Opinions of a handful of martyrs
The language Martyrs' monument -- the Shahid Minar. The final moments of 20th February. Statues of a handful of Martyrs gather around the monument circle.
One: Shahid Minar. The Tajmahal for martyrs of the language movement. Yahya's savage followers had demolished it to dust and rubble. It has been newly restored by the touch of independence.
Idealist: We are pleased with it, being language movement martyrs. Our deaths were not in vain, at least for this reason.
One: The 23rd Anniversary of 21st February is just moments away in this resting place for the memories of the martyrs.
Idealist: The whole circle will be filled with people. The devoted will bear songs on their lips and flowers in their hands as offerings to pay their reverence.
Frank: Another annual display of respect!
Idealist:Display of respect! What are you saying? The sacrifices of '52, on 21st February, were the revolutionary introduction to the Bengali people's patriotism and their right as a nation. '71 was its beautiful result. The Bengali nation is independent today. Hence, this show of reverence is more personal; unadulterated.
Frank: That's exactly why I say it is a display of respect. The Bengali nation gained independence in '71. But can you tell me if '52's core demand for our language was fulfilled even in '74? The Pakistanis wanted to martyr the Bengali language itself. Salam, Najir, Barkat were martyred protecting it. What has happened to the very same language in these 23 years?
Idealist: Enough! License plates for motorised vehicles were changed to Bengali. Sign-boards written in English were demolished. 23 immortal 21st Februaries have been celebrated, including today. Regular and surprise publications of special editions both have been doing good business. Eulogies and requiems are being posted and observed all over the place.
Frank: And that's all the effort there is. Tell me, how successful has the usage of Bengali and its propagation in daily life proven to be, not mentioning the failure of writing a moving and world conquering piece of literature, or even the composing of a rich national anthem -- which remains out of reach? Even to this day the use of English terms such as: sir, dear sir, yours faithfully, sincerely and obediently have not ended. For how much longer will the Bengali nation remain 'yours obediently'?
Idealist: You are very impatient.
Frank: Is it without reason? Nationalistic pride of the mother tongue grows strong with the ambrosia of literature and culture. Where is this natural flow of such nectar of these entities even after independence? Why has the pace of great creations subsided with the absence of set routines? Why is everything being dragged along the ground, diverting away from a set focus, in the post-independence era -- while there used to be anunfathomable drive and inspiration during pre-independence? Why is the Bengali nation's revolutionary spirit being lost in a dessert of indecisiveness?
Hopeful: You are one agitated, wrathful, excited martyr. Your temper flares now as always in the past. Instead of lighting a wick to spread an aura, you keep cursing the darkness. I, for one, see the light of hope through this exuberance of celebrating 23 years of the language movement and sating the memories of the martyrs.
Frank: Sating the memories of the martyrs? Is the situation actually so? In my opinion, 21st February is only used to satiate the need of some other agenda. Have you forgotten the heinous defilement of the sacred day of 21st February past through unaccounted crises? Was not the sea of spilled blood in exchange for independence defiled too?
Hopeful: That was only an unforeseen accident. Nothing more.
Frank: Is that so? But you are blind to the fact that such an unforeseen accident is turning to be daily business. Look! How your unforeseen accident repeats itself. Search within the grove there.
[Jump to scene: a young couple sit together holding hands among the bushes]
Boy: Only if every day were the immortal day of 21st February.
Boy: Because, this after-dark meeting would not have been possible if it was not for the celebrations. Would you be able to come out of your house this late if it were not for the excuse of the day?
Girl: Never. The garland which I sewed for the martyrs was so huge, that nobody at home had the heart to stop me from coming out tonight. But I feel a bit ashamed now.
Boy: Shame? Is the joy behind us coming together something disgraceful? Could shame ever overshadow joy? Such a thought is unhealthy; it reflects a sick mind.
[He pulls her closer.]
[back to the Shahid Minar.]
Frank: Are you not shamed by this exemplary display of reverence? The martyrs are truly dead today. 21st February has been buried in its grave today.
Idealist: No. Just because of a few inconsiderate people and their actions, the martyrs and there principles cannot be declared deceased.
Those who won over death through their lives spent From them, 21st's lesson, have millions of heartstaken. The act of paying with their lives for their mother tongue, That is the Bengali spirit's revolutionising song. It is their rebirth on the 21st, not their deaths Conquering demise, they live on through their deaths.
[another martyr enters the scene.]
Joker: Bravo! That was a very nice poem.
One: Where were you all this time?
Joker: Visiting a few neighbourhoods in Dhaka city.
One: What did you see?
