Solayman rolled off his bed in terror. Twisting his body, he dived under the bed stand and lay flat. His whole body was trembling. The freedom fighters must have surrounded his house!
He had gone on an operation last night with seven armed Pakistani soldiers and ten to twelve non-Bengalis. He was the one who had led the way to Gopibagh. But they failed to find any of the said freedom fighters there. There were a dozen houses under lock and key. They had broken in and plundered the houses. After dividing the looted stuff, his share consisted of a radio, a table fan, a table clock, two flower vases and about a dozen spoons of different sizes. He had fallen into a deep slumber after returning early dawn. He had sent his wife and children to his in-laws' house when all the troubles started. So, there was nobody else at home now. The part-time maid servant probably had left as she found the door locked.
So, he had woken up late and had been thinking about his next "operation" when he heard the words, "Joy Bangla!" They hit his chest like two powerful bullets.
Stretching full-length under his bed-frame, he strained to hear more. However, the heart-shaking sounds seemed to have died down.
Slowly, he came out from his hiding place. He opened the windows one by one to check if anyone had entered the premises of his house.
The single-floor unit was surrounded by a wall. On top of the wall, there were shards of glass. The only entrance to the house was on the Pakurtola Lane. It was highly unlikely that anybody had got into his haven.
Solayman could not understand where the sound came from. He did not start to imagine things, did he? Sound of western music came out from the direction of the two-storeyed house that stood in the west. The one storeyed house on the east stood in silence.
Solayman looked at the table-clock -- 17 minutes past 10. He should get out of the house right away. His job was to wander through the lanes and streets for information-- which household played Swadhin Bangla Betar, which house was frequented by suspicious looking young men, which houses had huge locks on the front-doors, etc. He collected all these information through the day and in the evening, entered a small office which sported a signboard "Continental Enterprise." It was actually a military intelligence office.
Solayman jumped in fear. That was close and real. He heard it twice and two different voices. And the voices were pretty young. Many young boys also had joined the freedom fighters, he had heard. These kids carried bullets, bombs, rifles and guns!
The sound came again. It clearly came from the house that stood on the east. Somebody was going out or coming in. They were using the words as greetings, for sure. That house must be a secret hideout of the Muktibahini!
He could not possibly wait till the evening with such a piece of news. He dressed up quickly and locked his front door. Looking around carefully he tried to understand if anybody was watching him. Everything was quiet.
Around twelve noon, a military truck arrived in front of house number 7 at Pakurtola Lane. A team of soldiers jumped out and surrounded the house at the order of Major Janjua. They all took positions on the ground while Major Janjua approached the front door with a revolver in his hand. Like his men, he, too, was crawling. Then he barked, "Who is inside? Hands up! Surrender immediately."
Inside, it was all silent. Then, a door opened and an old man came out. His hands were down and a boy of about ten followed him.
"Tumhaar ki naam achhe?" asked Major Janjua.
"Shamsher Majumdar," the old man replied. He felt insulted being addressed by "tumi" as opposed to "apni." But he kept his cool.
"Are you a Hindu?"
"No, I am Muslim," the man replied unafraid. His only son had been shot dead in his government residence by the Pakistani soldiers. His grandson, a college student, had run off to join the freedom fighters. What would he be afraid of? He knew Urdu but he would never speak in that language in his own home.
"What kind of a Muslim are you? 'Majumdar' is a last name used by Hindus."
"Listen, Major Saheeb, if the Rathor Rajput last name holders of your country can be Muslims, why not 'Majumdar'? Besides, 'majm' is an Arabic word and 'daar' is Persian."
Major Janjua understood Bengali well even though he could not speak. He felt somewhat embarrassed. His own last name once belonged to the Hindus. There still were many Hindus of the same name in India. But he persisted, "Very well, recite Kalema Shahadat."
"Ashhadu Allah Ilaha Illallahu la shrikalahu wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan abduhu wa Rasuluhu."
"You are Muslim all right. Who is that boy behind you?"
"He works in my house."
"Who else lives here?"
"My wife. She is paralysed and cannot get up from the bed."
