Reviewed by Shahed Chowdhury
It’s the tale of a teenage girl’s reminiscence of her journey from home country to a neighbouring country to take refuge during the devastating war of liberation in the year 1971, told by herself at the age of sixty. The title of the book written in Bangla can be translated as “Memories of the War of Liberation – An Adolescent Girl’s Journey through the War”. It was a ride across the thin line between life and death, starting from the Barishal town and ending up in a refugee camp in Tripura district of West Bengal, India.
Krishna Chattopadhyay, an artist by training, writes the story of her life when she was thirteen and the country was burning under the heinous genocide unleashed by the brutal Pakistani army on the unarmed civilians of Bangladesh. Krishna started her journey as a school going girl, only to become a mature nurse at the end – a motherly heart– in a field hospital for the war-injured freedom fighters. Hence, it is not only a physical journey, rather a psychological one, of a teen age girl into her adulthood.
During the Liberation War, we know, the Hindu communities were a particular target of the brutal atrocities of the Pak-army. We can see this particular situation through her eyes and of all, through her narration; we watch what a tormenting and traumatic situation a big part of our people faced at that time. Out of sheer insecurity as an adolescent girl particularly from a Hindu community, Krishna fled away from her home, Barishal to a relative’s house in Bikrampur. She never felt safe there as the collaborators of the Pak-army constantly posed threat to the shelter giver. Thus, being uprooted from there, she started again her long month’s journey to India together with a group of refugees. A considerable part of the book describes how she travelled from Bikrampur to Tripura through the nerve-racking situation with fear and helplessness.
Being an artist who has mastered on drawing, oil and water colour, Krishna portrayed the story in a colossally picturesque manner. While reading it, we feel a visual setting through which the journey was accomplished. The rural Bangladesh with its beautiful greeneries gives the story a new dimension. Although the book itself contains black-and-white line-drawings illustrating the crucial events, the narrative part depicts rather more with the colours of her words. Thanks to Bodhi Prakashnalay, here, the publisher for bringing it to light.
The story is told in such a simple and spontaneous form without making it unnecessarily complex, that we, the readers, also travel in tandem with her through the panic and the pain smeared village-roads and rivers. It no more remains her sole journey; subconsciously, it becomes a journey of our own. Many of us who have similar experiences encounter our own memories of the time once again and we make the canvas bigger by putting our individual tales in it.
Although the story is written at a mature life of the author, still she thoroughly remained true to the facts of the time and honest in her narrative; she never tried to bring in her present interpretations to the situations of that time. In the book, we see that Krishna even described the mental make-up of her maternal uncle when she was taken by him to his home in Kolkata not out of empathy rather as a means of domestic help. The style of her storytelling makes the book an authentic one.
By presenting the book to us, Krishna has contributed to the documentation of the history of the time. As it is her debut book, we might come across some areas of improvement; however, the topic has the strength and potential to surpass the “lacks” if we might call them. We hope the book gets the attention of the readers it truly deserves.
Shahed Chowdhury is a development activist.