Joker: Very astonishing sights, revolutionary sights -- revolution through attire, through behaviour; not only through designs on what they wore, but changes through revolutionary designs on their faces. Unrecognisable! It was a hard challenge to decipher the Bengali faces through their long hair, side-burns extending up to their chins, and weird innovative clothing. The poet who opined “I have seen Bengali's face” should be ridiculed into shame.
Joker: Meaning, each face is a different psychedelic design on their own.
One: You could not let go of your joking nature till this day.
Joker: You would have done the same if you witnessed the many facades of the transformed modern day Bengali. I saw a new band of musicians practicing today -- unnatural music composition, unnatural melody and vocals; weird physical expressions and instruments. It's like a complex cosmopolitan affair all together.
Hopeful: Maybe it's a revolt against the age old symmetric formula for music.
Joker: Whatever it may be. This is an intercourse between independent Bengalidesh and the international culture. A research into the rediscovery of Bengalidesh… rediscovery of the perpetual Bengalidesh would be required in the near future.
Hopeful: This is very temporary. The revolutionaries are restless these days.
Joker: Their mental state is apparently the same. Restlessness and indecisiveness is evident in many cases. The environment is polluted with those who became wealthy overnight and have come across it by chance. Social life has been poisoned by the black-marketers, profit addicts, hoarders alike. The elderly refer to the youth as 'the lost generation', while the youth call the elderly 'fossils'.
Hopeful: This is nothing but the trend of the ages. Stability will return at the end of all renovations, when they are done.
Joker: When? That is the question. Explosions of pain take place within the hearts of those left disfigured and paralysed from the war. They are taking part in the grand play of life. Let us go and observe.
[the scene changes. A young girl is holding the prosthetic hand of a young boy.]
Girl: It doesn't make any sense holding onto this false hand of yours. There is no feeling in it.
Boy: Does not even the warm feelings out my heart induce the same in you?
Girl: The exchange of love in the play of life is only a prelude. But, unluckily, the required strong arm needed to tackle the hard work to go behind the main play does not exist with you. Forgive me, but it I cannot fare through life holding your dummy hand.
[the girl leaves]
Boy: [while reacting with his hand] This hand is a fake dummy, to be put in a show-case; a dummy belonging in a museum. The touch of this deceiving, lifeless, hand is not capable of creating a sense of empathy or love in anyone. The very hand which I had used to maim my enemies, the very hand with which I had brought one far off closer to me, the very hand with which I believed I could snatch the Sun away, the very hand which I have lost has turned me into a man-resembling-mannequin. What have I gained having lost my hand? What have I gained?
[another freedom fighter enters on crutches.]
Crippled: Independence! You've got your independent country. I too have received this invaluable independence in exchange of just one leg. I could not have walked around with pride before, even when on my two able and strong legs. I walk balancing my weight on crutches today, yet my head never bows down. It is as high as the Himalayas.
Boy: When my whole existence has just been reduced to nothing but a fallacy in front of a girl just because of lacking a hand, what use is it to have my head held high? Yet, this same girl used to love me in the not so distant past.
Crippled: You should have expected such feminine weakness, although not all women in this country are so frail. They too have fought the war, overcome sorrow, have been martyred.
Boy: I am in grief today for the same reason. Why was I not martyred? It would have been much better rather than to have been rendered disabled and worthless.
[back to the Shahid Minar.]
Joker: What do you think of the scene from the play?
Hopeful: The play will be rewritten. I am just waiting for that able playwright.
Joker: Then keep waiting. But doesn't it seem odd to be missing the real actors in today's immortal 21st's play? The stage is set, the lights are in motion, the audience have taken their seats, but where are they? [in a loud voice] Salam bhai, Najir bhai, Barkat bhai where are you all?
Salam: Did you summon us?
Joker: Huh! Today is your day. Isn't celebrating today without you and staging Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark the same? The simile may as well be ages old and clichéd, but the truth behind the statement is ageless.
Barkat: True. But to turn this celebratory play into a success, a strong playwright as adept as Shakespeare himself is required.
Salam: What motives lie behind awakening memories of our deaths through such yearly celebrations? The whole purpose of our deaths was to pave the way for, and enrich the Bengali way of life.
Najir: How far have they fared on that path? Are they busy celebrating the reconstruction of their war afflicted lives, just as they celebrate the 21st?
One: This question must be passed onto the independent Bengalis. Answer to this question is yet to be found since '52.
Barkat: Then… who are you all? Please tell us of your personal identities.
One: We are your spiritual descendants. We gave our lives in the cause of independence. We celebrated the 21st with our lives. Now we are with you.
