Reflections on Muktijuddho
1. Those who were born after Muktijuddho (Liberation War), to whom do they go, to fully realize its true spirit?
To answer this, we can talk about the dusty books from the libraries, memoirs written by our ancestors, or the articles printed in newspapers.
But this kind of search is merely theoretical; the people of Bangladesh, especially the youth, go through a spiritual journey of realizing the true spirit of Muktijuddho, and that goes beyond information and statistics. Who rouses this interest?
While searching for the answer to this question, I remember Muhammad Zafar Iqbal's novel for youths, "Amar Bondhu Rashed", a book that captivated us during our childhood. I still envy the reader who is going to read Jahanara Imam's "Ekattorer Dinguli" for the first time, which will enable him/her to listen to Tom John's Green Green Grass of Home along with crack platoon's Rumi. The reader who has decided to read Humayun Ahmed's short story "Shyamolchhaya" or Shaheen Akhtar's novel "Talash", will also be able to discover the tragic side of the Muktijuddho, and learn about the mountainous amount of sacrifice that had to be made.
These stories penetrate the sensitive minds of the readers and make them realize that the war was not simply confined to winning against the monsters; it is much more brutal and its wounds are deeper than the metro rail extravaganza that is taking place within the heart of the capital city.
Not only the pages from books, I also realised that the scenes captured on celluloid also deliver history from one generation to another. It has been a while since BTV's screening on Ekushey February afternoon and Zahir Raihan's "Jibon Theke Neya" has become synonymous. Also, when the youth of the nation enthusiastically embrace the cinema "Guerilla"; a recent innovation; it becomes clear that the people of Bangladesh still want to feel connected with the Muktijuddho in a multidimensional manner.
One cannot ignore the songs, too. Somewhere I read that Vladimir Lenin was mesmerised by the music of Beethoven, and mentioned something in the line of 'if you keep playing this tune, I cannot complete the revolution'.
Luckily for us, just the opposite happened during Bangladesh's Muktijudddho. It is now a fact that the vocal artists of the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra tumultuously motivated the Muktijoddhas during the war. Thus, during the national days, we still take a moment to pause and appreciate songs like "…notun surjo othar ei to somoy (It's the time for a new sunrise)" amid the excruciatingly repetitive playing of a plethora of clichéd, risqué Hindi songs.
I am citing these examples, because I realise that, to carry the burden of history -- literature, music, and movies are much more effective than a statistics-filled report or a very formal seminar being held in an air-conditioned room. That is why the people of Bangladesh want to embrace the spirit of Muktijuddho through words, rhythm, and scenes.
2. The final chapter of the last decade was more or less one-dimensional for the people of Bangladesh
It is being termed 'one-dimensional', because, almost everyone around us was a fan of a single media outlet back then. The people of the whole country viewed the same, highly popularised episodic drama by Humayun Ahmed, Syed Shamsul Haque, or Monjurul Islam's columns in the newspapers and managed to generate nationwide excitement.
And even during the silent hours of the mid-day, we could hear the voices of Andrew Kishore and Sabina Yasmin booming on the radio; in every suburb along with the capital city.
But then, things changed during the mid-90s, thanks to the arrival of the dish antenna, and after another decade or so, social media came along with the internet; and as a result, globalisation hit us like a cyclone and brought a massive change in the way people perceive things.
If the decades we left behind were one-dimensional, then it becomes nearly impossible to comprehend the current times. Naturally, the psychological structure of today's children, youth, and teenagers is more fascinating than ever.
Siblings living under the same roof show very different types of interests; it may be possible that one of them is proudly displaying a poster of a Spanish football league superstar in his room, while another is fashioning a Korean TV series on her dress, and while another one is spending days and nights in his relentless pursuit of different Hollywood star's updates on Instagram.
So the thought crosses the mind, in this brave new world of words, rhythm and scenes, does the history of Muktijuddho still stir emotion within the minds of the youth?
There are valid reasons behind such concern. In the era of widely available internet connectivity, almost everyone has become a global citizen, and hardly any art form can be obstructed and made inaccessible, and thus, people will mostly pick up the songs, cinemas, and books they prefer.
As it is also the era of the free-market economy and publicity stunts, a relatively unknown, stick-wielding "Nuruldin" of Syed Haque is much helpless in front of the fiery, fire-breathing dragons of The Game of Thrones.
Now it doesn't even surprise me when I see many youths around us are quite well informed about the Chicago student movement or the atrocities that took place in Japan during the Second World War, but are fully oblivious of our very own Birshreshtha Matiur or Nur Hossain, the one who brought down an autocrat.
To them, these individuals are as ancient and unknown as a letterbox.