"We know that you have sheltered the Muktis here."
" Joy Bangla lives in your house."
"Do not lie, old man. We will search your place."
Major Janjua and his men searched the entire house and found nobody except his paralysed wife.
He asked old Mr. Majumdar again, "Didn't the freedom fighters come today?"
"You have white hair on your head and still you're lying?"
"I'm telling the truth."
"Habilder, handcuff this man."
One of the soldiers put handcuffs on his hands.
Major Janjua turned to the boy. "You boy, what's your name?"
"Lebu. Lebu Sheikh."
"Did anyone come to this house today?"
"No, nobody came."
"Tell the truth, boy." Major Janjua smacked his cane across the boy's back.
Lebu starten to cry, "Nobody came, Sir."
The voice was loud and clear. Major Janjua and his soldiers jumped up. Their shocked eyes fell on a cage hanging in the veranda. It held a hill myna and it was watching them. It shrieked again, "Joy Bangla."
Finally, the mystery was solved. But who spoke with the bird? They knew that there was another voice in the house.
Major Janjua barked at Lebu, "Hey boy, who speaks with this Myna? There's someone else who replies back to him saying, 'Joy Bangla.' Speak quickly."
"A- aar-- ai moynadare bengai!" a sniffing Lebu replied in his very own dialect.
"'Bengai?'-- what's 'bengai'?" asked a perplexed Janjua.
"The boy just mimics the myna," Majumdar explained in English.
"No, no. This boy must have taught the myna to speak those words."
"No, he did not teach him."
"Then who did?"
"A number of processions passed by the roads in the past weeks. The myna learnt from them." Shamsher Majumdar did not reveal that his grandson had taught the myna to say those words before he went off to join the Muktibahini.
Major Janjua seemed to believe the old man. He looked at Lebu and said, "You have learnt to mimic the Myna quite well. Now, mimic me. Say, 'Pakistan Zindabad.'"
"You bastard, what did you say?" Major Janjua lashed out with his cane.
The old man said, "What are you beating him for, Major Saheeb? He is an illiterate boy from Noakhali. His people cannot pronounce p. They use h instead."
Major Janjua ordered his people to let go of the Old man and the boy and arrest the myna instead.
"Joy Bangla," the bird protested.
"Haramjade, what did you say?" Major Janjua struck out and hit the cage.
"Dadabhai, kola khabo (Dadabhai, I want to eat a banana). Joy Bangla!"
"And I will eat your head!" barked Janjua.
Even though Majumdar protested strongly, the army took away the myna in its cage. The old man watched in tearful eyes.
Major Janjua took the myna to his house in the cantonment. There was nobody else except his batman whom he instructed to teach the myna to say, "Pakistan Zindabad."
Sherdil tried to make the myna say "Pakistan Zindabad," but to no avail. The myna continued to screech, "Joy Bangla."
Major Janjua ordered, okay, it may not learn to say, "Pakistan Zindabad," but it must stop uttering "Joy Bangla." Whenever the bird utters those two words, water must be sprinkled on it.
But nothing worked. Finally, Janjua was tired and ordered his batman to release the bird. How long can one listen to "Joy Bangla" at one's own home? It was even more unacceptable inside the cantonment.
The bird, however, did not go far. Sometimes, when there was nobody around, it came to sit on top of its old cage. And then it would fly to sit on the branches of a nearby jackfruit tree and squeal, "Joy Bangla!"
One evening, Major Janjua had just returned from one of his "operations," and sat on the veranda with a mug of coffee. He had only taken a sip when the tactless bird screamed, "Joy Bangla." Janjua took out his revolver and fired at the bird. But it was too far away. Before he could take aim again, it took flight. Nobody heard it ever again in the Cantonment area.
The country became independent. And in an independent Bangladesh, many heard the myna sing. It went on calling out for some years before finally disappearing. Perhaps, it went back to its home in the mountains. A bird, too, understands when it is not safe to call out "Joy Bangla."
Sohana Manzoor is Associate Professor, Department of English & Humanities, ULAB. She is also the Literary Editor of The Daily Star.