Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience



Your Name:

Recipient Email:

290-Bangladesh-LotusWe put the flowers in a clay pot and let it float in the Jhelum while the river was still trapped in the Himalayas. The fast-moving current took it downstream towards the mighty Indus. We prayed and withdrew. When we went to the place where Kabul joins the Indus, offered flowers and moved downstream where Jhelum had joined them too. There we saw our flowers planted in the riverbed. We thanked the three rivers and moved on. In the Ganges, we surrendered the ashes of our grandfathers to the river and asked it to carry the remains to the sea. It did and the prayers of our grandfathers came back to us with the clouds, bringing elixir of life to the parched land. Near Khartoum, where the White Nile meets the Blue Nile, our brothers gave the river a message for us and we collected it from the Indus where it meets the sea. “Move on,” it said. We did. And while crossing the Mississippi, we rested on a bridge near Louisville, Kentucky, where a black boxer, Mohammed Ali’s, gold was thrown into the river. The river smiled at us and asked: “Are you tired now?” “Yes,” we said and asked, “is the journey over?” “It is never over until it is over,” said the river. So we moved on. But when Khalilur Rehman and Jamilur Rehman visited the Old Ganges, the Burhi Ganga, near Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, the river did not ask them to move on. They had come to the river, looking for the graves of their fathers but rivers keep no graves. So the Old Ganges kept quiet. The burning happened 41 years ago, but their children were still looking for a closure. They got one. Did they? When Khalil and Jamil approached the river, it had completed a loop around the city and was ready to move on to the sea. They tried to stop it but it did not. A river never stops. It was here, along the banks of the Old Ganges that an old man, Bazlur Rehman, sold sweets. We saw him every morning, carrying Bengali sweets, butter, yogurt and eggs. He kept his merchandise in two large clay pots, balanced on his shoulders with a long stick. Bazlur stopped in every street, put down his merchandise and shouted: “Lal mohan, kheer mohan, roshogullah,” naming Bengali sweets. “Matha, makhun, doi.” When we had money, we bought some sweets from him or walked quietly to our school. Whether we stopped or not, he always did, offering little pieces of a sweet that he kept for children. This was Dhaka before 1971, a city of rivers, boats and flowers. Our most vivid memory of Dhaka is that of small and large boats, sailing across the Burhi Ganga. Also fresh in the memory is the fragrance of the gandhraj and motia flowers and the pristine lotus dancing gracefully in the river – always out of our reach. Then there’s this song that we heard on the radio almost every morning, “Allah megh de, pani de … God send clouds and rains.” Although, we often wondered why they prayed for rains in a land so full of water, we loved the song. But as 1971 came, the songs were silenced. The fragrance evaporated, replaced by a foul stench, the stench of blood and decaying corpses. The sweet meat man disappeared when the troubles started. This was early 1971 and it had become dangerous for people from rival ethnic groups to visit each other. We did not see Bazlur for weeks but one day, while visiting a Bengali friend in a Bengali neighbourhood, one of us saw him. He went to the sweet meat man and asked: “Chacha, why don’t you come to our neighbourhood anymore?” Bazlur saw the child, a non-Bengali in a Bengali neighbourhood, held him by his arms, walked him to a nearby bus stand and said: “Stay put in this bus. It goes straight to your neighbourhood.” He added: “You speak good Bengali but they can still detect an accent. So do not speak a word. Sit quietly and get off when the bus reaches your area.” There was another man, Jalilur Rehman, an Urdu speaker. He had a small tea stall, and also sold pakoras and biscuits. He had an arrangement with Bazlur. When Bazlur finished hawking his sweets in the streets, he came to the tea stall and put his sweets in a corner. He stayed there all day, selling his sweets and serving tea to Jalil’s customers. They shared the profits as well as the shop’s rent. They had no interest in politics. So they ignored whatever was happening around them. But others did not. One day, a crowd set the shop on fire. Trapped inside, both burned alive. Their bodies were thrown in the river. The story ended but not for Jamilur Rehman and Khalilur Rehman. Jamil was Bazlur’s son and Khalil was Jalil’s. Both were less than 10 when their fathers died. Jamil stayed in Dhaka with his mother, while Khalil and his mother moved to Karachi. But the two women stayed in touch, writing letters to each other – in Bengali – whenever they could. Meanwhile, their children grew up. Khalil became a motor