I remember the first New Year after independence but not without some vagueness. As if the days are all compressed together and they resemble each other so much that it's tough to know the difference between today and yesterday. One can no longer be sure of the days at that time, certain of whom and what. The initial euphoria that December 16 brought didn't last long as the news of the killed and missing teachers and professionals came out.

People wondered who the enemy was within. After all, those who surrendered were the official lot and the unofficial killers and assassinations were very much alive. Which is one reason why many didn't want to give up their guns even after the war was over. The staccato burst that rang though any night was a reminder that they weren't just acts of bravado, for some they were acts of defiance in the face of the phantom fear that killers still lurked around.


I am both amused when people are shocked by crimes now. I ask myself, "Did they think we have just discovered sin and looting, hate and theft? Do they think our criminality is a recent innovation? "Wish it was but my bright, emotion free eyes remember much and though we try to live in a make believe world that we were all saints in 1971 and became sinners only recently, I know it isn't so. We have a long history mixed with both glory and treachery.


Right after liberation, there was gunfire everywhere and nobody really knew what was going on. The city of Dhaka was not really under anyone's control although the Indian army had amassed a large number of troops and Bangladeshis soldiers were walking in from all sides. Most were civilian FFs who would thumb a lift and enter the city and return home or even come visiting the city.

A significant number of them were troops of Kader Siddiqui of Tangail who in one of the more cruel and misguided shows of machismo killed Bihari razakars right in front of the entire international media. Basically people did whatever they wanted and thought they could. But almost no one supported such acts. It created a sense of high anxiety, revulsion and fear of what was going on.


Winters would be colder in the past but that year everyone felt very cold for some reason. Miraj Ali was keen on returning home to visit his village but stayed back. He was a small shopkeeper but he didn't shut it down. He told others that he had a month's stock of supply and goods were already short in the neighbourhood and he would wait till his stock lasted. His parents were sick, his brother had joined the war and not at home so he needed to be back but he didn't leave. Months later I met him as he was shutting his shop one last time having sold it. He was going to return to his village. His father had died and his brother hadn't returned. He gave me some leftover candy for my young cousins and disappeared. He could have gone earlier, he didn't.


Some of my FF friends had organized a party and the usual crowd laughed and joked more loudly than ever. After almost a year of silence, voices could be free. Liberation was not just from the Pakistanis but silence too. There was liquor too but not all drank. I remember the usual crowd, telling stories from the year but not all were true. That was OK, freedom from fear also liberates the imagination. I remember two very unusual guests, both from India. One was a businessman who had arrived almost a day after liberation and had already made friends and deals were being discussed. The other was a slightly loud mouthed jolly fellow who later turned out to be an urban Naxalite from Kolkata, had been in Khulna and later arrived in Dhaka and had already made friends. Saw them both till 1975 at least.


It was the 31st night and I went to see Samad's family. He had been killed in November but the body was buried in India. The mood at home was somber. His sister informed me that her mother had taken to the jay namaz and rarely left. The father just sat stunned in the tiny sitting room. I sat down near him, he looked up, saw me and went back to staring. I sat down and after a while left him after offering my salam. He didn't respond.

I walked the short distance home and heard both noises and silences in the houses as I passed. I wondered who lived there and just kept walking till I could hear our Bipin babu's voice drunkenly singing some forgotten song welcoming the years to come.

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