The concerns do not end here. All of this reminds us of that short story by Akhteruzzaman Elias, in which there was a character who would keep on twisting his legs towards the wrong side. He wanted to pull Bangladesh backward. An unlimited supply of lies, unscientific facts, and waves of communal discourse gives us an eerie feeling that certain negative forces are still active in Bangladesh. For these reasons the likelihood of misleading the youth is higher than ever.
Now the situation has become such that we are running out of alternatives other than the history bearing words, rhythms, and scenes. It seems these are the only ways of sanitising the youth with good thoughts.
3. However, it is also difficult to present these words, rhythms, and scenes to the youth in a way with which they can relate
I have already mentioned that the fight for grabbing people's attention has brought in impossible odds for the Bangladeshi artists, who are being forced to fight against the heavy capital, talents, and labours of the developed nations. And also, in the last decade, the socio-political environment of Bangladesh has taken such a turn that creating a proper narrative cannot be made without truly talented and knowledgeable individuals.
But we are going through a shift in generations, and there are very few larger-than-life individuals in our society right now. The very few enlightened individuals that we have, have somewhat let down the youth, by failing to fully comprehend the complicated chemistry of the current times.
Thus, Bangladesh is being forced to rely on the youth to generate words, rhythm, and scenes in today's language, along with the cinemas, songs, and books that have been with us for a long time.
It is expected that they will be able to inspire people by showcasing the history of Muktijuddho through new mediums and modalities. Publishing Bangabandhu's autobiography ("Oshomapto Attojiboni") and releasing the graphic novel "Mujib" are laudable efforts. Similar to these commendable acts, podcasts and documentaries can also be made to attract the young generation towards our history.
We have to reinvigorate our museums. The European museums commemorating the Jewish individuals that passed away during World War II have gone through a three-sixty degree change during the current century.
Dynamic light and shadow effects, sounds that create mental pressure, moving slides of touching and emotional images have made museum visits very interesting for people of all ages through these innovative, interactive acts. Our museums need to be massively overhauled, and afterward, they will have a major role to play to make us realise and feel the sadly emotional and glorious history of 1971.
4. But does this mean the academic practice of history should be left idle?
Can we escape the responsibilities of digging through the fading pages of the thesis papers or the laborious task of interviewing the Birangonas?
No, we cannot substitute historical investigations on the excuse of practicing art.
Stories and novels can shed light on our personal lives in such a manner that cannot be made possible through reports and researches, but at the same time, they have to be based on reality--even the magical world of Harry Potter cannot deny the realities of the real world.
We know that in many countries, there are no boundaries when it is a question of art. We can see a generous helping of fantasy in the popular TV series "Narcos" and a similar tone can be seen in works by Nobel Prize-winning authors like Coetzee and Llosa.
I don't doubt the belief system of these authors and scriptwriters, but at the same time, I realize that the reality of Bangladesh is much different than that in Hollywood or Europe. The effort of bringing a flawless and non-challenged version of the history of Muktijuddho to the mass populace has been majorly thwarted so far; thanks to the devious, politically motivated efforts of different interest groups.
Alarmingly, people, too are not being bothered to look back at history, and instead, they are picking up pages from stories and novels, and using cinemas as the source of information.
In this perspective, we have to give the highest priority to the academic practice of the history of Muktijuddho.
We have to establish the truth by researching about the outreach of the genocide or by going through the arduous task of interviewing the lesser-known freedom fighters. Afterward, artists can popularise it.
At one end, the power of information is much higher than fantasy; but at the same time, it is also an undeniable fact that no report can clearly describe the fears and woes of a family that was escaping the military on a rainy day—for that, we have to revert to a story like "Khoari". No statistics can create a lasting impact like the song "Shono ekti Mujiborer theke lokkho Mujiborer…."
But in addition to the challenge of sticking to the truth, the makers of words, rhythms, and scenes of this delta-country will have to face another obstacle.
We have seen that political reality brings down our heroes regularly, and we have also seen the heated roads and the shrewd cyber world sometimes make people embrace known enemies, and also, we have seen differing opinions getting canned and stored in boxes marked with colourful stickers.
We have come to know that the announcement of liberation included the promise of establishing equality, human dignity and social justice for the people, but instead, we see a widespread, self-centred attitude, which is also prevalent in artists.
But it is also true that art becomes successful only when the hardest of truths gets uttered with ease. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman managed to achieve that feat, which is why his speech of March 7 has become as sacred as a poem. Individuals, who worship words, rhythms, and scenes, look fondly at that poem, once more.
The people of Bangladesh know everything and understand it, too.
To spread the spirit of Muktijuddho from generation to generation during these hashtag-filled, viral thirsty times, the true artist has only one duty to perform; to come forward in front of the general populace with a sensitive and sadness-filled mind.
Suhan Rizwan is a novelist.