Any and every year, January means fests and being a voracious reader, the fests I’m primarily concerned and excited about are the literary fests. So when the opportunity came to work for the social media team of the Social Bong and Streets of Calcutta in association with the prestigious Apeejay Kolkata Literary Fest 2016, it was just the icing on the cake. Out of all the events that I covered, the session which moved me, more so academically, was the session entitled “Casualties as Collateral Damage” (with emphasis on the Bangladeshi Independence War of 1971). Moderated by Kavita Punjabi, the panel included authors Salil Tripathi, Nayanika Mookherjee and Ruchir Joshi, at the backdrop of the impressive Western Quadrangle of the Victoria Memorial.
While Ruchir Joshi opened the session in a light tone, being in his funny witty persona, it was the statement by Nayanika Mookherjee, which according to me, really set the mood for the wintery afternoon. “Itihaash kagojer paataye, khataye noye.” (History can be found in its pages and not in its books) Such a statement!
Salil Tripathi was of the view that earlier, wars were more like Test matches than T20 matches. According to him, India has been incredibly welcome to the refugees. According to the statistics quoted by him, 10 million of ‘em had come and 95% had went back, after a few months/years. None anywhere in the history of UNO can it be found that a poor country, in this case India, has borne so many refugees, yet they went back, after reaping the shelter of the same.
They spoke about 3 kinds of silences of war: A. People who knew what was going on but couldn’t care less. B. The Media, who had been silenced and blacked out. C. People like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the famous poet, who had actually taken efforts, for instance, signature campaigns but by virtue of curtailing of freedoms on part of the state, had been silenced and thus had to come back.
In fact, in order to vent his despair of the failure of his efforts, Faiz had went on to write a poem entitled, “Dhaka Se Waapsi Ke Baad” (After the Return from Dhaka), where he talks about his efforts and struggles, best captured by the verse,
“Ankahi keh gayi who baat, jo kehne gaye thhey Faiz.”
(The words remained unspoken, which Faiz had went to say.)
Talking about the unspeakables of war, Nayanika divulged that while the husbands of the women victims coaxed ’em on, the women themselves refused to get grilled. It was indeed the men who were more enthusiastic in letting the real stories be known, telling the researchers that the history lay with them, the “Talkable Itihaash” (The Talkable History).
She also talked about several incidents on the fragments of narratives that could be found. Two stories particularly hooked me on and needless to say, raised goosebumps. In the first story, a woman, on watching the oncoming of Kaalbaishakhi (The Norwester Storm), had mysteriously whispered, looking at the storm brewing, “Shedin erom chhilo” (That day was like this day). An eerie silence had followed, as the woman could later nowhere be found, having disappeared without a trace.
It was however the second story which absolutely moved the audience and loud gasps had filled the air. In this story, a young lady in a bid to protect her family members & the other girls of her village, kept forwarding herself to the army every night, without showing any kind of emotion. While her family kept crying, fully aware of what was happening to her but the lady herself remained stoic. Instead, on being asked how she had felt, the lady refused to tell her tale and rather said, “I’ll keep my silence.” But she did give away one statement, which was, “They (the army) took what they could take from me but they couldn’t get anything from Me.” And this happened to be one of many hundred similar stories.
While the session was drawing to an end, Salil Tripathi talked about the obstacles he faced, during the research, saying he was constantly reminded of his foreign-ness, to not being able to feel any kind of real empathy, for of course, he couldn’t, just couldn’t. He also said, while dealing with sensitive stories like this, it is important for the researcher to keep in mind that in no way should they do an intensive, entirely target-oriented grill, so much so they go on to recreate the terrible past in the minds of the victims. He also revealed a particular insight, saying to fill certain specified quotas, armies sometimes have to open fire, no matter the existence of any actual need to do so!
Nayanika Mookherjee said, what she discovered was this dark humor among the women. In fact, she was quite taken aback how ‘banterific’ these women victims can be regarding the after-effects of the 1960s-70s wars. They totally demasculated the men, when it came to talking and dealing with them, during and after the wars. She also said that, perhaps this dark humor actually served as a source of bonding, as a mode of acknowledgment of their painful struggle, without falling back into any kind of depression.
This thought-provoking session couldn’t have ended better, without the words of Salil Tripathi, who remarked, “Forgiveness is not possible, unless and without a tinge of remorse.” I say, forgiveness should never be done, cannot be done, to this phase of the history.