After a brief visit of about ten days, I returned from Dhaka at the end of 2011, which happened to be the fortieth birth anniversary of Bangladesh. During my stay, I interacted with academics, scholars, and lay people about the legacy of Bangladesh Liberation War (1971), which severed Pakistan into two distinct countries. While in the genteel and more cultivated circles, the schizophrenic nature of Bangladeshi nationalism embodied itself as an entrenched ideological battle between the secularists and the Islamists (some of these Islamists have since been hanged following a controversial tribunal), this divide took on a more visceral turn on the streets of Dhaka, as bombs exploded and cars were set on fire. The recent killings of ‘secular bloggers’ have further intensified this divide. As I boarded the Friendship Bus (Souhardya) plying between Dhaka and Kolkata, I remembered Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s prophetic words in his poem, “Hum Ke Thehre Ajnabee”:
“Kab nazar men aayegi baidaagh sabzey ki bahar
Khoon ke dhabbey dhulain gain kinti barsaatoon ke baad”
(When will we see the unsullied green of spring?
After how many monsoons will the stains of blood be washed?)
Faiz – a humanist, a committed Marxist, and a poet of the oppressed – wrote this after his return from Dhaka in 1974. After forty years, Bangladeshi nationalism, like many of its Third World counterparts, still periodically reenacted its founding violence of 1971.
As an admirer of Faiz and his vision of justice, I have been asking myself: What was Faiz’s particular position on the Pakistani Army repression in East Pakistan which began on 25 March, 1971? What was his view on the East Pakistani resistance that culminated in the death of millions (this number has been contested often and no consensus exists) and rape of thousands of women? Faiz had already been a well-known poet in East Pakistan and many of his poems had been translated into Bangla. He was introduced in East Pakistan by Munir Chowdhury, a well-known professor in Dhaka and Faiz’s friend. During that official trip of 1974, where he accompanied the Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, many of Faiz’s friends didn’t show up, either because they had disappeared during the Pakistani Army excesses or had decided to stay away because of what they had felt Faiz’s deliberate silence about army repression. As Bangladeshi journalist, Afsan Chowdhury, writes, “During those days, those who knew would ask, ‘What did Faiz say? Did he protest? Did he give a statement saying it was wrong?’ In fact, we do not know what Faiz did.”