Throughout Dr. Nabi's narrative, the untold stories of the Bangladesh Liberation War unfold. The sacrifices and heroic actions captured through Dr. Nabi's words define more than his accomplishments, they define his entire generation. The Bangladesh Liberation War was a people's war. Men and women, young and old, students, farmers, bureaucrats, laborers, political activists, and defected Bengali soldiers of the Pakistani military, all joined the liberation war. Bullets of '71 is their story.
The Bangladesh liberation war was bloody. Three million people were killed, thousands of women were raped, and ten million people were forced to become refugees. However, this story transcends the events of the war. It explores the political backdrop amongst China, the United States, the Soviet Union, and India. Dr. Nabi effectively illustrates how the selfish decisions of a few world leaders led to millions of crimes perpetrated against humanity.
But among all the pages in this book none are more candid and horrific than those that cover the atrocities committed by the Pakistani military. Although the Bangladesh genocide unfolded during the nine months of the liberation war, Dr. Nabi thoughtfully separates these stories to remind us of why he and his fellow freedom fighters fought.
Bullets of '71: A Freedom Fighter's Story is the most authentic account of the events that transpired in 1971 Bangladesh. It is a captivating story that captures the elements of the universal struggle for freedom.
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Bullets of '71A Freedom Fighter's Story
By Nuran Nabi Mush Nabi
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Dr. Nuran Nabi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGROWING UP
Joy around! Joy forever!
Regaining consciousness, I found myself in my mother's lap. I opened my eyes trying to make sense of what had happened. A worried crowd looking down at me and chanting prayers had surrounded me. All I could remember was that I was shivering with a burning fever and severe headache before I collapsed.
The incident took place at the residence of my eldest aunt. We went there to attend the wedding of her daughter. It was the rainy season. The rainwater flooded the banks of the nearby river, swallowing the whole village.
The accumulated water in the open space in front of the house was about two to three feet deep. The water, which came through the paddy fields, was so transparent under the sunny azure sky that you could see everything, even the occasional fish darting off from one side to the other.
Everyone in the house was busy with the wedding. We children took this opportunity to sneak out and play in the water. However, after so many hours of fun, it was clear that my rambunctious activity in the water caused my high fever. As a result, I was sick throughout the night. My mother scolded me for being an added headache to the already hectic wedding preparations. This episode marked the beginning of the 1950s for me. I was about five or six at that time.
The grand wedding was over without me. My mother was embarrassed by the stress I caused, but my aunt consoled her and told her that there was nothing to feel guilty about. Falling sick was natural and we were all susceptible to illness at anytime.
The next day, my aunt bade us farewell with kisses and hugs, as we set out for home by boat. The rainwater had not let up over the last few days. Floods had ravaged the whole area.
Just one week ago, our journey to my aunt's house was time consuming, as our boat had to hug each and every bend of the river. But by the time we departed, the boundaries between land and water had blended. Our boatmen could now save time by sailing over the short footpath that was recently ingested by the river. There were two boatmen with us who were sailing our boat.
My father sat in the front of the boat. From there, he enjoyed exchanging greetings with the passing travelers and villagers. My mother and I were inside the covered shelter of the boat. I heard the world outside and longed to come out and sit by my father's side. But, my mother would not let me out from under the canopy. She was afraid that if I was exposed to the open air that I might get sick again.
Her fear was not without reason. Her first child, my eldest brother Nazrul died of such a fever at the age of six. My parents were still deeply affected by his death. At one point, I started crying to come out of the covered shelter. My father said that as my fever had gone away, there was no danger from the open air; I could come out. And so, I leapt out and sat on my father's lap.
It was an afternoon in the month of Aashar (mid-June to mid-July). The sun was falling. The houses in the area were built on raised land, in order to protect against floods. These houses now resembled islands, as the roads and fields surrounding them had melted into the water. The people here were in desperate need of a boat just to travel from house to house. Nonetheless, life went on normally.
In the front courtyard of every house, I could see the bull and oxen driven milling of paddy from stalks. The animals yoked were forced to move in circles on the heaps of wet paddy stalks, but they never missed a chance to bite away a healthy mouthful of paddy plants. As punishment, the farm worker immediately thrashed a bamboo cane on their wide backs.
After passing a number of villages, we came to a point in our journey where we had to take a direct route across a wide waterway to get to our village. The long pole used by the chief boatman to push the boat forward was now useless. He had no choice, but to raise the sail. The once small lake, east of our village, now appeared larger than the widest ocean. The villages on the north and south sides were hardly visible. Each corner of the area; from Falda in the south, to Bornigram in the north, to Comilla and Belua in the east, and to Fulbari and Khamarpara in the west, was now a vast expanse of water. There was water everywhere. I had never seen so much water. It seemed as if the sky and water met at the horizon like two old friends frolicking to embrace.
