Preview of Bullets of '71
March, the Rebellious Month
Face to Face with the First Bullets of Genocide
March 25, 1971. We were setting up barricades at the intersection of Mymensingh Road and Elephant Road. We were in front of Shahbag Hotel. It was about a quarter to midnight. A few cars traveled along Mymensingh Road, but we did not notice. We were too busy with the task at hand.
A little tired, I stood apart on the sidewalk for a while. Some cars approached the square and stopped near the fountain. People inside took notice of us. It was probably the clamor we created that struck their curiosities.
One car changed its direction from south to west. The area was half-lit, and half-dark. The headlights of the car fell brightly onto our eyes, blurring our vision. Suddenly, the headlights switched off.
There was no doubt that these were military jeeps.
Before we knew what was going on, the headlights of one jeep were switched on again. Instantly, the occupants of the jeeps opened fire on us with machineguns.
Amidst the roaring sound of machinegun fire, I jumped off the sidewalk and fell into a ditch. As I regained my senses, I ran westward. I could hear the groans of my friends hit by the bullets.
Those who managed to get up also started running. The air was filled with the cries of people and gunfire. For the first time in my life, I knew the sound of gunfire, up close and aimed directly at me.
Arguably, we were face to face with the first bullets of the Bangladesh genocide.
I tried to keep running, but I was losing my will. My legs were becoming rubbery. I felt as if I had been shot.
I was quite lucky. My cousin Khaja lived nearby on Elephant Road. He lived in a house adjacent to the railway tracks.
With my last ounce of energy, I ran to his house drenched in the filth of the ditch. As soon as I entered Khaja's house, I checked my body for bullet-wounds. Luckily, aside from some bruises, I escaped unscathed.
After the running and the horror of the evening, my thirst had finally caught up to me. I had a seemingly unquenchable thirst. I was exhausted.
I quickly drank a tall glass of water. As the water ran against my cheeks, I realized that I was still filthy. I went to the sink and did my best to wash myself clean of the stench of raw sewage.
My heart still pounding, I found it difficult to stand. I went to the living room and stretched my body across the sofa.
Khaja was visibly frightened by the look on my face and in the way I stormed into his home. He began pressing me about what had just happened.
With a deep breath I regained my composure and started narrating the incident to Khaja.
However, before I could finish, I was interrupted by the blasting sounds of gunfire. Khaja and I tried to follow the sounds with our ears.
The sounds were coming from Dhaka University, Peelkhana, and Rajarbag. Iqbal Hall of Dhaka University was the headquarters of the Student's Action Committee. Peelkhana was the headquarters of the East Pakistani Riffles (EPR), the border security force. Rajarbag was the police headquarters.
A few moments later, Khaja and I came out and could see fire and smoke billowing out from those exact directions.
We couldn't figure out exactly what was going on. A mixed feeling of anxiety, fear and depression burdened me.
Had anything happened to our leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman? Was it just one-sided firing? Were the Bengali policemen, EPR and soldiers revolting? I had no answers.
Unfortunately, radio Dhaka and the Indian radio stations had no news of what was going on in Dhaka either.
Was the world outside aware of what was happening here? There were still flames rising. All around, there was the ceaseless thunder of intense firing. It was a living hell.
A night of terror, concern, and despair ushered in the dawn. The firing lost its momentum in the morning hours. However, rings of smoke could still be found rising from the horizon. I fell into a daze.
What was going to happen next? What would be our future? While these thoughts raced through my mind, I grew exhausted from my sleepless night.
Finally I drifted into slumber.
March 26: A Terrorized Morning
Khaja woke me up from a deep sleep. He seemed to be excited, and yet, still in a state of shock. I was perplexed and a bit confused. I could not figure out what was going on.
In a whispering voice he asked me to hide in the bathroom. A soldier was moving towards the house with a rifle in his hand. It was scary. Right away, I realized the danger we were in. In seconds, I jumped off the sofa and ran into the bathroom. A little later, I heard knocking at the door. My blood froze. I began praying to Allah.
It seems that people are most inclined to remember God in desperate moments like this. I began to wonder: Is God moved to answer the prayers of those who only choose to remember Him in times of crisis? Such thoughts crept into my head.
Khaja opened the door and greeted the soldier. A conversation followed in Urdu. I couldn't follow the dialogue all the way from the bathroom. I ardently recited my prayers. Several moments passed without any sound. I feared that they had arrested Khaja and taken him away.