For us, December is the month of victory. In the run up to Victory Day, The Daily Star (TDS) talked to eminent cultural personality and freedom fighter, Pijush Bandyopadhyay, who shared some of his memories of the Liberation War.
Excerpts from the interview:
TDS: You are primarily recognised as an actor. Would you tell us about your experience as a freedom fighter?
Pijush: Our primary aim was to put up a guerrilla resistance in the country. We were very much inspired by the modern history of guerrilla warfare. Take, for example, the struggle of the Vietnamese, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara. The history of China is remarkable in this regard. Mao Tse-tung used to say, “Be one with the water, like fish.” We deeply believed in this.
I was born and raised in Faridpur. I fought in that region.
TDS: Where did you receive your training to be a freedom fighter?
Pijush: I was trained inside the country. I trespassed to India in June 1971. I suddenly got ill the day after I got there and was hospitalised. Then, the Bangladesh Government in exile, decided to provide a rigorous training session to a number of young people. Sheikh Kamal, the eldest son of Bangabandhu, and I were selected from Faridpur. But I was down with typhoid then. As a consequence, I missed that training.
Mujib Bahini was being formed when I recovered. Since I had direct contact with political leaders such as Sheikh Moni, Abdur Razzak, Tofael Ahmed, and Sheikh Shahidul Islam, I joined the Mujib Bahini. The government ordered me to motivate the refugees staying at various camps and mobilise the fighters. I was, therefore, travelling from camp to camp.
TDS: When did you realise that the country was on the threshold of independence?
Pijush: I had an intuition in October that freedom was not very far. By December 3, the feeling turned into a belief.
I had personal contact with some high officials in the government. I had met Tajuddin Ahmed at that time. I also had periodical contacts with Capt. M Mansur Ali and Syed Kamruzzaman. I could guess that the Pakistani army was losing the battle.
TDS: Where were you on December 16?
Pijush: I was at a refugee camp in Kalyani, which is a little far from Calcutta (now Kolkata). We realised on December 14 that the Pakistani army would surrender any moment. The feeling was intense: we would be independent; the Bengali nation will have a country of its own. I still get goose bumps as I look back at that time. And I carry that particular consciousness in my heart. It's the driving force of my life.
TDS: Any memory that makes you shudder?
Pijush: There are many. I'll tell you one: It was the first week of June 1971. Razakars and the Shanti Committee had already been formed. A group called para-militia was brought from Pakistan. Most of them didn't receive any formal education, and their attitude was like that of cannibals. Somehow they traced me and I got caught. I can still remember those moments. They were killing everyone they got hold of. However, I was able to escape when they were busy pulling in another family. I had lost all hope at that time.
TDS: You went to war with a vision. Has that vision been materialised?
Pijush: We obviously didn't go to war only for a green-red flag, nor for the recognition of our language. There were so many hopes and aspirations for the future of Bangladesh. This nation, you know, had been exploited and oppressed for such a long time. We wanted to develop our own culture, traditions, and history. We wanted the country to be founded on the conscience of the freedom fighters. We envisioned a nation that carries the legacy of its forefathers; a nation that takes pride in its integrity.
We haven't reached that destination in the last 40 years. We have failed to make it. It's frustrating. There, nevertheless, are grounds for optimism. The young, for example, may change the country for good.