• Sunday, September 21, 2014

GROUND REALITIES

All those September stories

Syed Badrul Ahsan

SEPTEMBER is upon us again. The leaves will fall again. Intimations of winter will soon blow through the winds.

September causes a stirring in the soul. Outside the parameters of the soul, it is the spectacle of falling leaves which gives September a distinctive symbolism that has translated itself into poetry over time. Indeed, W.H. Auden once gave us a poem, September 1, 1939, that ensured for the month a place in history. In the soul, therefore, September comes in that sweep of history. There is a vastness about it, a reaching out as it were, into the human consciousness.

And all for good reason. On 1 September 1939, the floodgates to the destruction of modern sensibilities were flung open when Nazi Germany, only a fortnight after the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, invaded Poland. Sixteen days later, the Soviet Union rushed into the helpless country from the east. Poland disappeared. The Second World War was fast coming to Europe. Speaking of wars, in September 1965, India and Pakistan went to war for seventeen days. The result was a battlefield stalemate. Ayub Khan and Lal Bahadur Shastri went all the way to Tashkent four months later to go back to where they had been before the hostilities erupted.

Murder and mayhem have been part of the September narrative in Indonesia. In the depths of the night on 30 September 1965, six generals in the Indonesian army were murdered. A seventh one, Suharto, promptly sidelined President Sukarno, took charge and launched a massacre of suspected communists in the country. A million would be murdered by the state. Among the dead was D.N. Aidit, the respected leader of the Partai Komunis Indonesia. Suharto would go on to turn Indonesia into a kleptocracy over a period of thirty two years until his ignominious fall.

In terms of tragedy, few incidents can beat Black September in the ferocity of human behaviour. In September 1970, assassination attempts were made on Jordan's King Hussein; four jetliners hijacked by Palestinian guerrillas were blown up in full view of the world; and, eventually, Jordan's monarch waged pitched battles against Yasser Arafat's guerrillas before pushing them out of his country. A year earlier, on 1 September 1969, a young colonel in the Libyan army, Muammar Gaddafi by name, seized power in a coup d' etat and deposed the monarch, King Idris.

Ho Chi Minh, potent symbol of the Vietnamese struggle against colonialism, died on 2 September 1969. Incidentally, it was on 2 September 1945 that he had declared the independence of Vietnam. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser died of a heart attack on 28 September 1970. Death came to China's supreme leader Mao Zedong on 9 September 1976. For the first time in their modern history, the politicians and people of China were seen scrambling for new leadership. The Gang of Four and Hua Guo-feng would arrive, to be followed eventually by the diminutive Deng Xiao Ping and his fellow reformers.

For Bangladesh, September has a special resonance in its history. On 25 September 1974, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed the General Assembly session of the United Nations. Only a few days earlier, Bangladesh had made its presence felt through gaining membership of the world body. China, having exercised its right of veto as a way of keeping the doors to Bangladesh's entry blocked for two years running, because it needed to keep its friend Pakistan pleased, had a change of mind. And that made the difference.

In modern history, 11 September 1973 turned out to be a day destined to be cast to the winds of infamy. On the day, the Chilean military, America's Central Intelligence Agency, the Nixon administration and Chile's political opposition came together to dislodge the elected government of Salvador Allende. The president was killed inside La Moneda presidential palace. And then began, in ever-widening circles of disbelief, a long, long period in state-organized terror. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, the dictator, would oversee a long perpetration of terror on his country before his regime would crumble, with no one shedding tears. Twelve days after the coup, on 23 September, Chile's Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda died of illness and a broken heart. Illness can be rolled back. A broken heart never quite heals.

Exactly twenty eight years after Chile mutated into a state of fear, two jetliners flew into the twin towers in New York, reducing the buildings to powdery rubble and killing more than three thousand people trapped inside them. It was terror at work. And it would produce retaliatory terror, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The two countries would be left destroyed by American firepower.

Fifty three years before the outrage in New York, on 11 September 1948, Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah succumbed to cancer thirteen months into the birth of his Muslim country. Built on untenable political foundations, Pakistan would lurch from one disaster to another, eventually to lose its eastern half to a sovereign Bangladesh. In a blood-drenched Bangladesh, on 26 September 1975, the assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman decreed an indemnity ordinance for themselves, the better to protect themselves from prosecution for their criminality. The criminality would be formalized in the Fifth Amendment to the nation's constitution by the military regime of General Ziaur Rahman in early 1979.

On 2 September 1666, the Great Fire of London began at Pudding Lane near the Tower of London and continued for three days. As many as 13,000 houses were burnt. On 5 and 6 September 1972, the Black September faction of the Palestine Liberation Army murdered eleven Israeli participants at the Munich Olympics, to our horror and shame.

There once was a beautiful story which brought together a handsome Rock Hudson, a sensual Gina Lollobrigida and a beautiful Sandra Dee. That was in 1961. And it was a movie. They called it Come September.

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
E-mail: ahsan.syedbadrul@gmail.com

Published: 12:00 am Wednesday, September 03, 2014

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