Salam: You are immortal martyrs. You finished what we had started. You are immortal martyrs in the cause for independence.
Joker: No, no. We are all 'i-m-mortal' martyrs. You can say mini-martyrs even.
Najir: What do you mean?
Frank: Meaning, nobody knows who we are, inexistent, and un-named martyrs. Anonymous martyrs! Dead troops from the grand play that was the war of independence; extras -- in one word.
Salam: To have sacrificed yourself for a great cause -- does that not bring pride to you?
Frank: Absolutely, no doubt. Of course we take pride in being amongst the unknown martyrs. But at the same time, just as during the credits of a cinema all the names of the important people are followed by 'and others' similarly references to us are made through employing the same tactics on effigies and monuments by writing 'and others' following the engraved names of all the other martyrs -- meaning we are mere extras.
One: We are lost within the jungle of so many more like us.
Joker: And we are lamenting within this jungle. There were no promotions for us within this company of martyrs. We were guerrillas, we remain guerrillas.
Idealist: You were a comedian, and still remain so even after being martyred.
Joker: Have we to strip rice from the paddy even in heaven? Has ever a martyred stand-up-comedian become the protagonist in a play? Have you achieved prominence? Feeling pain is only a worldly matter. Not possible here.
[Salam, Najir and Barkat walk away, beckoning each other.]
Idealist: It is absolutely a worldly feeling. It does not suit martyrs to be offended and to be complaining about naming their identities.
Frank: But the martyrs' names need to be etched on memory's pages nonetheless. Even those who died of snake bites nearly made the list because of cunning relatives. The web of deception is so tangled that it would not be surprising if there were any false martyrs put on it. You just need to have conniving people looking after your affairs.
One: What use would they have lamenting, those who do not have such people related to them?
Joker: Maybe there is no use for it, but even then it shrouds the mind. Many streets have been named after quite a few martyrs. Could our names not have been even affiliated with the demarcations between two paddy fields?
Idealist: You have not been able to leave behind the earthly delusion of an identity yet -- it's an extremely grievous affair.
Frank: Not delusion. Just seeing the extremities performed just to prove a point of a name raise many question in one's mind. It is definitely a duty to show your respect towards the exceptional martyred pundits, philosophers, and intellectuals. After all, as the saying goes: 'a fallen elephant is still worth millions'. But then again, the life of a commoner is still a life. His self-sacrifice for the war is still a sacrifice. And what about him? [a solitary cowered statue stands at one extreme] A simple school teacher from a village -- without whom the famous would not be able call themselves educated -- lived with and for the sole purpose of educating and upholding its principles and values. Is it too much to ask for his name to be etched on the same pages reserved for memories?
One: Many more have befallen the same fate, to be lost within this multitude forever.
Hopeful: They are not lost. They will live on forever within the hearts of the people.
Frank: A charming speech for comfort! But the harsh reality is just as these common martyrs never demanded the attention of anyone -- their families are being neglectedsimilarly. Nobody goes out of their way looking for them, or interview them, or even snap a simple photograph of them. Today's independent society doesn't even feel theneed to know what hardship they are living through in their daily lives.
Idealist: Because, the society which has inherited the independence is drowning itself in self- created depression. Humanity in itself has deteriorated.
Hopeful: I think all of you are looking into things a little too deep.
Frank: Looking into it too deep? Come with me. Come and see the desolate state my widow is in. I had erected a good business. One of my paternal cousins devoured it. Not being able to bear the torture inflicted on her by them, she has taken refuge at her father's dwelling. But surviving there has become a hardship in itself. On one hand the scum of the neighbourhood crave to use and abuse her, while her brother treats her like dirt with his heartless attitude on the other hand. Come with me to witness it. Come with me. [a young man, young woman and their mother. The spirits of the martyrs are standing at one edge of the stage watching.]
Man: Maa, please tell your daughter to accept Amjad's proposal to wed her.
Maa: Amjad's proposal! He is a miscreant. Are you asking your own sister to be handed over to that rascal?
Man:He may as well be a miscreant and a rascal, but marrying him would ensure her daily meals and clothes to wear. To judge his character would mean picking out every strand from a fur to leave it bald, Maa. You can't buy ration tickets, neither gather relief aids with a character certificate.
Maa:Do you want to burn the girl to death by shoving her into a fire of grief ridden turmoil?
Man: The call of hunger is more real than peace of mind, Maa.
Maa: She's the only sister you've got. Can't you even provide two meals for the unfortunate soul? What type of a brother are you?
