Freedom, War, and the Birth of a Daughter from the Sun
Our house was called pothikabash: a haven for travellers. It was in Monipuri Para. The year was 1971; the month was March. I was nine months pregnant. My first daughter was on her way after three years of marriage.
Nineteen Seventy One
My husband, once active in politics, was still connected. Our family waited for him to come home at the end of the day. . “The country is on the brink of a war,” he whispered. The brutal Pakistani regime had tyrannised the Bengalis.
The 25th March was the night of darkness. But I think the sun rose on Bangladesh for first time that following morning.
There was a curfew and the night rattled with gunfire. Families huddled together in one room wanting to face their fate together. We dare not even look over the fence into a neighbour’s house; everyone was terrified. We knew the Pakistani General could finish us all. And we all knew what was coming: war
At dawn the roads were filled with a human sea; people flooded out the city. We didn’t know where we were going, we just knew we were in danger and had to leave.
That morning is still burned in my memory. Photographs and films have captured those events. But I wonder if today’s generation can understand what those images mean. Can they believe that our freedom was won amid a sea of blood?
I was about to have a child but I didn’t know where my own mother had gone. Today everyone has a phone in their hand but back then I had no way of reaching my brothers and sisters. I was worried about my family. But I knew they were worried about me because I was carrying a child in the middle of a war.
My family and neighbours fled. My brother-in-law was a government official; he arranged a car so that we could escape. Ten of us left for a relative’s house in Old Dhaka. We thought it would be safer there. Our own house was next to the Parliament building. It was still under construction but was now surrounded by soldiers and tanks.
It was a struggle to find safety. I knew my baby was due. After two nights we left Old Dhaka hoping to reach the house of my husband’s uncle in Kapasia. We couldn’t get there because we thought the roads were controlled by the Pakistani army; who knows what they would have done if we had been stopped.
We drove towards Narayunpur in Gazipur but after a long drive we turned around and drove to Narsingdi on the outskirts of Dhaka. In the end we went past Narsingdi town and wound up in Dhanua, a remote village in Shibpur.
We found safety in the house of the village head. We knew him; his eldest son had been our neighbor in Dhaka before the war. Although we were not related by blood we were tied closely. For many years I had studied with the family’s eldest daughter. So the moment we arrived the lady of the house held me in her arms: “I will treat you as if you were my own. And this will be your daughter’s house.” People come together in difficult times.
So this was Dhanua; the birthplace of Asad. Asad was a revolutionary student leader killed on 20th January by the Pakistanis in the uprising of 1969. Eleven days later in the early afternoon my first child was born next door to the house of this hero.
I had no medical care and a difficult labour. Nobody thought I would survive those six days. I was near death. But I brought the gift of a daughter to my husband’s family. She looked like a pink rose and she was my daughter from the sun.
My daughter was born in war against all odds. She’s a fighter and, to me, outshines the sun. My husband’s cousin, Mintu, was a freedom fighter. He was operating nearby. One night under the cover of darkness he came to see us. He saw my daughter and touched his pistol to her hand. “This is my gift to you: be brave and defend your country,” he said.
My child was born in the chaos of war. When she was nine months old the country gained its independence. It was the 16th December 1971. But until that day we lived in terror. I never forgot how I had to run for our lives when she was just four days old and hide in a graveyard. We were always afraid. Sometimes we would hide among jute bushes; sometimes in paddy fields.
When my daughter was just eleven days old we left Dhanua for Naryanpur and my husband was reunited with his family. But I hadn’t gotten proper medical care and there were some complications. I needed to see a doctor and I was desperate to see my own family. So three months after the birth we risked the journey to Dhaka.
This was the worst of the war. We seemed surrounded by people that had lost so much. Women cried out for their husbands and sons. Women were raped in front of their families. The innocent suffered the most in that war.
So that was our Liberation War. The country gained its independence on the 16th December 1971. But what a toll was taken on our people.
“We will never forget those heroes that brought freedom for us with a sea of blood. We will never forget you; never forget you.”