I don't know the English date. It was the month of Chaitra. I used to hear the sound of gunshots all around. With seven siblings, ours was a needy family. Father had died a long time ago. How old was I? 13 or 14. I used to work in other households. If I got work, I'd eat; if not, I'd have to go hungry. But there was no work in the village. Everyone was fleeing in fear of the military. It was Monday, I think, and I went out looking for work. I didn't find anything. So out of desperation, I tried to gather some kochu mukhi (edible roots) from the jungle, when two men appeared in front of me. I knew one of them. His name was Aziz Master. Aziz Master introduced me to the other man whom I didn't know. He was a freedom fighter of the East Bengal Regiment, named Habildar Muhib. He was looking for a cook for his camp. When I didn't agree to his offer, he took me to my mother. Mother didn't consent initially when she heard about the prospect of my working in a camp. After a lot of discussion, when Muhib saheb insisted that he would adopt me as a god-daughter, my mother agreed despite her unwillingness. The next day I went to the Doshghoriya freedom fighter's camp, where I started cooking.
Initially, in between my cooking chores, I would be sent to recce the positioning of the enemy. I would pretend to be a mad woman and collect information about the enemy from different sources and places and inform the camp about them. The freedom fighters would execute their operations based on the information I gave them. Meanwhile, my godfather Muhib Habildar said to me one day: “Taramon, I want you to do more work for us. You have the ability and so I want to teach you how to use firearms. You will be directly participating in the war.” He taught me how to fire an SMG. In order to practice target shooting, he ordered me to fire at a turtle dove on the top branch of a tree. I succeeded on the first day itself.
Life of a freedom fighter: I didn't even realise when the 14-year old teenage Taramon became a soldier while working with the soldiers of the East Bengal Regiment. The realisation hit me when the Pakistani army attacked us from a gunboat.
It was an afternoon during the month of Shrabon, the rain was pouring down on us. All of us at the camp were having our lunch. Suddenly, freedom fighter Aziz Master called me and asked me to climb a beetle nut tree to check whether the Pakistani army was situated anywhere nearby. I climbed the tree and checked in the direction of the river through binoculars. While checking here and there, I suddenly chanced to see a launch. Gradually, after seeing more clearly, I understood that it was a gunboat of the enemy. The Pakistani army was heading towards our camp in that gunboat. Disaster! I cried out, “Be careful! The Pakistanis are coming. . .” Everyone left their meals, got hold of their guns and arms and took position. I quickly got down from the tree and took my position near them with my Chinese SMG in hand. Thus began an incredible fight. We fired shots. Their shots hit the trees near us. The small branches and leaves of the trees were falling on me. A bullet fired by me hit a Pakistani soldier. I loaded the magazine even more enthusiastically, and fired at them continuously. Like a piece of cloth being ripped, the bullets also ripped out of the gun ceaselessly. At times I heard the sounds of heavy machine guns that would make hearts tremble. After fighting like this until dusk, the Pakistani army retreated. The grounds of the camp reverberated with the cries of victory and 'Joy Bangla.'
I discovered myself that day; I saw myself transform from a maid to a soldier. After that we decided that it would not be safe to set the camp in that place any longer. We moved from Doshghoria to Ketontari. The air strikes of the Pakistani army began once we reached that place. A whole village was burnt to ashes. Several people died. We were ordered to dig bunkers. In one night, we dug 15 x 12 feet. Every time we heard the sound of a fighter plane, we sought refuge in the bunkers. We would shoot at the planes whenever we got the opportunity. Thus began my different life.
I started weaving dreams then. The country will be rid of its enemies, it will be free. My siblings, my parents -- my entire family -- will now have enough food to eat.
One afternoon, we saw a fighter plane, which was unlike the others. No bombs were dropped from it. We wanted to shoot at it when it completed its circle of inspection and turned to go back. However, we were stopped by Aziz Master. We learnt from the camp that they had received news that the country was now independent. The Pakistani army had surrendered their arms. There were tears of joy in my eyes. The camp was filled with the continuous slogans of 'Joy Bangla.' I also lent my voice to these slogans.
A different life: With many dreams, the country became independent. A different life began. I returned to Rajibpur. I got to meet my mother and siblings again. We were once again consumed by poverty. I took work in someone's house. My older sister wasn't getting any marriage offers. The reason was that I worked at the camp. Everyone said that I was not a decent girl. One day, Abdul Majid of the same village proposed marriage to me. I became a victim of poverty and river erosion again and again. Life refused to move on. In the meantime, my body became the abode of tuberculosis. I didn't even have the money to buy medicines.
Bad days come to an end: The year, 1995. In the midst of such a difficult life, the lecturer of Mymensigh Anondo Mohon College, Bilam Kanti De, came to visit me one day. While answering his questions, I learnt that I was a freedom fighter honoured with the title of Bir Protik. After that a report on finding me was published in Bhorer Kagoj. I was taken to Dhaka and felicitated. Bhorer Kagoj formed a fund to support me financially. They bought a land for me to build my house and some land for cultivation. Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute established an orgnaisation called RDRS on that land. After that, different organisations honoured and felicitated me. The government presented me with a land on the outskirts of Kurigram at Araji Polashbari. The then Commanding Officer of Kurigram BDR, Lieutenant Colonel Sumon Borua, built a semi-concrete house for me there in 2007.
It's true that I am now no longer suffering from poverty but I have yet to see the country that I had envisioned. Even now freedom fighters live in poverty. Many die without receiving any treatment. I didn't want to see such a Bangladesh. I wanted an enemy-free, happy Bangladesh.
About Taramon Bibi: Taramon Bibi was born in Shankar Madhabpur village of Kodalkati Union of Kurigram in 1957. Her husband Abdul Majid is a farmer. Her father is the late Abdus Sobhan while her mother is Kulsum Bewa. For her brave contributions during the liberation war, Taramon Bibi was honoured with the title of Bir Protik.
Translated by Upashana Salam of The Daily Star
Source: Ekattorer Bijoyinee, edited by Mustafiz Shafi and Tawhidur Rahman, Shuddhasar, February 2011