Man: Having burnt her own fate, has she now come to burn to ashes mine? And her arrogance, why doesn't it subside?
Maa: Please! I can't bear to hear such words from you. So many they've killed, didn't they have one bullet for me? [exits]
Man: What say you Rokeya? Should I inform Amjad? Are you willing?
Rokeya: It's better that you shoot me to death Saju Bhai. He has been martyred and I have been left as game for a drunk villain.
Man: Game for drunken villains are happier than you in life.
Rokeya: Saju Bhai, aren't we siblings from the same mother's belly?
Man: All strife rises from that belly. Illegitimate children of the belly, the gut wrenching hunger of the belly -- satiating its wants become unbearable.
Rokeya: What are you saying Saju Bhai?
Man: All I am saying is: you don't have to marry Amjad. Just agree to be his mistress, and we can still arrange shelter for you. What do you think? Should I try?
Rokeya: Saju Bhai!
Man: Alright, alright. You don't have to yell out so loud. You won't be able to earn daily meals with your chastity. [gestures to Amjad, who by this time has entered the scene from the side] Amjad is right here. Today is the 21st of February. Why don't you accompany him and go see the celebrations of the day at the Shahid Minar?
Rokeya: [glancing and measuring up each of them by turn] Yes! Surely I will go. Surely I will Saju Bhai. Maa, oh mother. [Maa enters] I am going Maa.
Maa: Where to?
Rokeya: The martyrs' sacrificial alter.
Maa: With whom?
Rokeya: [gesturing towards Amjad] With him.
Maa: No. I won't let you go.
Rokeya: Don't say no, Maa. If I can't stay here, then I will have to go somewhere else. I know no one is martyred after death anymore, but they do die. [extends her hand holding a small photograph of her husband towards Maa] Please keep this photo of his with you Maa. [turns to Amjad] Lets go.
[both of them exit]
Maa: Don't go Rokeya, don't go. [she breaks down crying]
Frank: [in an agitated loud voice]Don't go Rokeya, don't go! He will destroy you. Not only will you behis mistress, but reduced to of the unchaste. Don't go Rokeya, don't go.
One: Why are you yelling? You know she can't hear you.
Frank: Yes. She won't be able to hear me calling her anymore. They can't see or hear us. But I must see where Amjad takes Rokeya.
[scene changes. An empty road. They are walking. There are a few more walking a bit further away and in front of them. Suddenly sounds of firing bullets rip through the air. Instantly one of the men in front falls down screaming in agony. His companions all gather round him crying, “Oh what has happened? What will happen now?” The still of the night shatters to pieces like a piece of glass falling onto a concrete ground with their lamentations.]
One: More murders, more deaths, more widows and orphans.
Joker: More wailing and crying.
Idealist: More bloodshed. The thirst for blood of Bengali's soil is not satiated till today. The spilling of blood has not subsided.The noble cause of bleeding for ideals are being replaced and being brought to an end by bloodlust.
Joker: The pressure on the soil of this country through the rapid growth of population is great. I heard that people wouldn't even find a spot to stand on near the end of this century. Butwould there be a spot for a grave because of the rise for the love of murders?
Idealist: Independence was bought with the price of shed tears and spilt blood from '52 to '71. Some other price needs to be paid it seems.
Joker: Another bout of payment with blood and a 'tax' of tears, no doubt. After all, you do have to pay a licence fee when liberty and licence become the same!
Hopeful: But this is not the normal way of things for independent Bengali.The sacred heirs of independence won't lose the Bengali nation. I believe they won't dig for curses of the martyrs by referring to history. You better believe it too.
One: What matters what we believe? It is up to those who will receive the inheritance to believe in such things.
Hopeful: They will, they have to. They cannot render the woken nation oblivious once again just because of a handful of traitors and un-believers.
One: You haven't lost your habit of delivering lectures even after being martyred. Do you really want to bring back Paltan Maydan into the afterlife as well?
Joker: He wants to strip rice from the paddy even in heaven. But then again, it would actually have been great to have brought the Maydan here. Only then would work begin there after holding discussions.
Idealist: Listen. Singers in procession are welcoming the dawn. Let's go back to the Shahid Minar.
[hurried entrance of Rokeya's martyred husband.]
Frank: Good news! Rokeya, my wife, has been emancipated. She has protected her chastity through jumping under a running car. She has safely fared across the border of lust.
Joker: When will this queue of crossing borders end?
Obaidul Haque was a veteran Journalist.
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin. He is a Sub-editor at The Daily Star, teaches high-school physics at Sir John Wilson School and incumbent coordinator of Brine Pickles.