As a Bengali, the formation of Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan, doesn’t cease to intrigue us. This book is set upon a time frame of 9-10 months during 1971 and the fact that it got longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2019 caught many reader’s attention, including mine. Debut author Nadeem Zaman in this book offers a detailed, account of the gory incidents that took place during those times which resulted in the creation of a new country.
Through fictionalized events, Zaman recreates the ‘genocide’ that killed 3 million people in Bangladesh starting with the killing of students and professors at Dhaka University.
The year 1971 is now an integral part of the Bangladeshi identity and also the source of various literature. This novel is no different, however, it attempts to archive the detailed accounts of the geopolitical uprising that eventually led to the claiming of a separate country out of East Pakistan by a local political party – the Awami League.
Imtiaz arrives in Dhaka, at his maternal uncle and aunt’s place, from Chittagong to deal with a property issue when he finds himself amid a political turmoil, a result of broken promises from Islamabad including the breakdown of negotiations between Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Dhaka is under curfew and as the smell of sulfur and gunpowder become a part of their lives, young pro-independence fighters – the Mukti Bahini – find a haven in the home of Imtiaz’s uncle and aunt, Kamruzzaman and Aisha Chowdhury.
On the other side, Fazal Shaukat, a young captain in the Pakistan Army with a family name to live up to, finds that the war he has signed up for isn’t going away anytime soon. There are things bigger than him or his family at stake, even as Pakistan is finding itself ripped apart and Jinnah’s dream of an ‘undivided Muslim country’ is turning into a nightmare.
All the characters, both central and supporting have been captured in an unbiased way through these nine tumultuous and their secular and multi-faith faces of the youth earnestly fighting for the liberation war is well represented. Be it the ‘Bihari’ judge, Suleiman Mubarak, whose intent in a separate nation for Bengalis is seen with suspicion, or the American journalist couple, who are horrified by the Pakistan Army’s brutality in Dhaka.
Zaman’s told a Bangladeshi newspaper that his mother and father narrated the stories of the Liberation war so well and with such rich descriptions that he started imagining the scenes in his head, and by the time he was in college, he was convinced the Bangladesh Liberation War had to be presented on an international platform.
A powerful debut, would recommend this fresh and unique take on the liberation war to all readers out there interested in the birth Bangladesh – an epoch in the history of southeast Asia.