This museum is not a building
The then City Mayor,a freedom fighter of our 1971 War of Liberation, Mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka conceived with freedom fighters Habibul Alam Bir Pratik, Ishtiaq Aziz Ulfat and some others in 2005a museum building on the 23-plus acres of Dhaka's Osmani Udyan, named after Bangabir General M.A.G. Osmani, the Commander-in-Chief of all Bangladesh Forces.
The century-old park, owned by the Dhaka City Corporation since 1998,had just been repossessed from decades of illegal occupation with active support of a Citizens Group, comprising of architects, engineers, planners, environmentalists, and socio cultural activists, and led by Prof. Serajul Islam Chowdhury of Dhaka University. Motor workshops, street food restaurants, slums, false claimants of building ownership, car park, bus stand, sporting clubs, gambling and pot joints…the park had them all.
Having been tasked with designing the historical park by the five-man Technical Committee within the Citizens Group, I was then supervising works on my design of the lake extension, a new water-body, the see-through boundary wall that was set in concrete to avoid future raids from mainly the commercial eastern side, a children's play area, and landscaping.
The freedom fighters invited me to a Nagar Bhaban meeting at the Mayor's office to discuss their idea. They wanted to introduce a museum building in my Osmani Udyan plans. I asked them, why? Their noble idea was to preserve in a befitting edifice the memory of our War of Liberation fought against the occupation Pakistani armed forces.
As Architect, I politely contradicted their otherwise virtuous notion, saying that a new building would counter the principles on which the Citizens Committee rediscovered Osmani Udyan from abject dereliction into a “people's park”, viz. (1) maximum intervention to retrieve the public property from unlawful and unsanitary occupation, and (2) minimum interference on nature while enhancing the environmental quality of the park. And yet we require a museum to narrate to especially the post-1971 generations the story of Bangalee's greatest while. I begged a few days' time to put to paper my thoughts.
I envisaged a park with eleven 380mm-thick(15-inch) walls with minimum footprint, 7.61m (25 feet) in length, representing the eleven sectors of the war, which too was a people's war against a tyrannical governance of twenty-four years. The see-through walls, 2.78m (9 feet) at its highest point, would carry the eye to feel the entirety of the park and yet offer the probing mind an opportunity to gather some information about the war. Visitors would be able to sit in front of a wall and contemplate on the sacrifices, the battles, and the land. The relative position of the 1971 sectors would be replicated at the Udyan.
Each wall would depict a particular sector, showing in red the location of the sector on a see-through map of Bangladesh and thus epitomising the sacrifices of unknown warriors, the names of the commanders, a war-time song, and some relevant statistics. A black pedestal at the foot of the wall would be befitting dais for flowers laid in memory of the Shaheeds.
Our liberation war was powered by some very invigorating songs and this aspect of history has been rendered in the design of the sector walls. The eleven songs are: Sector 1 –Salaam salaam hajaar salaam, taader smritir smarane; Sector 2 –Rakto diye naam likhechi Bangladesher naam; Sector 3 –Joy Bangla Banglar joy hobey hobey hobey, hobey nishchoy. Sector 4 – Purbo digontey surjo uthechey rakto laal, rakto laal,rakto laal; Sector 5 –mora ekti fulkey banchaabo boleyjuddho kori ; Sector 6 –Banglaar Bouddho, Banglaar Hindu, Banglaar Krischaan, Banglaar Musalmaan, aamra sabai Bangalee; Sector 7 –vebo na go maa tomaar chelera haariye giyechey shobey; Sector 8 –ek saagor rokter binimoy Banglaar shadhinata aanley jaara, aamra tomader vulbo na; Sector 9 – dhano dhanno pushpo vawra amader ei bashundhara; Sector 10 –teer haara ei dheuer sagor paree debo rey; and Sector 11 –haajar bachor pawre aabar eshechi firey Banglaar bookey aachi dariye.
The undulating wall represents the struggle of a Bangalee nation, and the ups and downs that were characteristic in a people's yearning that began in 1948, as soon as Urdu was declared the only national language of one-year old Pakistan. The vehement protest by the people of East Pakistan culminated in the 1952 Language Movement demanding state recognition of our mother tongue Bangla as a national language. The people caused a mass movement in 1969 against state barbarity, ruthless exploitation, and indiscriminate killings by Pakistan's undemocratic Ayub junta. In 1971 the clarion call by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the ultimate nail in the Pakistan coffin. After more than two decades of struggle, and sacrifices and martyrdom of many, we emerged as an independent country.
The first wall memorial to be constructed at Osmani Udyan was that of Sector 2, side-lining Sector 1, but the bias was obvious since Mayor Khoka, Habibul Alam, Ulfat and I all belonged to that sector. This memorial was inaugurated by all the sector commanders and freedom fighters present on 16 December 2007.
Today all the sector memorials comprising an open-air museum are complete and the park, depleted over the years by extensive encroachment, has not been lost to any new building. It is a museum of learning for the younger generations. It is a moving experience for the parents when their children run around the park shouting in joy and urging them to move from one sector to another, for now their whole country is independent soil.
The author is an Architect and a freedom fighter.