May 2023

Monzurul Huq recalls his role in Bangladesh’s bloody war of independence at FCCJ Book Break

Monzurul Huq

A Story of My Time is a memoir by the veteran journalist and past FCCJ president Monzurul Huq. With the successful 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War as its backdrop, it tells the story of a generation of freedom fighters who took up arms for their country against the brutal Pakistani army. Huq, then in his late teens, was among them.

Speaking at a Book Break organized by the FCCJ Library Committee, the author recalled that time of trauma and courage. “I joined a busload of friends who embarked on military training for the first time in their lives,” he said. “My first revolutionary bullet missed the mark. But the second one hit the target.” At that moment, Huq stepped away from the innocence of youth and entered a world of commitment and sacrifice. “Remarkably, it was a natural process for many ordinary people at that time,” he said.

The memoir, told in in the form of letters and conversations, is a semi-fictional account that follows the story of a man and his extended family who lived in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

Recounted in the first person, the episodes comprise the struggle of this man to find himself amid the unfolding war of liberation. Huq uses the character to weave a tapestry of love and death – and highlight a human spirit that values his land above all else. He was not alone: tens of thousands of young men and women voluntarily entered the struggle to free their country from oppression.

Huq signs copies of his book.

Bangladesh was then part of Pakistan, which had been partitioned from India by the British in 1947 to establish a Muslim State comprising East Pakistan – present-day Bangladesh – and West Pakistan. The plan failed. Among other discriminatory acts carried out by the Pakistan government was a decision in 1948 to make Urdu the sole official language, against the wishes of most Bangladeshis, who spoke Bengali. Even today, that trauma has not been forgotten, and the country continues to respect its national identity by marking February 21 as International Mother Language Day.

The nine-month fight for independence was brutal and bloody. More than 3 million Bangladeshi civilians were killed between March and December 1971. Documented rapes by Pakistani soldiers of Bangladeshi women exceeded 200,000. When the Pakistani army withdrew, they left behind a country that had been ruthlessly plundered. For Bangladeshis, it was a bittersweet victory.

Huq, who has written numerous books in Bengali, said he had decided to publish this title in English to bring the historical war to a wider international audience. “Much has been written in Bengali about the liberation war and there are monuments including the national war museum in our country that pay homage to the past. But my book provides a rare documentation in English, filling a void that needs to be addressed,” he said.

In keeping with the author’s love of poetry and film, the book is an elegant item, complete with illustrations by the famous artist Bishwajit Goswami.

Huq said he had spent almost seven years writing down his thoughts and experiences. The finished narrative includes the smaller details of life during the war, an approach that succeeds in exposing the darker side of the country’s past. Huq said he had wanted to “give readers the necessary imaginative powers to understand where the country was heading – the great deluge that unfolded the floodgates of larger happenings for the country and its people”.

That message resonates even more, now that the world is grappling with wars on several fronts. More than five decades have passed since Bangladesh was embroiled in conflict, yet the testimony of Huq and other freedom fighters is still compelling – and a lesson for the world as atrocities unfold in Ukraine and beyond.

Monzurul Huq is a correspondent for Prothom Alo, a leading daily newspaper in Bangladesh. The book was published by Cosmos Centre.

Suvendrini Kakuchi is Tokyo correspondent for University World News in the U.K.