I was born in a village Tilakpur, in Moulvibazar district, in present northeast Bangladesh. It is indeed a beautiful village on the bank of the Dhalai River which originates in India as a rivulet being only one foot deep in the summer.
But in the rainy season it devastated village after village leaving innumerable people homeless. There my father late Lalit Mohan Sinha had his education in Normal High School and College in Shilchar, Cachar district, India, and attained his Normal degree in Bengali literature which is equivalent to Bachelor of Arts. He started his profession as a school teacher at Batuli Ragana High School in Barlekha, Moulvibazar. My mother late Dhanabati Sinha was then studying in Karimganj of Cachar district staying in her elder sister’s house.
My aunt (mashi) late Kokila Sinha was staying with her husband, who was a sub-registrar. As my aunt was very young, she was feeling very lonely, and to give company to her elder sister, my grandparents sent my mother to stay with her. The two sisters were born consecutively and therefore were very close. When my father was teaching in Raghana High School, he married my mother, who was very young then. On my father’s side, he had one younger brother, late Bhubaneswar Sinha, who was more than six feet tall and had a healthy and slender body physique. He was not attentive to his education and wasted time playing with his friends, taking the advantage of my grandfather late Dhansaw Sinha, who studied in ‘Tole’ (Sanskrit school) and became a Pandit with a vast knowledge on recitation of Upanishads, Vedas and wrote scriptures on religious philosophy. My father preserved and recited them. Naturally, my grandfather had no interest in worldly affairs. Towards the south-western corner of our house we had a big mango tree and under the tree he set up a Mandir, calling it Brindaban, the Hindus’ holiest place in Uttar Pradesh, India. In his Ashram, he taught ‘Rakhal Dancing’ (boys’ dance) and performed Rakhal Nrittya every month with the villagers. Besides, he taught religious ceremonies, the Sree Geeta and Mahabharat every day to the villagers and entertained them with ‘prasada’ – fruits dedicated to the Deity.
Consequently, my uncle, taking advantage of my father’s absence and my grandfather’s lack of interest in worldly affairs, was not guided properly toward education. He remained busy with football and hockey. It was after my father’s return in late 1947 that my mother taught my uncle at home and then got him admitted in the high school and, ultimately, he became a primary school teacher. My father had acquired a reputation as a teacher in Bengali literature, mathematics and he was particularly efficient in arithmetic (Patiganit).
We had farm land and cultivated various crops with permanent workers. We had two buffalos for ploughing besides innumerable cows for milk. My mother used to cook for the large joint family.
It was a practice in the family that before going to school the men took care of the cows.
My father joined Kaliprasad High School, Munshibazar, which is located about seven kilometers north from our house. The road was so muddy throughout the rainy season it was not possible to attend school every day although he had a bicycle. So, he rented a house and stayed there with my elder brother who had been admitted to high school. Ultimately, my father joined Kamalganj High School at the thana headquarter in which I studied. My father inherited his father’s behavior and was a cool-minded religious person. My mother, on the other hand, was a bit harsh toward all her children and she used to control the day to day affairs of her children. They were five sons and one daughter. One died from cholera while he was studying in Class v1.
I am the second while my elder brother was getting a degree as an engineer and then he took higher studies in Marine Engineering in London and served in the Mercantile Marine Department, Chittagong. My third brother is a banker and my fourth brother is a dentist, and currently they are US citizens. My only sister Satyabhama studied in Women’s College, Sylhet. All us brothers and sister are properly educated as my parents were attentive to our education. My father’s days used to begin much earlier at dawn when he used to give tuition to some students at home. His capacity to feed his students’ intellectual hunger by sheer brilliance and untiring zeal was praiseworthy.
My mother would share the bulk of household work along with raising her five children, and later, after my uncle married for the second time, his wife, Maney my kakima, also helped my mother in doing the household chores. My mother was renowned for being a tough lady and I believe it was her instinct and hard work that made sure that all her children received proper education and upbringing. I was kind of very unyielding in my childhood. I used to play in the afternoon and return home in the evening and developed a habit of eating a lot. I had another interest which I could not restrain and that was swimming in our small village river with my friends when flood inundated the area. I always had friends who were senior to me.