The evening slowly crept in. The reddish glow of the setting sun danced on the rippling surface of the water. It was as if nature had cast a mystical spell over my body.
It was time for evening prayer. The sound of conch shells made before the evening prayer by the Hindus of Falda Village mixed with the Azaan of the Maghreb prayer by the Muslims of the western villages. An eternal bliss settled on the water, sky, and air. My father began his Maghreb prayer.
At this point in our journey, the treetops of our village had become visible, but there still was no sight of any houses. As it got darker and the night befell, fear skulked into my heart.
The head boatman kindled a kerosene lamp, which radiated a dim reddish glow. Images of Kana Bhoot, the fabled one-eyed ghost as described by my elder brother, were haunting my mind. This was the place where Kana Bhoot lived. Kana Bhoot took control of the minds of boatmen who traveled by night. And under its spell, boatmen would ply their boats throughout the night, only to find themselves back at the point from which they started.
I thought that I would ask my father about the story, but before I could open my mouth, my mother ushered me back under the canopy. She had already made my bed. It was getting cold so I slipped under the cotton quilt and drifted into sleep with the lullaby of the boatman's song. Exhausted, I wouldn't remember falling asleep.
The next morning, as I awoke, I found that the floodwater around our house had swelled up even more. The residential part of our small village circled a big pond. The farmland around the village was mostly for rice and jute, but was now buried under knee-deep waters. Amidst the gaps of the rice fields, villagers set up fishing nets to catch fish.
Fishing nets often trapped the abundant Koi fish. Hot rice with fried Koi fish was a delightful meal at both noon and in the evening. The Koi became thick, fatty, and tasty after getting plenty of nourishment thriving in the floodwaters.
We also often used fishing hooks to catch fish. It was always great fun. Pabda fish was particularly foolish. It used to swallow the bait almost immediately. However, the same was not so with Puti fish. This clever fish would take its time sniffing before it ever took the bait, constantly teasing you. It was so annoying how this fish tested one's patience.
Fishing pleasures came to an end within a few days. The Jamuna River was only ten miles west of our village. The floodwaters from the Jamuna rushed towards our village and inundated the entire area. Our house now stood just inches above water level. The water had already entered some other homes in the village. The affected people came to our house for shelter. The rice and jute were already submerged. My father told me that this was the most devastating flood of his lifetime.
We were now engulfed in the water. The sky was bright and blue. The hot wind began to blow. My mind wandered aimlessly, as my thoughts drifted like dust through the winds. Merchants went about on boats hawking hot Jilapi, Khaja, Goja, Batasha, and other tasty sweets. We would often rush to the banks of our pond to buy these delicious snacks. In addition to the hawkers of fun foods, gypsies brought silver and glass bangles to sell to the women of our village.
Our days passed happily, but I could see the shadow of gloom in the faces of my elders. The floods had destroyed the crops, yet the villagers somehow knew that the worst was still to come.
Winter arrived and the season of homemade pitas (cakes) set on. Pitas were made throughout the night in our house. We used to stay awake late at night to devour the fresh hot cakes before going to bed. When we woke up the first thing on our mind was, yet again, to eat some more cake.
My favorite was the puli pita made with crushed and fried coconut filling. My mother's "puli" was the best. For making the "puli", sugar or molasses was added to shreds of coconut. This mixture was then fried. Next, rice dough was rolled at and thin, making the cover for the puli. To this, a pinch of fried coconut mixture was placed on the rice sheet at one side. This was done in such a way that the end part could be pulled over the mixture and pressed into a half-moon pattern with the tips of one's fingers. Then it was cut out and fried again before serving.
Winter was pita season in our village. Each household would take its turn in making pitas and then invite their neighbors to share.
All of my mother's sisters visited their parents during the winter. Including my mother, they were five sisters. There were about twenty of us cousins, and we raised hell with joyful thunder. Our grandmother used to make a variety of pitas. Every morning, we sat side-by-side on small wooden stools, as my grandmother served us pitas to eat.
There was a swarm of geese at my grandfather's house. I remember, on one occasion, they were chasing me. Before I could run away, one male goose stretched his neck and pecked me on my head. I don't think I had ever been that scared in my life.
Another time, reworks were arranged to celebrate the circumcision of one of my cousins. To share the joy of the event, my grandfather started letting off recrackers. Suddenly three re crackers exploded in his hand and the celebration came to a screeching halt. All five of his fingers were blown away. A few months passed, but his wounds did not heal. Ultimately, the infected wounds spread and he died. The images of this tragedy impacted me throughout my childhood.
Although, my grandmother was in good health, my grandfather's death was such a shock to her that just six months later she followed him to the grave. My grandparents truly were soul mates, two bodies unified by one spirit.
