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Mainstream, VOL L, No 1, December 24, 2011 (Annual 2011)

Looking Back on December 16, 1971

Tuesday 27 December 2011

by SUKHARANJAN SENGUPTA

Anticipating the imminent fall of Dacca and the surrender of nearly a lakh of Pakistani troops to the Indian Army at any moment, my photographer colleague Ganesh and I (both of us were representing the Bengali daily Jugantar) left Calcutta for Silchar in Assam on December 15, 1971.

From Silchar we proceeded to Agartala, Tripura’s capital, which was one of the main operational theatres of the Indian armed forces to help liberate tens of millions of Bengali-speaking people of the Indian subcontinent. It was an event that stirred the emotions of countless others who had to leave their hearths and homes in tears from the land which was once known as East Bengal and later as East Pakistan, and migrate to India.

Driving the whole night of December 15-16, we reached the Akhaura railway point on the border of the adjoining Comilla district before daybreak on December 16, the historic day of surrender. At Akhaura we introduced ourselves to the command post of the Indian troops and showed them our identity cards as war correspondents. Our jawans at the command post received us with great cordiality and communicated our arrival to the command post at Comilla town which had, by then, been cleared of the Pakistani troops.

In course of our conversation with the Army officiers at the two posts, we were informed that an Indian Air Force plane was reaching Agartala very soon with a group of Indian and foreign correspondents and we would join that press party en route to Dacca to witness the historic surrender. The surrender symbolised the liberation of nearly 120 million Bengali-speaking people and the end of the war that the rulers of Pakistan had forced on them on March 25, 1971.

But when we reached Comilla town, the sun had already set on December 16 and all the Indian aircraft and choppers had left for Dhaka to witness the surrender of Lieutenant General A.A.A.K. Niazi, the C-in-C of nearly a lakh of Pak troops. So it had fallen to our lot not to be in Dacca on that memorable day to witness an unforgettable event.

On December 16, we were eventually transported to Chandpur, an important river point on the Meghna. The same night a big steamer was arranged for us. At long last, we reached Narayanganj on December 17 at noontime. A large number of local Awami League workers were waiting to give us a big ovation. The Mukti Vahini wing of the Awami League took us to the Dacca International Hotel which was at the time under the control of the Indian Army authorities.

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AS soon as we reached the hotel, senior Army officers acquainted us with the situation in Dhaka. They cautioned us not to venture out in the city after nightfall as they feared that Pakistan’s secret service people might be roaming in the city in the cover of darkness.

At daybreak the following day, December 18, I decided to meet Begum Mujibur Rahman and their daughter, Hasina, who had become a mother just two weeks ago. At the time, the Begum was staying at her sister’s house at Dhanmandi which was very near to Sheikh Mujib’s own house, also at Dhanmandi. Tofael Ahmed, a close confident of Sheikh Saheb, introduced me and my photographer friend Ganesh to Begum Mujibur. She greeted us a little pensively.

Hasina was sitting on the still of a window with her two-week-old daughter lying on her lap. When the Begum offered me a glass of water, Hasina rushed to her mother’s side and whispered to her in Bengali: “Ma, mehmanke khali paani dio na. (Mummy, don’t offer only water to our guests.)†Begum Mujib whispered back:

“Ghare to aar kichchu nai …kayekta bhanga biscuit aar batasha chhara. (There is nothing of offer except a few broken biscuits and batasha.)â€

But the daughter was insistent. So, hesitantly, Begum Mujibur rose and brought to me a few broken biscuits and a few batashas on a plate, along with a glass of water. The memory of those emotion-filled moments have been indelibly imprinted on my mind. That memory still haunts me after forty long years and will continue to do so till the last day of my life.

The author is a veteran journalist.

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