There are all those times that leave deep imprints on the memory. There are the days and the months and the years which become part of an individual's consciousness, for reasons that have to do with both happiness and tragedy. For many of us in this land, indeed for those with somewhat an interest in history, August is that time of year when too many sad memories crowd in on us, enough to make us go reflecting on the men and women we have lost, on the world that is no more ours.
The assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family in August 1975 will forever be a huge, dark scar on the collective soul of the Bengali nation. Some of his killers have been tried and properly sent to their deserved end. Some others remain fugitive. The notorious Indemnity Ordinance now belongs in the past. Even so, the vacuum of leadership which set in, back in 1975, through the murder of the Father of the Nation remains. The soul will always be empty without his presence.
In August, we recall Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. On 18 August 1945, he died in a plane crash in Taipei or he disappeared. The mystery has never been resolved and even today arguments rage all over India about the sinister conspiracy which allegedly had him spirited away all those decades ago. There have been individuals who have seen him, if you are ready to take their word for it, long after 1945. Would the history of India be any different had Netaji been around? Would the country go through the excruciating partition the terrible consequences of which yet disturb life in South Asia? We do not have any answers here, for history is never a matter of what might have been.
In August 1945 --- note the time again --- US President Harry Truman committed a patently criminal act when he had those two atomic bombs destroy lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He did not need to do that, for Japan was already readying itself to accept defeat in the Second World War. Once the bombs were dropped, neither Truman nor any other American in power demonstrated any remorse. To this day, Truman has remained beyond criticism. No one speaks of his war crimes. No one says a word about a posthumous trial of the man who went to his grave with so much blood on his hands.
The death of Rabindranath Tagore in August 1941 was effectively the end of a long run of creative literature in Bengali history. Tagore was eighty at the time of his passing, which is to suggest that he had fulfilled his mission, had given the world all that took shape in his imagination. Even so, his death was a moment of terrible sorrow, for it was surely a descent of darkness where brilliant light had all along been. For us on both sides of the old Bengal, 22 Sravana remains symbolic of loss. And yet it is a pointer to the relevance the Bard still holds on the imagination.
August for India, as the country was prior to its brutal vivisection in the 1940s, is emblematic of death and despair. On 16 August 1946, within moments of a Muslim League rally in Calcutta in support of its Direct Action Day, Muslims began to ransack Hindu homes and shops and killing people not part of their faith. The murder squads went on shedding blood for two days, until the third day when Hindus and Sikhs struck back. Two more days of bloodletting, this time in reverse, followed. The corpses of between five and ten thousand Hindus and Muslims littered the streets of Calcutta. Not until Gandhi stepped into the scene did sanity return.
But sanity went missing again a year later, in August 1947, with the British colonial power partitioning India into two nations on the basis of communalism, in line with Mohammad Ali Jinnah's argument that Muslims and Hindus constituted two separate nations. The result was monumental tragedy. Two million people --- Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs --- perished in the process of the division.
As many as fourteen million people found themselves displaced as refugees, forced to leave hearth and home and make a long, sad, fearsome trek to shelter in lands defined by the faith of people. Cyril Radcliffe, the Briton authorized by the colonial authority to demarcate the frontiers of India and Pakistan, stayed in a room, having never been in touch with India or its history, and sliced through the map and the land at his pleasure and leisure. The mutilation of history was complete.
It was again a dark August in 1971 for Bengalis. On 9 August, the Yahya Khan junta let it be known that the imprisoned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would be tried by a special military tribunal in camera. The trial commenced two days later, on 11 August, with Bangabandhu facing charges of waging war against the state of Pakistan. Proceedings would go on for three months and the court would hand down a sentence of death to him. But then circumstances would change. History would strike back.
On 17 August 1988, a C-130 aircraft crashed in the desert around Pakistan's Bahawalpur. Everyone on board --- Pakistan's ruthless dictator Ziaul Haq, senior army officers, the American ambassador to Islamabad and others --- perished. Thus August. Thus a small part of its story. The writer is Associate Editor, The Asian Age
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