Muktir Gaan: Some Thoughts of Lubna Marium

by Lubna Marium

We normally don’t talk about 1971. We don’t discuss the war. It remains a morass of unconsolidated memories, laid aside for 25 years, to be classified and labelled at some point in our lives; at some point when we can feel sufficiently detached and rational about the events. So when ‘Muktir Gaan’ was released, we were forced to open our Pandora’s box and confront emotions ‘carefully locked away at the furthest reaches of our hearts.Predictably, fiery emotions wracked away, yet again, to be quickly repacked into their unamed recesses. Today, I feel compelled to write in response to Nusrat Huq and Iresh Zaker’s article, ‘Muktir Gaan – A Triumph of the Bangladeshi Spirit,’ which appeared in The ‘Daily Star’ on Friday, 9th August, 1996. To these two teenagers and to all our children, closest to our hearts, I address my thoughts.

Frankly, I have some reservations about ‘Muktir Gaan’, especially when it is called ‘history in its purest form.’ Since, all around us, history is in the process of being authenticated, let’s get our facts straight about ‘Muktir Gaan.’

The Bangladeshi Mukti Shongrami Shilpi Shangstha was totally based in Calcutta. Troupes or singers were sent, to refugee camps in India, on day trips mostly, to motivate and inspire the demoralised, and heart-broken refugees. There were performances in Calcutta, Shantiniketan and Delhi, too, to increase the awareness of the plight of Bangladesh. A far cry from the battle fields of the war. Never once was any member of the troupe in any danger of shedding a single drop of blood.

The scenes included in the film, at least where I can be seen, were shot over a period of a maximum of five days. During that time we never once stayed overnight on the truck. We used to commute from a guest-house in Bahrampur, as far as I can remember.

The date of the above event should be sometimes in the month of September 1971, after which Naila and I, accompanied by our mother, left for Maldah to join our father, who was then the Sector Commander for sector seven. The Muktibahini camp closest to Maldah was Baliadighi — in the border regions of Chapainawabganj, Rajshahi. Our freedom fighter brother, Nadeem, was based in Baliadighi.

The scene where Benu Bahi and Tariq Bhai are seen receiving permission, from a ‘Bangladesh government’ official in Calcutta, for traveling into the ‘free region’ of Bangladesh was shot after this time. The point being, that the question of receiving a written permission to travel into these territories did not arise.

The scene which I most vehemently oppose is the one where Tariq Bhai is seen being interviewed by Gias Chowdhury for a possible vacancy in the Mukti Bahini. The truth is that it was a scripted and rehearsed scene. Men and young boys from all walks of life, participated in our freedom struggle. None were ever interviewed; at least not the hoi polloi and the question of leaving a contact address is laughable. Did anyone receive a signed and sealed contract for employment in the Mukti Bahmi? Of course a group, of young men were later selected by the Indian army for training to become officers, but that is true for a totally insignificant handful, in comparison to the hordes of unnamed, forgotten masses who actually fought a war, irrelevant of age or handicap. Proof of this is Nadeem, who was 16 years old only, at that time. I also cite the example of Shahadat Chowdhury, present editor of Bichitra, who fought as one of our valiant freedom fighters inspite of a genetic disorder in one eye. I repeat what I have remarked on various occasions, anyone who seriously wanted to fight, could have fought.

Propaganda is a vitally necessary tool during war. We remain grateful to Sree Debdulal Bondhopadhay for painstakingly and feelingly reading out prepared scripts all throughout 1971, thus motivating young and old to take up arms to defend their ‘motherland.’ The truth, however, is never so heroic. I wonder if any of our boys willingly gave up his life for another. I would dearly like to meet the real-life Daktar Babu of Sree Bondhopadhay’s script. To pass off war propaganda as history cannot be part of the process of authentication.

So, why do I of all persons, feel the unpleasant need to shatter the euphoria surrounding ‘Muktir Gaan,’ an undoubtedly moving account of 1971?

Foremost among several reasons is my conviction that, ‘truth is more beautiful than fiction’. Tariq and Catherine are to be lauded for their Herculean effort. Muktir Gaan is a piece of art while the footage viewed in the raw is stark. With the film-makers efforts: the story-line and the unvoiced implications, it’s a joy to watch. However, we cannot escape from the fact that it is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Secondly, I feel there is an insidious movement to intellectualise the war of 1971. It was not an intellectual’s war. It was a war fought by a people totally defenseless and unprepared. One may cite the historic call for ‘building fortresses in every home’ but, truthfully, does rhetoric count as preparation? And, how skilled we are at spewing rhetoric to incite and motivate the man in the street to lay his life down in the name of some ‘ism’ or other, while we run away to our personal havens of safety.

However, deepest in my heart, I know I write today, because I am a coward. Today I too, have a 16 year old son, whom I will do all, in my power, to prevent from joining any war. Son, I love you too much. I want to tell you what war really is about, though a part of me dies every time I remember.

War is not beautiful. It is about brutality and death. War is about your baby brother telling you how scared he is to face death. It’s about the trembling of a teenager relating the horror of the gouging of an enemy soldier’s eyes. War is about standing in front of the lifeless, blood-stained, bayoneted body of someone you loved dearly. It’s about crying and crying till you think your heart is actually going to break into two. Sadly, war is about coming home to disillusionment. War is about forgotten heroes.

So next time they call you to lay your life for some cause or other, tell them to leave us alone. Tell them to let my child and every mother’s child live in peace. Tell them to go sing for their freedom, and pretend that they wanted a bullet through their hearts.

Lubna Marium was a member of the troupe featured in the film Muktir Gaan, and this piece is reprinted from an article that appeared in The Daily Star in 1996.


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