A recently dated message from a friend who died in 1971, asking why I asked him to join the war
Dear Afsan: How are you? I see you quite busy nowadays, posting your angst about the war of 71 -- our war. That’s common among old veterans and is only to be expected. Today you are sad and perhaps frustrated at how things turned out since the war was fought.
I accept that.
After all, you had so much expectation from it. It’s only natural that you feel a bit bad. As if nobody owed you something, a reward, a salary for fighting the war. However, I understand your feelings. You were always emotional. But what is also interesting is that it’s you who expected all this and not some of us. If you’re in pain today, well, that fault is not the war’s but yours, I am afraid.
It’s your war, your sadness, your country. I am not really part of your world today. You built it, you live in it. Sorry for saying that.
Remember what you said?
Do you remember what you said hoping to inspire me, a lad from the lower middle class to join the war? You said Bangladesh would be a wonderful country where the rich would not exist, and the poor would be so much better off and everyone would have rights if not happiness. You said Bangladesh would become a super state not a super power. You were bursting with joy at the prospect of fighting a war which would birth a fantastic dream state.
I think you didn’t even care much about what the problem was. You were more concerned about the solution. I wish I could have told you then as I am telling you now that you were too caught up in your dreams to care about reality.
What you thought would happen was a dream. What you have now is what matters.
I came from way down below your social class. You spoke in English if you wanted to while I never could pass that subject. You knew people of whom I had only heard of. And yet, we landed up in the same war. After all these years, and now that I am dead, I will tell you that your words didn’t make any difference to my joining as a warrior.
I had decided to join once I heard of the crackdown, and when the Pakistani planes flew over us and bombed so many homes. Hatred took me to the war, not dreams. I came to listen to you because you talked so well, using English words I didn’t even fully understand.
So after all these years, you know the truth.
It doesn’t matter as we shall never meet again.
What do you hate most?
Though I knew you briefly, I think I understand what you hated most. You hated that someone else had so much power over others of life and body. Even in those days, you would become angry and want to go to battle. Now, everyone else has power and you don’t. Yet, those who have power are all connected -- by criminality, money, politics, and greed. They have no source of power except the agreement that if you are useful, and not in my way, I will kill you.
When we would go to a village and hide, hidden often by the poorest who had little to eat, I would feign sickness and not eat. I couldn’t eat from those who were starving. Most did, knowing that this was not a time for emotions, for the war needed muscle and you needed that to fight.
Today, it doesn’t matter. Today, protected by the bigger and more powerful, the rest can loot and plunder and kill and rape without facing any consequences. It’s amazing. But, doesn’t it remind you of the war?
The difference is that you are now powerless and I am dead, so nothing can be done about it, by you or I. You are not just powerless but never had power. Today, all your weeping and ranting are meaningless.
You are the one who believed, not I, because you come from the elite class who has suffered so less in your history, while I the lower have always suffered. After all, my ancestors were peasants and they have always resisted, always fought. Your ancestors had the luxury of deciding what to do. You had a choice, we didn’t.
So we fought and as it happens, I died. Even your cousin -- the doctor-warrior -- couldn’t heal me. My bloodied body lay near a mosque, for a phantom janaza.
Dear Afsan, don’t suffer too much. Your time is nearly over. That should make you happy as you shall not have to see all this again. There is no pain here, even as one sees the horror down below. You will be liberated from your own emotions.
And the best thing is that the Bangladesh cricket team never loses a match up here. Best wishes as I wait.
Afsan Chowdhury is a researcher and journalist.