|Me in 1977. I was six.|
In the summer of 1947, exactly 24 years before my story begins, the British left India, giving rise to two new nations: India and Pakistan. But back then, Pakistan didn’t merely comprise the western zone of India as it does today, but the eastern zone as well, under the name of East Bengal, then later as East Pakistan, before becoming a free nation in and of itself during my birth year, in 1971, under the name of Bangladesh.
Now, before that fantastic moment of liberation, when Bangladesh was still called East Pakistan, West Pakistan, which had less of the population but all the political power, treated East Pakistan and its people as the unwanted step-siblings, as the impure Muslim cousins from the east, as the speakers of an impure tongue (we spoke Bangla and they spoke Urdu), as the people who constantly needed help due to cyclones and floods.
In other words, they couldn’t stand us.
To make matters worse, on March 25, 1971, the day before my country, East Pakistan, declared independence, the government of West Pakistan sent in their soldiers to rape and slaughter their way through Dhaka, our capital city, to instill fear in the hearts of the people, leaving the Bengalis no choice but fight back and defend themselves. It was five months after this that I came into the world on a mud floor in a remote village, and four months more until Bangladesh won liberation.
At a February conference in 1971, shortly before the war broke out, General Yahya Khan, then president of Pakistan, when referring to the Bengalis to a reporter named Robert Payne, said, “Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands [like dogs].” (The dogs part is my own personal addition, but I always pictured him saying it whenever I heard this quote). Just like other maniacal dictators had done throughout history, he used genocide as a means to control his population. Anyway, this was the world I was born into and the place where my story begins.
P.S. Certain names in the book have been changed at my discretion, and faces in the photo section blurred, to protect identities, and I promise (truly, I promise) that I have tried to write everything exactly as how it all happened, based on my own memories and feelings of the events, as well as the memories and feelings of certain family members whose brains I picked with a fine surgeon’s scalpel. However, and to be quite honest, it’s possible I may have gotten a few minor details mixed up or mistaken (though not too mistaken), such as exact dates or times, but for the most part, I believe that everything I have written in these pages happened in the exact way that I’ve described.