When I was old enough, along with my elder brother Narendra Kumar Sinha, I began to help the workers in the family farm while also studying to lessen the burden on our parents. Aside from using the buffalos for ploughing we also utilized them for crushing sugarcane in the autumn, which we cultivated on the bank of the river. A huge chunk of land of about 25 bighas was used for cultivation of sugarcane which was diluviated by the Dhalai River.
I took my graduation in commerce from the Madan Mohan College in 1970 and was admitted to Chittagong University in the economics department. Since I had good grades in economics from college my professor advised me to take admission in economics at the university. The political atmosphere at the time was very volatile. My father was not inclined to let me study in Chittagong due to political disquiet and wanted me to join as a teacher in his school as a commerce teacher. As my father was reluctant to continue paying my educational cost at Chittagong due to security concerns I was confused whether to continue my education in Chittagong or leave. After three months I returned to Sylhet and got admitted to Sylhet Law College without my father’s consent.
When my father came to know that I had been admitted to the law collage, he got furious and instructed me to return home. In fact, he had arranged an appointment for me at his school. In his view lawyers are liars and they earn money by lying. He could not imagine that an ideal teacher’s son could be a lawyer and earn his livelihood by lying. Consequently, relations between my father and me were strained regarding my education in law. In clear language I had to tell him that I could not end my life as a school teacher and informed him that even without his financial support I would continue my law study. From then on, I met my expenses in Sylhet by tutoring students.
Meanwhile my uncle Bhubaneswar Sinha had been suffering from kidney disease from a young age. In the 1960s he had surgical operative treatment of his kidney disease and had his kidney stones removed at Kumudini Hospital, Tangail, a famous hospital during that time established by philanthropist Ranada Prasad Saha. Again, in the latter part of 1970 he had obstructions in discharging urine. Therefore, I brought him to Sylhet and had him admitted to Sylhet Medical College Hospital in the second week of March 1971. He would not eat the hospital food and I had to carry his food from Mashimpur where I was staying. Prof. Shamsuddin Ahmed, a renowned teacher in the surgery department removed his kidney stones about five or six days before March 25, 1971. As usual I brought him his food on March 25 at dusk on a bicycle. I noticed that his body temperature was very high and decided to stay the night with him despite his objections claiming the situation in the country was not normal.
There was tension in the city and it was also reflected in the hospital. Just at dawn we heard sounds of processions toward Ambarkhana area chanting “Joy Bangla, Joy Bangla.” Almost all the patients and others came out of the hospital compound saying that the country had been liberated. Within half- an- hour we heard sounds of indiscriminate firing. All the patients and everyone else returned inside the hospital and after about one hour the bullet injured persons were brought in one after another in rickshaws and vans. Within one hour about 70/80 injured were brought to the hospital and the emergency department was drenched in blood.
The hospital authority sent an ambulance for bringing Prof. Shamsuddin for the sake of the patients. As the situation was worsening my uncle told me to go back saying that my aunt might be very apprehensive about me because I did not tell her that I would be staying the night and because I had come without my dinner.
So, with some hesitation I approached Mashimpur through Dariapara. But before I entered the main road toward Zindabazar I saw many people were standing on the edge of the by lane and observing the situation. Some of them prevented me from going to the main road, because there was curfew; some others said there was no curfew. When we were talking we saw that a police jeep with a speaker was coming from Lamabazar toward Zindabazar announcing that curfew had been declared and hence no one should go out. Moments later an army jeep came toward us firing a machine gun indiscriminately. I jumped on my cycle and went back to the hospital. I noticed that some persons who were standing with me earlier had sustained bullet wounds.
Returning to the hospital I rushed into my uncle’s cabin and fell on the floor. He had a temperature and his surgical stiches had not been removed. Even then he got down from his bed and asked whether I was also injured because there were blood stains on my clothes. He gave me a glass of water. Within a few minutes I came to full consciousness and narrated the entire harrowing incident. I told him other people beside me were hit by bullets and I had managed to survive with the help of my bike.