Clash of the Bearded and the Clean Shaved
My father was a student of the Madrasa. He had an expansive collection of religious books. He read regularly for his own enlightenment. On one particular day, men from throughout the area had gathered for a religious discussion. A moulana, a bearded Islamic scholar wearing a sherwani, a long owing coat, and a cap was speaking on various Islamic issues in a bellowing voice. Suddenly, a clean-shaven gentleman stood up and challenged one of his sermons, claiming that the moulana was misleading the audience.
This was an unthinkable situation. No one could imagine that this religious pundit would ever be challenged by anyone, least of all by a person whose head was uncovered and who did not adorn a beard. It was unheard of. The moulana was visibly shaken by the challenge. Who would be so bold as to dispute him?
As expected, the moulana demanded that his challenger cite the sources for his claim. My grandfather who was hosting the meeting was visibly annoyed. He announced in the meeting that the challenger was none other than his own son-in-law, my father. He, then, turned to my father and asked him to name the book on which he based his challenge.
My father cited the book and also the page in which the truths were given. From my father's example, I had come to learn that in order to hold ground in any confrontation, one must know the sources on which he stands.
Eid and Mosque
Eid is the most celebrated religious festival in Islam. It was on this day that our joys knew no bounds. New clothing would be bought for this occasion. On the morning of Eid, we would be woken up early by the sounds of religious music blasting from my uncle's radio. We would bathe in the pond and then wear our new garments. After that, we scented our bodies and clothing with attar. We would, then, run off to the mosque to say our Eid prayers. After the prayers, the imam would deliver a long sermon and lead the Monajat. We would join the Monajat by cupping our palms in front of our faces, but the imam's Monajat would continue for so long that our arms would begin to ache.
After the prayers, we would all embrace one another and then rush from house to house tasting shemai, a special holiday dessert.
Although, ours was a small village, we had two mosques. They were situated on the southern side of the village within fifty yards of each other on the bank of a small pond. One of the mosques, a tin shed, was believed to have stood by the grave of a pir, or saint. There were remnants of some old structures, which were believed to be the foundation of an ancient mosque. There was an unusually long cement covered graveyard by the foundation's side, which was believed to belong to the pir. The remaining smaller graves were thought to be of his followers.
The few families who believed in the pir used to say their prayers in the old mosque. But, the majority of the villagers went to a new mosque, which they built with brick-walls and a tin roof. Many years later, conflicts among the congregation of the second mosque developed, and so, a third mosque was built, leading to even further segregation.
Though the teaching of Islam advises its followers to join together in a large congregation under a single roof, the politics of the village prevented such fellowship.
My older brother Manan and his friends ran together in a very tight-knit crew. They preferred hanging around and having fun to spending time on their studies. They formed their own playgroup and staged an annual drama every winter. My older cousins Heera and Kamola were the leaders of this group. However, my uncles Matiur and Rahim, my elder brother, and my cousins Khaja and Abu Bakar were the backbone of the playgroup. Gaslights and marching bands from town were hired to publicize the play. The band would go out to adjacent villages playing lm songs enticing the village's interest in the play.
On the day of the play, audience members would come in droves of five to six hundred and sit in the open fields in front of the stage. They would bring homemade quilts called kathas to wrap around their bodies, as they sat on straw beds.
Wooden cots were manipulated to set the base for the stage under a small canopy. The playgroup often rented backdrops from town, but most of the time these backdrop themes were completely unrelated to the play. The marching band would also accompany the playgroup in between scenes and during intermission, but their songs were also unrelated to the theme of the play.
My first opportunity to act came when a popular drama, Nababh Sirajuddoula was staged. It was the story of the last Nawab of Bengal. I played one of the soldiers who ran from battle following his defeated general. In that role, I merely ran from one side of the stage to the other. There was no dialogue and my stint in the spotlight lasted only for a few seconds. Nonetheless, it was a moment I wouldn't soon forget.
The man who played my defeated general and whom I followed on to the stage was not only an actor, but also the prompter of the play. He got his makeup early in the evening and then continued prompting till his very short role came up in the end. He never once had any complaints. Such was his passion for theater.
While the dedication of my fellow actor was inspiring, this was not why my experience in this play was so unforgettable. My uncle Matiur played a character killed during a battle scene. His five-year-old daughter, Bokul, anxiously watched the drama unfold from the front row. Suddenly, as she saw her father fall to the stage, she screamed, "They killed my father! Help! Help! Someone please help!"
We would never let her live this down, and teased her about this incident for many years to come.
I started reading books after my father introduced me to the alphabet. My father also accompanied me on my first day at school. I attended Sanokboyra Primary School. My father introduced me to the teachers. My first day in school was a little uncomfortable, as is the case for most children, but in time, I adjusted.
