The War of Liberation and my humble participation
During a lifespan of more than 80 years, I have had the opportunity to experience a lot of extraordinary events. But there cannot be a parallel to what I saw and felt, sometimes I acted and reacted, in 1971. This was the year of our War of Liberation.
In the beginning, it all happened in Chittagong, an ideal city for starting the struggle. On March 8, 1971, writers and workers in the field of culture gathered for a meeting in the house of Professor Abul Fazal. After a long discussion, a body was formed titled Shilpi-Sahityik-Songskriti Kormi Protirodh Songho, and I was made a coordinator. We worked assiduously for the next few days to propagate our course of liberation as we thought that there cannot be any solution in the united Pakistan. On March 25, the whole country faced a massacre sans parallel. After a few futile efforts of resistance, even armed fight with ordinary guns, we were forced to cross the border to take shelter in Agartala in the Indian province of Tripura. That was the first day of Boishakh.
During this time, our main task was to organise young students and others who were willing to fight for the country. We were also trying to help the fleeing refugees, giving them food and shelter through Indian friends.
Within the next few weeks, we met in different meetings with Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, West Bengal's Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Roy, Dr Triguna Sen, former Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University, along with several others Indian leaders and intellectuals. We exchanged our views on going forward with the fight for freedom, which was taking proper shape by that time. In the meantime, I had correspondence with my friends in Paris. After all, I had spent more than eight years there during the 1960s. Our distinguished writer, Syed Waliullah, was working at UNESCO at that time and I was quite close to him during my stay in Paris. His French wife was my student for three years. Professor Gilles Philibert was another person who was extremely helpful and friendly to us.
Among the Indian scholars, too, I had many friends. But I did not have the addresses of any of them. However, I was able to contact Dr Suniti Kumar Chatterjee and poet-writer Buddhadev Bose. They replied. Bose even wrote a poem on me. Finally, with an invitation from Calcutta University's Bangladesh Sohayak Somiti, I went to Calcutta in the middle of May. Here, I am talking of my own experiences alone. We were all together from the University of Chittagong, particularly Dr AR Mallick, Professor Syed Ali Ahsan and Dr Anisuzzaman. Soon, we started our work to help the cause of the Liberation War. I was supplied with French newspaper clippings to translate into English and Bengali. Sometimes, I was called to our High Commission office to interpret foreign journalists and politicians who knew only French as a foreign language. But I also maintained a very good relationship with the French Le Monde correspondent in New Delhi.
Eventually, I was sent to the Middle East along with Mollah Jalal, an MNA from Awami League. Initially, we settled in Beirut. There, H.E. A K Das, the Indian Ambassador was of great help to us. We met most of the top Lebanese editors and influential journalists, politicians and intellectuals of great eminence in the Arab world like Kemal Jumblatt (Lenin Prize Winner), Rashid Karami (several times Prime Minister), Sheikh Abdallah al-Alayli, Dr Amin al-Hafez (Head of the foreign policy committee of Lebanese Parliament who invited us to speak out our cause for them), Professor Nicolas Ziade, Takieddin el-Solh, Dr Clovis Maqsood, Dr Omar Abu Risha and some others. We tried to convince them with our political views, which were totally opposite to that of Pakistani policies. We were running some risks as I was sometimes receiving threatening phone calls. Mollah and I at that time were changing hotels very often. We received support from some influential quarters too.
We hired an intelligent young journalist, Nabil Baradi, who helped us in various ways. He translated my opuscule, "Suffering Humanity in Bangladesh," which became the only Arabic booklet on our cause. Thousands of copies were distributed to all Arab countries. From Beirut, we travelled to Damascus and Aleppo in Syria. There, the field was more difficult. But I received help from one of my old Parisian friends, Michel Abrash and his brother.
Meanwhile, I learned that I was to go for a French fellowship along with my wife, who was in Calcutta and was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. So, I returned to India and submitted my reports to the acting President, the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary. The war between India and Pakistan became imminent and, finally we were liberated. Again, I was to work as I had done initially, that is, to translate from French newspapers for Barrister Maudud's newsletter and to interpret foreign journalists and political personalities. I was also able to participate in Bangladesh Betar (Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra) due to the intervention of my old college friend, Belal Mohammed. I also wrote some short pieces on some aspects of our Liberation War. Finally, we headed for Dhaka on January 10, 1972, and reached our free homeland.
Professor Dr Mahmud Shah Qureshi is an eminent Bangladeshi scholar. He has been honoured with numerous accolades including Ekushey Padak and French Legion d'Honour.