Thereafter I noticed that Prof. Shamsuddin Ahmed operated on the injured the whole day long without taking any rest. We did not enough money and food supply in the hospital fell short and so we did not have any food to eat. Hence, I went to meet the hospital super to ask for some bread and other food. He replied that there was no supply of ration and even the regular patients could not be served breakfast, lunch or dinner. The hospital therefore authority decided that until conditions improved patients would be supplied with ‘khichuri’ (cooked mix of rice and lentil).
We had little money with us and I told my uncle that I would go and bring bread from a street vendor who was selling tea and bread near the south-western side of the hospital near Dariapara. The old Sylhet Medical College was in the west and the hospital in the east bifurcated by a road which passes through Dariapara and connects to the main road which goes from Lamabazar to Zindabazar. I found only a half-pound bread and brought it. We were put in an uncertain position: for two persons we had only half pound bread. We did not have any drinking water and started taking water from the bathroom tap. We lived on that one piece of bread for two days! While my uncle was pressing me to eat the bread and I was requesting him to have the bread as he was unwell. In truth we were eating only bits of the bread and taking them with a lot of water. When the curfew was lifted after 48 hours, to our awe, we noticed that half of the bread was still there. I told my uncle that the situation is completely uncertain, and I should somehow go home to bring some food and money.
After two days, the hospital returned to its hectic state and all the doctors and nurses got busy with the treating the bullet injured patients. I met Prof. Shamsuddin to see the condition of my uncle so that we could return home because of the uncertainty. He gave us some medications to heal the surgical wound, removed the bandage and advised me to take my uncle home. If the situation in the country became normal he would check my uncle again after fifteen days. So, I brought him to Mashimpur on a rickshaw after eight days. Perhaps because of the mental pressure and the agony I suffered during those few days I developed a temperature that turned out to be typhoid.
There were rumors that all routes out of Sylhet were going to be closed. Therefore, either we should leave the city as soon as possible or it would be difficult for us to leave. Towards the last week of May my temperature was falling slightly and we along with four other families including my present wife’s family started for our village in the morning. Arjun Babu, my wife’s grandfather, was a very popular man who was the accountant general of Sylhet Zila Parishad. He had close relationships with the contractors of the Zila Parishad. One of the contractors arranged a truck for us which was on the opposite bank of the Surma River. We came out of the city and managed to cross the Surma by boat. I had to walk with the help of two persons because till then I had not taken any food by mouth. We reached Tajpur Daakbanglow at dusk. We were received by local people and they supplied us with rice and lentil for cooking `khichuri’. After two weeks I swallowed a bowl of khichuri and felt better.
On the following morning we started walking and sometimes took help of rickshaw vans, when available, to take the children and sick persons and thus we came to Sherpur ferryghat. After crossing the Sherpur River we got a truck. The driver agreed to take us up to Srimangal. We reached Srimangal at around 3:00 PM and from there we started walking through the Srimangal-Bhanugah forest, more than 12 kilometers. It was an unimaginably arduous journey. There is a road between Srimangal and Bhanugach, but it was completely muddy. We did not feel that we were hungry or sick; the only thing clawed in our mind was how to reach our destination without being confronted by the Pakistani Army. We traveled in a zigzag fashion and after crossing the Padmachera Tea Estate, we reached our maternal uncle’s (Sonai Mama) house at the western-most portion of Madhabpur village Chingong. Sonai Mama loved me very much and seeing my health condition he persuaded us to stay the night. We took some puffed rice (muri) and water and started toward our village, which was about three kilometers away towards northeastern corner intervened by the Dhalai River. We were determined to reach our home the same day because we thought that if we pass the night at my uncle’s place it might so happen that we would not be able to walk if our physical distress worsened. Ultimately, we reached our home at around 9:00 PM.
After seven days at home I fully recovered. The road in front of our house passes from Moulvibazar town to Kumrarchara Tea Estate, the last point at the border with Tripura, India. The distance of this road is about 35 kilometers. The road was in a miserable state. Somewhere the depth of the wet mud was more than one foot and in spots it was dry. In the meantime, the Pakistani Army set up their camp at Shamsher Nagar Airport and took control of the Thana administration by forming a Peace Committee and started recruiting razakars through their Peace Committee. The Army directed the villagers to make the road motor able with the help of the Peace Committee. Some radicals from Impala of Manipur, India came to support the Pakistan Army headed by one Sudhir of Meitai Manipuri and took refuge in Homerjan village. He started recruiting razakars from the Meitai of Manipuris. There was constant pressure on the villagers to repair the road, but there was no dry soil to fill up the potholes in the road because it was the rainy season.
