What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I speak of February?
Is it the memory of the martyrs of 1952? Do you think of those people who sacrificed their lives to protect the integrity of our mother tongue?
Does it, even for once, cross your mind that not so long ago, several army officers gave their lives away in the line of duty on this very month, just like the warriors of 1952?
The ruthless annihilation of 74 people, including 57 army officers, on the fateful day of February 25, 2009 is the biggest massacre of defense officials in the history of Bangladesh.
The mass killing, being the first of its kind on this soil, had appalled the entire nation for quite some time.
For the next few years, social media and television channels were flooded with posts and talk shows, paying our heroes the tribute they rightfully deserved.
But, soon after, its effects seemed to dwindle. For families who have lost their loved ones, a part of their lives halted forever.
Yet, for us commoners, a generation so apathetic even to national events like March 26 or December 16, February 25 appears to be just another day.
Nine years later, here we stand: Indifferent bystanders, oblivious to the scar left on our very identity.
For once, let us stop talking. For once, let us listen to those who have been directly affected by the massacre. Let us hear from them the tales of the greatest sons this nation lost.
“He was a man of his word. Besides having unconditional love for his family, his country and his job were his priorities. It has been nine years, but we still feel like it was yesterday when we had a long walk after dinner on February 24, 2009.
For once, let us stop talking. For once, let us listen to those who have been directly affected by the massacre
“If only we knew that was the last walk we would ever walk together. Days pass so fast without him. Life has changed so much ever since February 25. We lost our father, our best friend, our saviour. Nothing on Earth can replace the agony we feel inside for taking him away from us for no reason at all.
“We really wish that someday, his soul along with those of the other Shaheeds will get peace when they get to know why they had to give away their lives,” says Kazi Nazifa Tabassum and Kazi Nazia Tabassum, children of Major Mosaddek.
Ashima Ahmed, daughter of Colonel Arefin Ahmed, speaks of some of her memories with her father: “My father was a story-teller, a musician, a play buddy. To us, he was like a friend. He would sit with us for hours watching cartoons, ignoring my mother’s scolding when it was past our bed time.
“He would let us play in the rain, encouraging us to experience the little things in life. I never really understood the notion about finding one’s father scary. To me, my father was more like a best friend. I would spend hours listening to his stories and tell him mine -- what happened at school or how I got an excellent remark in a test. He would be excited for me first and proud of me next. He had this awesome power to turn himself into a child when he was with us. And that was exactly what we needed.
“I miss all these little things, I miss them all. I lost my best friend and that pain is raw even today.
“Kind, loving, patient. Those are the words I would use when describing the man who gave me the world. A dedicated soul, not just towards his job, towards his family, this man was nothing short of amazing. He was a simple man with strict rules.
“My siblings and I definitely feared our father, but even then you could see the love in his tired eyes. Having wrestled with my brother on several occasions, it would always result in both of us being locked up in different rooms until we had learned our lesson. But a single teardrop down my cheek, and this same person would have the world in his palms for me.
“Even though he had always been busy with the difficult job of defending the country that eventually failed him, he would always find time for us. He always gave his best to ensure the best for us. Even during his final moments, all he wanted was to make sure we were OK.
“My father may not have worn a cape, but he is my hero. And someday, I want to be just like him -- bold and fearless,” says Farah Manzoor, daughter of Lt Colonel Elahi Manzoor Chowdhury.
The excerpts here are to recount only some of the stories amongst many that went unsaid and unheard of. That being said, one ought to wonder if we, as responsible citizens, are doing enough to commemorate our heroes with the honour they deserve.
What can we do, you ask? Well then, you tell me: Is coming together to demand a state-level recognition of this day an idea too far-fetched? Is paying homage to the people who embraced martyrdom while defending this country too much to ask for?
Nafisa Nawal is a freelance contributor.