Excerpted from Bullets of '71 by Nuran Nabi Mush Nabi Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Nuran Nabi. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The book is an excellent personal account of the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh by Dr Nurun Nabi. It offers a remarkable first-hand view of the freedom struggle from the author's personal experiences as a freedom fighter. The book distinguishes itself from other works by providing a vast canvas ranging from the author's early childhood days to his participation in the freedom struggle. The book is divided into two parts; Born in Bengal and Bullets of '71. In Born in Bengal, Nabi describes his early years and the events that lead a young village lad to become a politically-aware student at Dacca University. He recounts his happy childhood indulging in boat trips and catching fish in village ponds. He anguishes over leaving his mother for boarding school and later his grief at her passing. He describes his college days, sports activities, and close relationships with teachers. He talks vividly about the wave of discontentment flowing against the domination and ill-treatment by West Pakistan. Nabi includes a brief account of the history of the region, which takes the reader through the Independence of India and the political events in Pakistan leading to the elections of 1970. He provides bone chilling accounts of the political conspiracy hatched by Yahya and Bhutto to deny Sheikh Mujibur Rahman his legitimate democratic right to head the government of Pakistan, the crackdown by the Pakistan Army, and the atrocities committed on the innocent people of East Bengal. The reader experiences the patriotic fervor and is roused by the emotional description of the Dacca rallies of Mujibur Rahman. Part I ends with Nabi and many of his friends being inspired to join the freedom struggle for the liberation of East Pakistan and creation of their own country, Bangladesh. Bullet's of 71 is the main area of focus, in which Nabi narrates his experiences as a Tangail Mukti Bahini freedom fighter under the leadership of Tiger Kader Siddiqui. He talks about the rigorous training and the detailed planning and coordination activities for conducting raids. He describes his harrowing experiences trying to evade the Pakistan Army under the cover of darkness through the forests and rivers in the region. He details the role played by Mukti Bahini in assisting the Indian Army in joint operations, including the airborne operations. All through the narration the strong spirit of Bangladesh, her fight and struggles, and her sacrifices stand out clearly. In a chapter dedicated to the Bangladesh Genocide 1971, Nabi covers the gruesome atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army on their Muslim brothers and sisters as well as Hindu minority people of East Pakistan. His narration is heartbreaking and authentic and he quotes reliable western sources, including Senator Ted Kennedy, on the plight of the innocent Bangladeshis. He notes the humanitarian assistance given by India and the world, and the international reactions to the crisis, both positive and negative. The book is a must read for the present generation of Bangladesh as it narrates the events leading to the Liberation War and Independence of their country. It is of immense value for other readers as it describes the role played by other countries in the crucial period of the Liberation of Bangladesh and covers various actions taken by the Tangail Mukti Bahini against a much stronger and well equipped Pakistan Army. The book is a tribute to the people of Bangladesh, all the freedom fighters, and Bangbandhu.
Bullets of '71-A Freedom Fighter's Story, written by Dr. Nuran Nabi and coauthored by Mush Nabi, is a true account of Dr. Nabi's life, particularly detailing his role in the struggle for freedom during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Bullets of '71 is certainly avant-garde in that it is a rare first-person account of the genocide and human rights violations that occurred throughout the liberation movement. The book begins with Dr. Nabi's childhood as a fragile boy and proceeds in chronological order, to his college days as a political activist, and finally to the Bangladesh liberation movement. On a grand scale, Dr. Nabi's Bullets of '71 sheds light on South East Asian history and the atrocities of the Pakistani government. In fact, the book exposes the heinous crimes committed by the Pakistani government, including the slaughtering of 3 million people, the rape of two hundred thousand women, and the confinement of over ten million people in refugee camps with severely inhumane conditions. Dr. Nabi vehemently protests these criminal acts and seeks justice for them through his literature. Though Bullets of '71 is distinctly an historical text, it flows as a novel and unveils the events of the Bangladesh liberation movement in a clear, very credible first-person account. As a participant in the war, Dr. Nuran Nabi is compelling in his argument against Pakistan's actions and how worldwide political factors, nations, and figures such as President Nixon and Henry Kissinger could influence the outcome of a war. The overarching theme of the book is to show how Pakistan lost East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and how a nation paid in blood for its freedom, resulting in an independent Bangladesh. At the front and center of the text are Pakistan's General Yahiya Khan's military strategies and brutality against humanity as a whole. Dr. Nuran Nabi succeeds in emphasizing the universality of the problem and the universal struggle for and achievement of freedom. Ultimately, Bullets of '71-A Freedom Fighter's Story is a bold piece of literature written by a man who was not only a part of that generation, but was labeled as the brain of the Freedom Fighter forces, a true warrior. This is a must read for history and war buffs, or for anyone who appreciates the truth being told many years after the events have taken place.