I heard from one of my friends, Anil, that the army was looking for some young persons in the locality to give them the responsibility of the construction work instead of compelling them to join the razakar force. Whenever we heard that the army came to our locality, we used to take shelter in the paddy fields toward west where a vast area up to the Dhalai River had no habitation. Sometimes it continued from morning till dusk and in the process, leeches sucked our blood, but we could not move. It was an atrocious situation.
Finally, the Army managed to build the road by laying tree branches and filling earth over the branches. When the road was motorable the movement of the army was regular. Because the border toward the south is about 20 km away from my house. Possibly the Army thought of using the road as the defense against the infiltration of freedom fighters as the alternative road from Bhanugach to Patrokhola Tea Estate, which was a motorable road. At this time, I along with Gour Mohan decided to join the Mukti Bahini in India and took shelter in the Madhabpur village for crossing the border. We stayed there for three nights, but could not cross the border because the Army, in the meantime, had formed peace committees and Razakar groups up to the remote areas and the border was totally sealed. All along the border areas most of the population is from the Meitai sect of Hindus and Muslim Meitai sects. Their language is more common than that of the Bishnupriya sect of Manipuri to which I belong. These Meitai Hindus and Muslims are supporters of Pakistan. Consequently, it was difficult for us to cross the border. Some informers told us that the borders were completely closed as a precaution against infiltration of freedom fighters from India. So, after three days, I returned home, but Gour Mohan stayed in his sister’s home at Madhabpur. Later, I came to know that he managed to cross the border after fifteen days.
I used to pass almost all my days in the western paddy field and return home after dusk. Toward September we were contacted by the freedom fighters who crossed the border through deep forest in the east to gather information about the army camp and their movements. We started giving them information, food and when required shelter. In the last week of November, the first batch of Muktibahini entered our locality and we provided them shelter. I along with Anil collected rice, lentils, potato and cooked khichuri for them on the southern bank of Rajbari pond. On the second such event we were told by the Muktibahini to cook food for 20 persons. It was around 2:30–3:00 PM. Abdul Mannan, a clerk of CO (Dev) office, who was a member of Meitai sect of Muslim and possibly the only SSC passed member of their community brought the Pakistan military from the western side by crossing the Dholai river and the Army, after crossing the river, opened brush firing with machine guns and attacked our village. We all fled toward the eastern side. Some of us took shelter in Mangalpur and I took shelter at Chitlia, three kilometers to the east, in the house of Falguni Sinha, who was around my age, of the Meitai sect. Though from the Meitai but being my father’s student, he gave me shelter for two days. Since I had no winter clothes with me he gave me a Manipuri wrapper. I returned home after two days. My parents were apprehending that I was killed by the military as I was missing for two days and scolded me. I told them that as I had links with the Muktibahini and worked for them as an informer, I took shelter at Chitlia. I feared that the military might target me at night and therefore as a precaution I did not return.
In the first week of December, the Muktibahini captured our village and the surrounding villages, then they captured the entire Thana. By December 12 our entire locality was under the control of the Muktibahini. After Gour Mohan and Mujibbahini forces came to our village, we went to kill Abdul Mannan. On suspecting our move, Abdul Mannan took shelter in a Muslim Meitai village in Tetaigaon. Then we learnt that one of my friends, who was a leader of the Muktibahini–I do not want to mention his name to avoid embarrassing him–gave Abdul Mannan shelter at his home. I charged him for his conduct and he told me that as he is a clerk of CO (Dev) office and he used to take lot of help from him. He also had attended Abdul Mannan’s wedding reception. At that point, I developed a dislike for some of the freedom fighters. Jalalabadi, a college friend of mine, who was a leader of the Muktibahini took control of the Thana headquarter. After the liberation of the country all my friends took certificates of being freedom fighters. But I did not even make any attempt to collect one because of that reason.