mechanic. Jamil became a welder. He went to Dubai, and on his mother’s advice found a job for Khalil too. Dubai brought some prosperity to these poor families, so they decided to get together, in Dhaka. Actually, it was Khalil’s idea. He had no memories of his father, so he wanted to know more about him. He thought Jamil and his mother would know more because they stayed back in Dhaka but they did not. The shop was on the borderline, so they too stayed away from it during the riots. And when they finally went to the area, the bodies had already been disposed of. Some of their fathers’ friends were still alive, so Jamil helped Khalil meet them. But whatever he learned from them was not very useful either. Everybody told them what they already knew, that their fathers were burned alive in the shop but their bodies were thrown into the river. Still, Khalil kept looking for someone who might have witnessed the entire incident. And one day, he found one, Sharfuddin, a retired police constable, who said he knew their fathers, had witnessed the attack and also saw their bodies being thrown into the river. Although, Khalil already knew these two pieces of information, meeting an eyewitness made him feel as if he had seen his father dying. Now he was ready to bury him. So the next evening, Khalil held a Quran-Khawni for his and Jamil’s fathers and after the guests left, for the first time in his life Khalil cried for Jalil. The next day Khalil and Jamil went to the Old Ganges with a basket full of flowers. Khalil threw the flowers into the river and returned to Karachi as the river urged him to move on.  
80x80-Anwar-IqbalThe author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Author Image

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (35) Closed

Saleem Mir,MD Dec 15, 2012 12:43pm
I thank Mr. Anwar Iqbal to piece together this torn out page from our history books to remind us our tormented past. it is high time for both Pakistan and Bangladesh to accept the mistakes of the past and apologize to one another for the excesses done in the creation of Bangladesh. This has not been forthcoming because people at the helms of affairs particularly in Pakistan have failed, at least at human level, to feel the pains of a Bangladeshi for years of insults hurled at them by the non Bengali "Brown Sahibs". We may not see an honest gesture at Government level but what is stopping the intelligentsia of Pakistan to come forth and ask forgiveness from Bangladeshis. What Faiz Ahmad Faiz had gone to say to his Bengali friends in 1973 should be said openly and unabashedly. "Un say jo kehnay gaiy thay Faiz jan sadqa kiye/Unkahi hi reh gai woh baat sab baton kay baad".Let it be.
Karachi Wala Dec 15, 2012 12:36pm
Very touching as usual. Next time, when Khalil and Jameel meet, I wish, with the basket of flowers in a clay pot they throw out another clay pot in the river to rid off hate and mistrust on behalf of those, who were once known as East and West Pakistan. The second basket ends up in the depths of sea, never to be recovered. I seriously hope!
Patriot Pakistani Dec 16, 2012 12:13pm
It is a heart wrenching article by Anwar Iqbal.It was not the people of present day Bangladesh who created Bangladesh it was marshal people of West pakistan or today's Pakistan.That our armed forces killed,maimed and raped our own brother and sisters is unforgivable.tyhey systemically started killing Bengali intelligentia so that they would not progress even after independence.What also people forget that these very marshal people surrendered without a reasonable fight with Indian Forces and this was largest surrender of Muslim Forces in the modern history-what a great fighting force.We did unimaginale crimes against humanity in Bangladesh and have not even apologised upto now-shame on people of truncated Pakistan and shame on people of Pakistan.
ramanuj Dec 15, 2012 06:00pm
Thank you for writing about my Golden Bengal , just heart touching
NASAH (USA) Dec 15, 2012 11:38am
In my medical opinion the writer is suffering from bouts of incipient depressions -- hence a caravan of heart wrenching articles with seeping melancholy.
Imran Dec 15, 2012 06:15pm
In my honest opinion you have no humanity in you.
Suleman Dec 17, 2012 06:12am
Universal truth Dec 15, 2012 05:32pm
Why should bengali ask apology from you?what for?who neglected Bengali ?who killed 3 million innocent human being?who committed genocide?who raped about thousands of women?If anyone need to seek apology thats you( pakistanis)...come and do so after that we`ll consider whether you are eligible to be pardoned or not...
S. A. M. Dec 15, 2012 12:25pm
I could'nt get it what was the purpose or logic behind writing this long and boring piece. useless.
anwar kamal Dec 19, 2012 01:30pm
The general Pakistanis are good.We hate those rulers and politicians who were directly or indirectly involved in genocide ,1971.No mercy for them.
