Right now, I am all blue. I was supposed to have my feet on the ground, and study for my upcoming exam–which is in two days. Nonetheless, I am writing. Despite being tired, this is one of those moments when nothing can stop me from writing. It's rare, and I've prayed and prayed that I can taste this often, so I shall try to do it justice.
A week earlier, I came across an old photo in one of Dhaka's history archive pages. The photograph contained a severed head in a brick dominated puddle –with dark pits where eyes had been. It was grey of course, and creepy too; screaming with ghost memories that were spat out by the 71' genocide. The photo held the narrative of one “Bhagirathi,” who was apparently a widowed 18 year old woman. Destiny had nailed her cruel fate when she was captured by the Pakistani military in May after the bloody night of 25th March had crept in, changing everything. The night walked silently all over our country. Sneaking into the corners, peering through the windows, it crept in like a living entity that didn't have legs, hence, no footsteps. Quietly, it spread throughout the city like black tar on crystal clear water. The sky was thick with threats and waiting for the clock to strike the ominous hour. There were the olive trucks, the alien-tongued gun men, and the vultures against grey backdrops over skeletons. The threats took the shape of a phantom meteor. It fell, silently, of course, and the country woke up with a start.
As far as Bhagirathi was concerned, like many other women, she was taken to the camp as well− a new dish to feast on, a dish that never ends from the porcelain plate. The soldiers were animals in disguise. She faced the wrath she was destined to. Her destiny watched her suffer from above the camp tents. It hovered over Bhagirathi like a shadow. Omnipresent, it never left her side. Bhagirathi was not the one to tolerate everything, however. She was determined to sabotage the military in retaliation to the suffering she had gone through. Like the soldiers had been animals in disguise, she became a sympathiser in disguise. A shape-shifter, Bhagirathi devised a plan that involved impressing the soldiers showing how much of an aide she was to them. Once given the permission to leave and return to the camp, she helped the freedom fighters in secret. Her beauty and feigned promiscuity had met the appropriate criteria to win the soldiers' trust, for they were merely animals prone to lust. Bhagirathi was then a bird− flying after being freed from the cage, and returning when it was time.
This particular account reminds me of the pigeons that fly over my campus in afternoon while I read on the rooftop. My neighbour sets them free, and they fly back to the cage when the sun leaves the sky; scattering streaks of pink over the blue.
To come back to the story, the roots of trust went deep by now. She conspired with the freedom fighters to destroy a part of the military. Accordingly, she had invited them to her village, and they had accepted her invitation, too. The plan had been executed. Most of the Pakistani military men had been killed. It called for a vulture feast, as if the bodies had been presented to the breathing cloud of dark feathers. Some, though severely injured, had made it to the camp. She never returned to the camp after the incident. Trust had become a blurry landscape.
In retaliation, the military put a bounty on her head. They had been spreading the word throughout. “The capturer gets 1000 taka.” Of course, the temptation was too hard to resist. It had always been such to the traitors. It still is.
To destiny's joy, Bhagirathi was captured. Destiny made sure of it. Lucky capturer, though. He must have bought a mansion by then. Destiny revealed its plans through the military's lips. She was taken to the city, probably in an olive truck. From a vantage point, her clothes were stripped. Followed by that, they had her legs tied to the back of the truck. Later, the truck engine revved and the tires rolled. Bhagirathi was dragged through the streets of the city. The truck returned to the same point after a trip. She wasn't completely dead when her legs were tied to two separate trucks. The engines revved yet again, and they sped into opposite distances.
The city was Pirojpur. Apparently, there were two more people, who were killed this way in the heart of the same city.
I am feeling a sense of calm as I am approaching the end of this musing. I believe, we, who are given the ability to write, have this certain responsibility to make a photograph grey and silent vibrant with colours and sounds, breathing life into it through the magic of literary devices. After all, we were given a brushstroke and an empty canvas, waiting to be heavy with worlds. Like that, I also believe the tales of the unheard Birangonas are to be painted with equal vividness as the freedom fighters and distributed among the new generation so that they get a glimpse of the women during the Liberation War.
As for the title, this very concept of brushstrokes having to do something with literary merit intrigues me- colouring the colourless photos and presenting history in motion through the act.
Shah Tazrian Ashrafi is an 11th grade student of Birshreshtha Noor Mohammad Public School & College, Dhaka.