Published:  07:18 AM, 02 November 2019

Some November tales

Some November tales

It was a damp, drizzly November Ishmael talked about in Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Whenever the month, cold and uninspiring, took hold of his sensibilities, Ishmael took to the sea. In terms of history, history of course in the modern sense, November seems to have acquired a special place, for varied reasons, across the globe. Take Bangladesh as an instance.

On November 4, we in Bangladesh observe Constitution Day. We recall the moment in 1972 when Bangladesh's Constitution, definitely an achievement for a newly independent nation, was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly. Of course, there have been the many vicissitudes the Constitution has passed through since then, with the result that today we have before us a Constitution quite removed from the original.

And yet November 4 remains a poignant moment in our lives, for the adoption of the Constitution was truly the moment when freedom for Bangladesh became a substantive affair.

And yet when you go back to recalling another day --- and we speak of November 3, 1975 --- we cannot escape the feeling somehow that it was freedom itself that lay threatened when the four leaders of the 1971 provisional government in Mujibnagar were murdered in the putatively secure confines of Dhaka Central Jail. In August of that year, the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came as a rude jolt to our sense of nationhood.

Only three months later, when Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M. Mansoor Ali and A.H.M. Quamruzzaman, all of them Bangabandhu's close associates with whom he had waged a brave struggle for the realisation of Bengali political rights, were killed, this country was put back by decades.

Bengalis are still paying a heavy price for the murders of August and November 1975. And do not forget that only three days after the jail killings, it was the turn of Major General Khaled Musharraf, Colonel Najmul Huda and Colonel A.T.M. Haider, all iconic freedom fighters, to die in what was given out, falsely and mischievously, as a 'sepoy-janata revolution'.

Move on, to spaces outside Bangladesh. There are all the memories of South Vietnam that come alive once you recall November 1, 1963. It was on that day that President Ngo Dinh Diem and his influential brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were murdered in a coup d'etat carried out by officers of the South Vietnamese armed forces. And those officers, along with the men under their command, had all along had the support of the United States Central Intelligence Agency for the plot they finally brought to fruition on November 1.

For months on end, the Kennedy administration in Washington had been deeply riled by Diem's refusal to accept Washington's suggestions on the conduct of the war against an increasingly powerful Vietcong. At the same time, reports of corruption indulged in by Nhu and his wife had also been pretty unsettling. The upshot of it was discontent in the military, something President Kennedy was quick to exploit.

Early on November 1, both Diem and Nhu were shot dead in cold blood, with images of their blood-smeared bodies flashed across the world. And then came irony. Only three weeks after the violent coup in Saigon, a sniper shot President John F. Kennedy to death in Dallas. A whole world mourned, not least because the American leader had been young (he was only forty seven when he was killed).

Moreover, his razor thin victory over Richard Nixon in 1960 had quickly led to the creation of a personality cult around him. His administration evoked memories of Camelot a la King Arthur of legend. Kennedy's detractors, however, considered the activities of the men around him in less than positive light. They called his team the Irish Mafia, because of all the men, including Kennedy, with Irish roots behind them.

It was a sign of the Kennedy mystique as well as American power that kept the world glued to television, radio and newspapers in the days following the assassination in Dallas. Kennedy was the fourth US president to be assassinated. He was quickly succeeded by Vice President Lyndon Johnson, on board the presidential jet Air Force One that was also taking back JFK's corpse to Washington. The president was interred at Arlington national cemetery on November 25.

It was a galaxy of global leaders who attended his funeral. Among the more notable of the figures present were President Charles de Gaulle of France, Chancellor Ludwig Erhard of West Germany, President Anastas Mikoyan of the Soviet Union, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, King Baudouin of Belgium and Pakistan's Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Once the burial was over, JFK's widow Jacqueline Kennedy lighted an eternal flame on the grave. It burns still, drawing hundreds of people to the grave annually.

November is the month when Indira Gandhi was born, on the nineteenth day, in 1917. On 9 November 1970, Charles de Gaulle, in retirement in his village outside Paris, died. It was on the seventeenth, in 1976, that Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani died in Bangladesh.

In 1970, on November 12, a tidal surge lashed the shores of what was then East Pakistan and would soon be Bangladesh, leaving a million people dead through its intensity.  

The writer is Editor-in-Charge,
The Asian Age

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