Syed Naved Dec 15, 2012 04:45pm
Yes , I'm A Bangladeshi , But After reading This Heart Touchin Story Cant Stop Myself To Give A Feedback 'ere & Share it on my site. Probably The Reason Would Be This I Myself Also Urdu/farshi Native Origin & Old Dhaka Origin Ppl. Both Bd-Pakistan Needs To Move On , And Need To Appolize To one another for doing access. It's true some excess done by the army,Also true some excess done by Mukti during and after the war. But We must not forget that we were,are & will always brothers.As We Share same history,same blood,create Same Nation Pakistan Under One Leader. Who Is Remembered with great respect still in our heart. Past Doesn't matter,If We Decide To Start A Refresh. We All Are Muslim,Soul Brothers. Bd-Pak relation now better,but it need to be more close & warmer . It's only Possible if our leader come together,sit together & Declare Each other brotherly state. War brings pain, but brotherhood brings peace.
Rakesh Dec 15, 2012 04:58pm
...or may be the world is in such a deep slumber, that it fails to look beyond the template of emotions that the world prescribes for people....I feel his articles articles inspire a beautiful range of emotions in people who care to read... Wish you well Rakesh :-) :-) :-)
azhar Dec 15, 2012 05:30pm
Yes its time to move on . Please do not ask Pakistan Govt only to apologise as the excesses were on both the sides and this can be ascertained from un-biased sources of history . Pakistan Govt took an early initiative in early 70s to recognise Bangladesh; an unpopular decision at that time. Today Pakistan considers Bangladesh brotherly state and wish to continue on path of reconciliation.
Farooq Dec 15, 2012 06:56pm
My sympathy for these two gentlemen who lost their father at birth of Bangladesh. In no way I see it as a triffle matter at humane level,and I am sure there are more such painful stories in families of Pakistan. I have seen all first hand. 41 years is long time,but I assure you; there are 100 fold more such stories in Bangladeshi families. Peace to you all,let us live with love and in harmony.
Deen Sheikh Dec 15, 2012 03:42pm
The apology should be mutual, why does the whole world conveniently forget the war crimes carried out by the Bengali nationalists, they murdered tens of thousands of pro Pakistani Bengalis, Non Bengalis. Look at the condition the left over Urdu Speakers are in, they are better at the bottom of Bengali society. If anything the government of Bangladesh should apologize to its own people for turning them against their own country, turning them against the hard work of their fore fathers and betraying the dream of Pakistan in which Bengali Muslim leaders played a significant role. The biggest irony is the Bengali intellectuals today talk about Pakistan as if it is the greatest problem in today's world, it is a sin their fore fathers committed. If Pakistan had not happened there would have been no Bangladesh, forget not, the Hindu nationalists had the Partition of Bengal over turned.
Sandip Dec 17, 2012 02:08pm
It would have been good thing to overturn partition of Bengal? Not sure why are you proud of partition? I am hindu from India and ashamed of mistakes leaders from my country made to let this partition happen
KJU Dec 17, 2012 03:09pm
Touching story. I have heard quite a few like this. In 1947, there was a mission, and the sacrifices paid off. In 1971, the politicians and the army played with the ignorance and apathy of the people and managed to drive a wedge. Living overseas, we see that the people have no enmity for each other, and wish they were still together. Let us learn from history!
sattar rind Dec 17, 2012 10:21am
i visited Bangladesh ....they hate Pakistani peoples very much.
AM Dec 15, 2012 01:37pm
@Nasah, the subcontinent is suffering from protracted depression — torn, depleted - its time someone put that pain into simple words.
