Ferdousi Priyabhashini: “A Lifelong Impression of Eternal Struggle” | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 24, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 24, 2018

Ferdousi Priyabhashini: “A Lifelong Impression of Eternal Struggle”

This is a translated excerpt (abridged and modified) on Ferdousi Priyabhashini from the book, Sangrami Nari: '52 and '71– published by Daily Star Books in February, 2018. The Daily Star Literature team expresses deepest condolences at the death of this eminent sculptor and freedom fighter with due respect.

The indescribable grief and agony the aftermath of 1971 had set off in the eventful life of Ferdousi Priyabhashini can be perceived easily from what she stated herself. In her own account,

The same flesh and blood  with whom I used to match my clothes and had fun growing up, those aunts and uncles, people who spent an entire lifetime appreciating culture and liberal taste, even they began to avoid me, for I was abused and tortured by the Pakistani Army. Only Boro Mama, Mejho Mama, and Ma acted normally, giving me the recognition of an actual human being. Whenever there was a program or social gathering, all the ladies would jostle into one corner of the room and find faults with my past.  The very moment I tried to mingle, they would slowly disperse one by one. My second husband, who decided to get married despite all, even he found it compulsory to discourage me from attending any such community events. I have done my part, of course, and rebelled since I cannot be considered guilty for what happened with me in any way. Why should I have to stay home, then? The nine-month long War didn't only disown me, but left a lifelong impression of lingering stress and eternal struggle.

As Priyabhashini attempts to recall her 1971 nightmares, she seems visibly shaken as if a cold chill down the spine made her shiver. Nevertheless, she continues,

I dare not think about that time. When I try to unravel the layers of the past, all my senses cease functioning at the same time. I fall sick, and it takes a long time to recover.

In the same breath, she calls to mind the handful of people who were there by her side when all hell broke loose. For instance, the first time she explained to Boro Mama her willingness to share these never-before-told stories with the people all around, he was severely sick and bedridden. Yet, the kind and progressive soul inspired her, gave her guidance, showed her the way. Priyabhashini ruminates,

It's not that I am craving mass attention and therefore, doing it as a part of my deep-rooted desire to attain collective sympathy; rather, the millions of other mothers and sisters, the stories they have been systematically forbidden to reveal at different times, they motivate me. It's time these women come out of their shells, pour their hearts out. As for me, I just wanted to set an example, and that's about it.

Similarly, about an old BBC Bangla interview question regarding Priyabhashini herself mastering an exceptional courage to raise her voice, she responds calmly,

It was as if my decided estrangement from the society in turn, made me an outcast. Twenty eight years since the war had passed and still they raised their fingers at me, someone who closely witnessed the reality for what it was and still is. I was like an outlawed refugee. I asked myself whether I had to do anything with my own misfortune. Of course, back then I was not mature enough to approach this issue the way it is supposed to be done. When I did manage to reach the stage, though, I made peace with myself, knowing that I was innocent. At that defining moment I came to terms with myself. I regained my confidence and knew that I had a story to tell for the generations to come.

After that, Priyabhashini is asked about the immediate reaction she received once her stories were out for public consideration, the strenuous battle she had to take on herself before attaining due recognition as one of the most eminent sculptors in the country. In her own words,

Well, if you ask me, life itself is all about sparing no effort. Therefore, I don't think I can be complacent with whatever I have been able to achieve as of now. Just because people know you by your name doesn't mean you are “successful.” The hardest task is to maintain that good name you have earned as long as you can, as well as you can. I believe this generation should try and understand the true significance of the Liberation War, the momentous sacrifice over thirty million people had readily made, and the unimaginable trauma about four million women directly or indirectly were forced to undergo. If they don't know what happened in the past, they won't be able to prepare themselves for the future, which is why, I wanted to share my part in the first place. And let me tell you, it's a tale that goes on.

In reply to another question from BBC regarding all the setbacks imposed on her way by the post-birth pang of a newly emergent country, she states,

Those torturously long months taught me in ways I did not see coming at all. You know how people need to learn a lot in order to obtain a PhD degree; for me, the times I have been through gave me a horrific glimpse of the inhumane, teaching me how to be fearless at the same time. If I could survive after all these, I could learn to survive in my latter days, too. Here, I have to stop and acknowledge the one very special individual, without whom I would not even dream to continue- my fellow comrade, my husband. We have always had an indefinable mutual understanding with each other. Undoubtedly, marriage is not the final answer and being married couldn't help me in those days either; but what I do feel like admitting now more than ever is that he is a good man, after all. Never in our lives did he misinterpret my activism. There was a time when I had to see the worst of what life had to offer; I felt exhausted and emotionally distant. Thankfully, he appeared in my life when I was working as a service-holder and due to some inevitable issues or information gaps, we took a break, too, only to come back to each other at the end. […] Even now when we differ in our opinions, he is there when I need him. Bent with age, the peace-loving man still looks for me anxiously when I am not home. His brother was martyred in the War. An avid reader, he knows how to appreciate the little things. He is a man admired by many and I do love him, too.

The last question of that interview was about her children and how proud they felt having Ferdousi Priyabhashini, a Birangana, a freedom fighter, as their mother:

The way you people love me and care for me, well, the same thing can be said for my own children. […]I have never tried to invade their private world and never even opened their personal letters without permission. I have never asked them about their friends or where they come from unless they felt like telling me themselves. I have tried to parent them in an atmosphere free from unnecessary constraints. You have your lives to live just as I have mine. I tried to bring them up following what you could call the basic principles of liberty. I guess that's how it goes between my children and I.

Nishat Atiya Shoilee is a Lecturer of English at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh. She is also Sub-editor, Star Literature and review Pages.

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