I saw it all. When he was taken to a corner for murder, I saw it. I was so young I didn’t know what murder or death meant. But I saw him offering a prayer to God before he was shot dead. I was in third grade then, I think. I was beginning to open my eyes to how the world works, and then it actually opened my eyes. My dad was martyred, sister taken away to embrace a fate unknown to me back then, and a fate that sends shivers down my spine now.
I was calling out to him that afternoon, calling and calling with a dried up throat as my mother pulled me in the shelter at a Bengali’s house, a shelter paid for by all the leftover money we could save from consecutive robberies at our house.
Our lives were undergoing an irreversible change as we were migrating from East Pakistan to West Pakistan, leaving behind all the luxury and comfort my dad had earned for us all his life.
The two wings of my country were being divided into two sovereign states, but it felt like a battle between aliens of two savage planets.
I remember the brutal killing of all the non-bengali citizens living in the Eastern wing, a payment for the sweet deeds and extreme exploitation of the Eastern part by the leadership of West Pakistan. In those days, we weren’t humans. We were perceived as payments, our dead bodies were payments, Payments for the economic savagery in the form of slaughter and assault.
I vaguely remember how the rivers turned red, with hair of women floating in them, anchored by obliterated bodies, molested entities which once took care of some household. It would have made Bellona the goddess of war cry with bloody tears, for war is meant to be between enemies, not with the kids next door and not with the girl living down your street, for war unites people of an area rather than making them bloodthirsty for one another.
We didn’t know our fault back then, we were innocent. We know it now. Even though we were inhabitants of the area under oppression, we weren’t seeds of the native language. Even though we spoke fluent Bengali, our ancestors weren’t born in Bengal. My dad was in the Bengali military as he thought he was serving his nation, but he should have known otherwise. I remember how the river of Chittagong that taught me how to swim was crying with agony, its banks stained with red like it was another Nile, only it wasn’t engulfing books this time, and the ink wasn’t blue but red.
Gone are the days of running after my chickens in the garden, and climbing plum and mango trees, gone are the days of breathless marathons as the gardener chased us, gone is the fear of my father when I flunked an exam, gone is his arm from under my tiny head as I fell asleep, gone is my childhood. I survived somehow. I lost companions along the way, and friends and family, but I survived.
And when I look back to the days of misery, for once I’m glad that life is moving at a healthy pace, for once I’m glad I’ve lost my childhood, for it wasn’t worth keeping. It wasn’t pretty.