Golam Sarwar Chowdhury Dec 16, 2012 09:55am
This writing makes me nostalgic but at the same time prompts me to write that while Bangladesh is at present trying the collaborators of the Pakistan military who committed crimes against humanity during our war of liberation, Pakistan has done little to exorcise the ghost of its past. Not only have the 195 Pakistani soldiers and military officers, who were handed over to Pakistan in 1973 after the Mujib-Indira-Bhutto agreement allowed to escape punishment, government after government in Pakistan continue to teach wrong history to its younger generations as of today.. How many young Pakistanis born after 1971 know that it was the Bengalis whose contribution to the creation of Pakistan was much more than any other provinces that constitute today's Pakistan? How many young Pakistanis know that even though the Bengalis were in a majority in united Pakistan they were never allowed to form government in the centre? Even after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won a landslide victory in the 1970 general elections, Bhutto actively supported the Pakistan military to commit one of the worst genocides in human history. Tikka Khan, who was known as the butcher of Baluchistan, openly declared that he needed the 'holy land of East Pakistan' and not its people who would all be killed and replaced by true Muslims from West Pakistan. It's a shame that now when Pakistani as a state is slowly but surely failing, the Pakistan government is hesitant to officially apologise for the barbarism of its military perpetuated in 1971. Unless this is done, Bengalis will never have any reasons whatsoever even to think of improving its relations with Pakistan.
Ye Z Dec 17, 2012 12:57pm
People of East Pakistan wanted independence and they made Bangladesh. Good for them. For us: Get over it ... already.
Khan Dec 15, 2012 04:02pm
Had he written against Pakistan he could be a healthy person? Bangladesh creation story has 2 sides the other side is where indian trained and indian backed Mukhti bahinis and other Bengalis slaughtered non Bengalis and committed inhuman crime against non Bengalis. I remember those days when my father struggle to keep the whole family alive in Dhaka and some how reached Pakistan.
george Dec 20, 2012 12:49pm
The rulers are as good as the people deserves. Both are bad .
Nasir Dec 17, 2012 07:06am
No matter how would you share the pain. It is not easy to bear it to our new generation
Cynical Dec 17, 2012 06:14pm
You are a good soul. You did the right thing. RESPECT.
Ghaznavi Dec 18, 2012 09:44am
Mr. Chowdary My heartfelt condolences to my East Pakistani brothers and sisters who were victims of war. War is a messy affair everywhere. The burden of the killings sits squarely on shoulders of the political masters (in East and West Pakistan), the military and enemy India. The killings perpetuated by Mukti Bahini militants who butchered anyone suspected of being non bengali or West Pakistan sympathizers are also well documented, but my Bengali brothers have never acknowledged it. The killings, rape, mutilation, burnings of West Pakistani families, their homes and businesses is an equally serious crime. The need of the hour is to learn from the past and move forward. It takes two to clap and it would be good for both Pakistan and Bangladesh to officially apologize to each other and start a new era of brotherly relations.
anwar kamal Dec 18, 2012 10:02am
Thanks Mr.Observer for your realization.
anwar kamal Dec 18, 2012 10:22am
Who should know who committed genocide ?who killed 3 million people ? who raped two hundred thousand women ?who killed the intellectuals ? who destroy the economy ?who destroy the communication system ? who burnt the town and village one after another ?To get the answers we have to know the history of that time .No body can hide history.History is very cruel.No body can get rid for his role.So let us read history and learn from history.
A.Zaman Dec 16, 2012 03:02pm
Thanks Universal Truth for your comment.
Samir Dec 15, 2012 09:09pm
If you really are a doctor, I fear for your patients. The writer is a beautiful soul who understands that all healing starts with an acknowledgement of the wounds and a cleanup. He is trying to wake up a moribund people who are caught on the wrong side of history
NASAH (USA) Dec 16, 2012 07:43pm
Your humanity should not be confined to Jalilur Rehman and Khalilur Rehman ONLY -- it should be wide and expansive enough to cover the pain of Chatterjee's and Bannerjee's as well.
observer Dec 16, 2012 01:59am
I agree with you. There is a league of people in Pakistan who would say or write emotionally charged stuff just to grab attention. Our nation is an emotional one. So, it is prone to be influenced by tragic fiction.
observer Dec 16, 2012 03:55am
I have worked with a few Bangladsh people in my life. I have no personal regrets of what was meted out to the then East Pakistanis as I apologized to each Bangladeshi I met and made it clear to them that I cannot and do not support what happened in 1971.
Sarim Khan Dec 16, 2012 05:57am
But this story is about two families rising above all prejudices to connect with each other. Do you find this depressive?
John Vicks Dec 20, 2012 03:32pm
Azhar, this is incorrect. The then Govt. of Pak committed those crimes while the indigenous people just reacted with whatever resources they had. Pakistan did not recognize Bangladesh until 1974 when Bangbandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman refused to come to the Islamic Conference unless they are recognized by Pakistan. Nothing personal, just relaying the facts.