A daughter's memoir of a forgotten martyred intellectual
(Translated by Farhana Susmita)
Our house was within the precincts of Bagerhat PC College—beautiful and green, surrounded by grape vines. My father, Prof Moazzem Hossain, was the Chair at the Department of Economics. He remained busy all day reading or writing books and teaching students, yet gladly fulfilled all our demands whenever he had time. He walked in and out of his classes with a grave air but was a loving, hearty spirit at home. Our house used to be filled with his songs, stories and laughter. His students were awed by his appearance in college but whenever they came to our house to discuss politics or some other study topic, they became his friends. My father loved his students and tried to help them in whatever way he could.
I remember during the mass uprising in 1969 the police opened fire on the students of PC College in the presence of Khulna’s DC, a man from Punjab. Students ran for their lives and tried to take shelter in the teachers' quarters. While many of the teachers refused to help, fearing backlash from the authorities, my father calmly opened his door and let his students in. Two students were killed that day in Bagerhat; many more were injured or arrested. He used to visit the hospitals and district jails several times a day, trying to see what he could do for the students.
Then came the dark hours of March 25, 1971, which completely transformed my father. He forced us to leave Bagerhat, and sent us to our grandparents' house in the village Badokhali. Like most of his colleagues, he could easily have accompanied us to the village home where the tumults of the war had not reached yet. He, however, chose to stay back and came home after fifteen days, with at least thirty five Hindu men and women from Bagerhat. Father told us that the Pakistani army had entered Bagerhat town, and with the help of local collaborators, begun murder, rape and plunder. The local Hindus were in great danger as they were the initial target of the army, which was why he brought many of them along. Our house in the village was spacious, so there was no problem of accommodation.
However, within a few days, the Pakistani army began to attack village after village. Killing and ravaging seemed never to end. As the army found it difficult to enter our village due to its location, the local collaborators took over and continued to kill, rape and loot. Those helpless people came running to our house asking for my father's help.
Within a short time he was able to form a small group that would guard the lives and properties of the villagers. Father was the leader of this group. Therefore, he became the prime target of the collaborators who’d started to conspire against him. His salary from the college was stopped. The army had no way of entering our village, but one day they opened fire from a long distance using mortar and machine gun, in which a small part of our house was damaged. Father rented two boats for us, so that we could flee to a safer place whenever we would hear gunshots. He himself remained in the house saying that he was capable of killing at least thirty men with one gun. But within a few days the situation became unbearable. The army was destroying nearby villages. Every day we used to hear news of more murder, more rape, more arrests and torture. At last, Father decided to give training to the local youths so they could fight the army. They, however, had no weapons. Therefore, he set off to India with several hundred youths, including my eldest brother and some of the young relatives.
Father returned home with his group after one and a half months, with some training and experience in several border fights on October 21, 1971. They set up a camp in Badokhali School. Although we were over the moon to have him back, my mother was very unhappy with him since he left my eldest brother behind, who was only seventeen, in Kolkata for training. Mother was always critical of father's involvement in the war. In fact, to leave one's children behind to go to war wasn't very practical especially when the rest of my five siblings were mere babies. Besides, we didn't have anyone else as a guardian who would look after us in father's absence. But this logic wasn't enough for Father, who said to my mother quite clearly, ''If I keep thinking about my personal problems, I won't be able to do what I need to do for the country. Everybody has problems''. My mother never said anything else about this.
Father was made the chief administrative officer of Sector 9. He had several groups under his command. Despite all this, he came to spend time with us and told us stories about his training, his experience in border fights, and how he went to India on foot without much food or sleep. He told us what an enthusiastic reception he got in Kolkata. He had a lot of students there, and his books on economics (both in Bangla and English) were quite popular in both parts of Bengal. Therefore, nobody wanted him to leave Kolkata, warning him over and over again that the Army and its collaborators wouldn't let him live if he came back. It seemed my father didn't have much care for his own life as he had for his village people, family and his country. So he returned home but they didn't give him more than seven days to live.
It was the night of October 28, 1971—the most dreadful night for our family. In the morning when Father left home none of us realized that we wouldn't see him again. He took my little brother Zakir in his lap and kissed him on the forehead. Before going out, he said he'd be home early.
We were anxious the whole day as we could hear gunshots from all sides. Yet we received no news from Father. In the evening a man from the camp came to say Father would be late, since he was busy receiving news of battles in several places on wireless. Therefore, we went to bed after having dinner.
At the sound of heavy gunshot, we woke up with a start. We felt as if the house itself would come down on us, thinking probably the army finally had attacked our house. Then it all became silent. We didn't know what else to do except waiting for Father to come home. But the waiting seemed endless. Then we heard a groaning sound from the riverbank which was a few yards away. Somebody must have been injured severely. The voice sounded so familiar but it was nearly three in the morning, so mother didn't let us step out to see who it was. We were still waiting for Father, so we could step out to find out what the matter was. I cannot quite remember how much time went by after that, but suddenly we heard people screaming and crying. Then we heard the news and realized it was Father who kept groaning till dawn.
We ran like madmen to the riverbank. Father was floating in a pool of his own blood, my formidable yet loving father. I kept looking at him, unable to realize what had happened. Then we, all the brothers and sisters, started calling him as loudly as we could, in a futile hope that he would respond to us. But he didn't, as if calling us for such a long time had made him tired. So he fell asleep.
He was coming back from the camp in a boat. He never kept any guard with him. He had immense faith in his own strength. His enemies also knew they wouldn't be able to fight him face to face. Therefore, they’d shot him from across the bank, hiding in the dark when his boat reached our side of the river. He didn't get any chance to face them. Bullets pierced through his torso, and he fell in the boat. It was a very narrow river after all. May be he was calling us, his beloved children. Who knew what he had to say to them in his last moments on this earth.
Many years have gone by. Like many other families, we also suppressed our agony and tried to cope with a life of tremendous pain and struggle. But that's another story.
When I look back on those days, sometimes I find myself pondering over my father's life. He's respected as a martyred intellectual and freedom fighter today. But how many of this generation, or even from his own generation, know about the sacrifices he had made. He was a famed intellectual in the Khulna region, and a very courageous person. But I think what turned him into a freedom fighter was his love for his countrymen and his sacrificing mentality. The extent of his sacrifice and contribution becomes obvious when I visit my village, though not very often, and find out to my utter surprise that this is perhaps the only village in the country where you will find a freedom fighter in every house. I cannot help but take pride in the fact that it was my father who organized them, trained them, or sent them to training camps in Kolkata.
The writer is the eldest of Prof Moazzem Hossain's children. Currently she teaches at a school in Dhaka.
Farhana Susmita is a writer, translator and film critic. She is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Jagannat University.