Jessore Road brings back memories of '71
The Jessore Road earned its name for being a crucial communication link between the eastern and western parts of Bengal. But it reappeared with a new significance in September 1971 when millions used it as a highway to life, defying natural calamities, to evade Pakistani atrocities.
Nearly 10 million people fled the country for a makeshift refuge in neighbouring India as Pakistani troops launched a cleansing campaign. Most of the people in the western region chose Jessore Road as a safe passage particularly in September - a very difficult time when the country witnessed a late monsoon deluge.
Many people left aside their ailing minors or elderly dear ones, dead in the mud, to bear for a lifetime in agony. Others lost their lives to enemy bullets or were captured by razakars to languish in captivity. Jessore Road, which linked Bangladesh's Jessore with West Bengal's Kolkata, was the witness of many such untold stories.
Furthermore late monsoon flood aggravated the sufferings of the people fleeing their homes, drawing attention of world media for the cause of Bangladesh alongside the empathy of artistes, musicians and poets.
Jessore Road appeared to be a topic of war and refugee migration. Foreign journalists and aid workers reported on it, singers composed music and great poets wrote poetry about it. Their hearts were touched by the miseries of people, fleeing their homes for life.
US poet Allen Ginsberg was one of them who captured the history in his great poem “September on Jessore Road” which was recited at a poetry recitation programme in St George Church of New York. His close friend legendary pop star Bob Dylan later gave it a musical form to be sung at a concert for Bangladesh afterwards.
“Millions of babies watching the skies/ Bellies swollen, with big round eyes/ On Jessore Roadlong bamboo huts/ No place to shit but sand channel ruts. . . Millions of babies in pain/ Millions of mothers in rain/ Millions of brothers in woe/ Millions of children nowhere to go.
The poet also sharply criticised the role of his own country, the United States, with its top leaders opposing Bangladesh's cause. He wrote, “American Angel machine please come fast! / Where is Ambassador Bunker today? / Are his Helios machine gunning children at play?”
Indian singer Mausumi Bhaumik sang the Bangla version of the song “September on Jessore Road”, giving it an extra touch of emotion while youtube launched another version of Bhaumik's rendering along with a visual footage of captured motion pictures of refugee migration.
“Taxi September along Jessore Road/ Oxcart skeletons drag charcoal load/ past watery fields through rain flood ruts/ Dung cakes on tree trunks, plastic-roof huts." This is the way Ginsberg's poetry depicted the scene at that time.