Of bloody memories and the pain of separation

Of bloody memories and the pain of separation

Armed bands of communalists are on the rampage to hack down Bengali Hindus who are fleeing to the ‘ safety’ of India. The young boy jumps from the train along with his mother in order to save her from being waylaid and in so doing, knifes an assailant.

Traumatised at his own eruption of violence, the boy comes across another dying mother who breastfeeds her baby for one last time before delivering her child to them. The year was 1950. The memory remains etched to haunt the mind of the young boy for the rest of his life. “My first act of drawing human blood gradually changed my psychological make-up. I started feeling that a knife could solve many problems.”

The young saviour is Maloy Krishna Dhar whose memoir brings alive the violence, both physical and psychological, that accounted for so many killings in the sub-continent. For its sheer lyrical prose, his book reads much like a sterling novel, which is in fact a damning historical document of the horror of Partition in the erstwhile East Pakistan, albeit a one-sided one seen from the perspective of a little boy.

Dhar’s father, a diehard idealist, refused to leave his village: “I can’t leave this soil just because a few Congress and Muslim League leaders want the entire nation on their dinner plates.” This communal politics finally comes to splinter apart a composite Bengali society that had remained united for years despite differences of religion, caste and class. The pain of leaving one’s homestead, and separation from dear ones was too wrenching and the path from eminence to vagrancy was often laid with blood in East Bengal and xenophobia in West Bengal.

Bhairab, an idyllic station in a small corner of Mymensingh district (now in Bangladesh) — filled with the bounties and pastoral charms of a riverine Bengal — serves as a microcosm of the fatal degeneration of Hindu-Muslim amity into fratricidal war.
Born to the security of a zamindari estate ruled by his patriarchal and high-handed grandfather, where loyalty of the vassals, both Hindus and Muslims were taken for granted, Dhar was too young to understand how ruthlessly tyrannical the zamindari system was or how communal violence affected the lives of people in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and the people of East Bengal alike.

Anthony Mascarenhas’ book The Rape of Bangladesh was a brutal documentation of the orgy of beastliness unparalleled in human history in which Hindu and Muslim men, women and children alike were victims. Dhar’s book makes no claim to the ‘larger’ picture which is valid because the history of Partition is too nebulous for one to apportion blame on a single factor.

The strength of the book lies in its simple evocativeness of a beautiful countryside sullied by the avenging Biharis and rabid communalists of Muslim League (that went unabated till 1971). To the boy, and also to us, the loss of his village was akin to the loss of an arcadia.

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