Our book, Ekattur pedia "or Historical Encyclopedia of 1971" is making good progress. It has taken many months, even years of hard labour of many and now it's slowly reaching the finishing line and is on its way to become a book. Although most materials are curated from various authenticated and published sources, some new elements are also being added.

We have one new section called, "Society and 1971". This chapter is on people's views, perceptions and experiences of 1971 in general. The war itself was so wide and broad that it touched every aspect of life and more. It's not just about a war or even liberation, It's about people going through an extreme phase in the life of a society and surviving it to recall including the memories of the dead.

As I near the end of my life's work I too reflect on what it has not only meant to others but also me. I think about two recent conversations that reflect the year that was.

The soldier

He is a war hero and later became a politician but in the annals of 1971 he is a warrior. An officer of the Pakistan army posted in a district of Bangladesh, he refused to surrender and despite orders didn't lay down his arms and with his company rebelled, fought and left the cantonment for the borders.

There he organized troops, recruited young men from within Bangladesh and led them to battles. He was part of many and in the end, like all he emerged victorious. He remembers the young warriors with great regard and respect knowing that these green kids who knew so little were such willing soldiers in a war which was the death bed for so many. It's what made the difference in a war of liberation.

He has not given up his struggle and keeps fighting as a politician but he knows political battles are a matter of many lifetimes and his time and life are not going to last forever. He has no regret because to him, the call to the war was a greater and more fundamental reality than his own life so he answered it. And by doing so became who he is and complete.

These days are for contemplation and reflection.

The victim

My relationship with him over the last 40 years is that of a speaker and a listener. He tells me of the raid of the Pakistan army on his ghetto - a congregation of ancient buildings crumbled by age and lack of privileges-where many died. The Pakistan army came to kill just because they happened to be Hindus and they did kill many. Most fled to India after the attack, many died on the way to sanctuary there. The refugee camps were shelters but life was very hard. It was not a place to mourn but survive. Most did and most also returned back to the same para their families have occupied over a hundred years at least.

It has been quite a few years since we last met and I have aged but I was sure that he would recognize me. I ask for him at the door and a young man, his nephew hears my name and introduces himself. He takes me upstairs by a crumbly staircase to the first floor verandah of sorts where a man lies stretched on a long chair. He immediately recognizes me and smiles. His body is racked by tremors, unrelenting and unforgiving. The grim reaper can't be too far away I suppose.

He laughs seeing me. "Come in, come in. We are having the same conversation for the last 40 years. It doesn't happen to everyone. I am not sure if it's a good or a bad thing. "We both laugh loudly. It really doesn't matter who has said that, the craftsman or the historian.

As he always does, he gives me a rundown of all the people I knew and interviewed over the years. Many are gone, most are unwell and some are fine. There is nothing really left more to say about fear and anger, all buried in a helpless past. He spends his mornings looking at rooftops and watching phantoms of his memory and imagination walk on them, he said.

Finally, I muster the courage to leave and say farewell. We both know what that means and his face tightens into a smile that isn't there. We say a perfunctory goodbye and walk down the alley that once day saw the horrors of genocide and now no longer visible except in the minds of the survivors of time and history.

The Witnesses

The clamor of the old city grows louder as I walk down the road to get a CNG back home. It's not a traffic jam but a form of urban living library, I tell myself. Each person on the road, walking or riding or driving through has a memory, their own or inter-generational of 1971 yet few know that including the beholder. They are the witnesses and they live in the hurly-burly of time waiting to be discovered, waiting to tell their tale.

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