We did not sleep indoors that night, but allowed Amin to lay his beddings on the floor on the space between our beds, leaving the adjacent roadside room empty. We were literally blown out of bed at midnight by the force of a deafening blast tearing down the front portion of our building and smoke billowing from the wreck. The purpose and the target of the attack were obvious, and I literally basked in the glory of being part of the scheme to drive the point home that we would prevail at the end. When my uncle raised a hue and cry terming it 'a cowardly aggression,' my father, like the rest of the family, remained unruffled and accepted it as a fait accompli.
By the month of December in 1971, we were more than used to harbouring strangers at home. The visitors included friends that we had not met for ages; friends' friends, who had never visited us before; and young men carrying references from our ex-tenants, one-time neighbours and acquaintances. Until then, our parents, as a rule, kept track of our friends, but that ceased to apply immediately after the brutal crackdown of the Pakistan Army on March 26.
Among those who called on us, some stayed over for refreshments only, others for couple of days before heading towards destinations unknown to us, while others, informed of our reliability and relative safety of our home, visited us on and off to carry out secret missions in and around the capital, Dhaka.
I never pestered my guests to disclose their plans, because, by then, I had some inkling of what was going on. In those turbulent days, even very close friends were reticent whenever they met and their conversations did not proceed beyond chit-chats. At that time, strangers, acquaintances and friends alike were treated with condescension in every household. There was no way of knowing who was who.
We were content with our war-time food rations at home, and took to smoking non-filter-tip Capstan cigarettes quite brazenly; turned our study table into card-table, spoke fearlessly, especially with foreign media correspondents in town; lived for another day to listen to Shadhin Bangla Betar, BBC and VOA evening broadcasts; capitalised on the low-level parental control and above all relished the self-imposed study break from Dhaka College.
Of all those visitors during that time, one deserves special mention. I met this amiable friend of mine on occasions only, since we left Armenitola Govt High School in 1969. But our most memorable encounter was when he appeared at our old town residence in the first week of December, only few days before Bangladesh's victory in the War of Liberation in 1971.
Mahbub Ahmed was introduced to me in our school days by our mutual friend and neighbour, Mohammad Hossain, whom we called Iran. He was Iran's class-mate in the day-shift of the school that I attended in the morning.
Until now, whenever I and Mahbub meet our conversation did not go beyond exchange of pleasantries, because he was reluctant to indulge in his war-time past. But at a reunion of old-timers on December 2 this year in the office room of Prof Md Shahid Hossain, head of the Department of Surgery at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, we exchanged notes on our war time memories. Mahbub blushed, as I thanked him for taking me into confidence and for caring for our safety in those tumultuous days of the Liberation War exactly 40 years ago. I recalled the morning he came clad in a hand-washed panjabi and payjama, looking like a madrasha student, and carrying an unusual mason's tool bag. He looked a bit weather-beaten but calm and composed, while introducing himself as a friend of Iran. I received him cordially and offered him a cup of tea.
While sipping hot tea on that chilly December morning in one of our roadside rooms, we used as our part-study-part-drawing room, Mahbub said he needed to make an urgent telephone call. The black Siemens telephone set was brought from the main building across a large open space, once a flower garden, and plugged in for him to make the call. He made a very brief and cryptic call. I gathered that someone would meet someone at the south gate of the New Market the following day at noon.
Mahbub requested me to keep the gunny bag for the night, as he said he was going to visit his ailing grandmother in the hospital, or something to that effect. He said he would collect it the next morning.
Accordingly, I asked Nurul Amin, our domestic help, to stash the package away in the attic, and as a matter of routine we forgot about the strange package. Next morning, Mahbub came and after sharing my breakfast, he went away with his mason's tool bag. But before leaving, as an afterthought, he cautioned us to sleep in the main building at night. I and my younger brother used to share the room as our sleeping quarters too, while Amin slept on the floor of the room adjacent to ours by the main road.
Mahbub reasoned that it was not safe to sleep so close to the main road at a time when the Pakistani army was conducting regular nocturnal raids in the town, picking up young men at random and torturing them to death. There was some sense in it, but we did not feel it was necessary, as we spoke fluent Urdu and a smattering of English, enough to hoodwink the marauding Pakistani occupation forces.
One of my uncles, an advocate of the High Court, was the city president of Council Muslim League, and one of the few exponents of the two-nation theory remaining in what was then East Pakistan. We believed he would intervene, if push came to shove, though we considered him as a 'one-man demolishing team' in our overtly pro-liberation family.
Next day, we were greeted by the boom of a massive bomb blast in front of the New Market at noon. The broad-daylight breach of security at the heart of the capital by our valiant freedom fighters featured prominently in the Shadhin Bangla Betar news bulletin that evening.
It was certainly delightful news to many, but I felt secretly proud, as an accomplice to this act of blatant defiance, perhaps only because of my Mahbub connection.
We did not sleep indoors that night, but allowed Amin to lay his beddings on the floor on the space between our beds, leaving the adjacent roadside room empty. We were literally blown out of bed at midnight by the force of a deafening blast tearing down the front portion of our building and smoke billowing from the wreck.
The purpose and the target of the attack were obvious, and I literally basked in the glory of being part of the scheme to drive the point home that we would prevail at the end.
When my uncle raised a hue and cry terming it 'a cowardly aggression,' my father, like the rest of the family, remained unruffled and accepted it as a fait accompli.
Although, the property belonged to my father, he never wanted to know who carried out the attack. This is all the more significant, because he was more than convinced that it could not have happened without my tacit consent.
The writer (batch'69)is a senior staff of The Daily Observer. He can be reached at [email protected]