pakistan, Yahya Khan, in collusion with the second place winner Z. A. Bhutto, refused to hand over power. On March 1, the handover was indefinitely postponed.

This move caused great dissatisfaction in East Pakistan. A civil disobedience movement was launched in protest.

It was with this background that the Awami League called the 7th March meeting at Paltan Maidan, a large open air park in central Dhaka. Sk. Mujib was going to speak.

I was in seventh grade, and hardly a political creature. My family had moved to Dhaka from Sylhet less than a year ago. The small-town boy was still trying to find his bearings in the big city.

But this day, I felt a tug to go to this meeting. I was afraid to go alone. So in the afternoon, I somehow made my way from our Mohammedpur home to my Aunt's house in Shegun Bagicha. I had many cousins in that house and hoped to tag along to the meeting with one of them. As I was entering the gates of the sprawling house, I ran into T-bhai. He was older than me but, unlike other older cousins, treated me as an equal, rather than a child.

"Oh, you want to go to that meeting? I was just heading there. Why don't you come with me?" he said. Just as we were out the gate, he stopped. "Wait, I have an idea. Let me get my transistor radio."

"What for, T-bhai?"

"It will be so crowded that we might end up being far from the speaker and have trouble hearing. They will broadcast it live on the radio, so we won't miss the speech."

I thought it was strange, going to a public meeting with a radio. But I kept quiet.

In a few minutes we were at the far end of Paltan, at least half a mile from the stage. We must have looked funny, in that ocean of humanity, straining to listen to the radio while watching the miniscule figures in the distance. I can't remember if anyone else spoke, but when Sk. Mujib came on, we could hear all the words clearly on the radio, while many in the crowd near us strained to hear the loudspeakers. What an orator he was, and what a speech!

Much has been written about this speech, a turning point in Bd history. I certainly cannot add to it. While it fell short of a formal declaration of independence, it was a very persuasive call to resist and fight until the rights of the people were won.

To this day, if I get a chance, I tease T-bhai about that transistor radio. But you gotta admit, it was a smart move on his part.

1 comment:

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