Nineteen Sventy-One *
: Humayun Ahmed (Translated by Shabnam Nadiya) This is a translation of the original Bengali short story by Humayun Ahmed, a noted author of Bangladesh.
They arrived just before evening. An enormous group.
Not marching or anything. Just walking about in a disorganized
manner. They were probably coming from very far away.
Each of them bowed down in weariness. Faces wet with
sweat. Khaki clothes gray with dust. Almost all of the
villagers went into hiding. Only Crazy Bodi came forward
with a smile. With enormous glee he shouted at them,
The whole group stopped suddenly. Crazy Bodi held a
red gamchha in his hand. Waving the red gamchha like
a banner, he shouted. "Where you going, eh?"
He had never seen such a strange sight before.
The major was wearing sunglasses. He took his glasses
off and asked in English, "What is this man saying?"
Rafiquddin replied immediately, "The man seems
to be a madman. All our villages have one of them."
"How can you tell that this man is mad?"
Rafiquddin stayed silent. The major had a very twisted
sort of nature. He could squeeze out ten different meanings
from a single sentence.
Crazy Bodi could be seen running towards them. His face
was all smiles.
Rafiq snapped at him. "What the hell do you want?"
Crazy Bodi's smile broadened further.
Rafiq wiped the sweat off his forehead. He said in a
thin voice, "The man is mad, Sir. All our villages...."
"You've said that once before. There is no need
to repeat the same thing two or three times."
The major said in a cold voice, "I like this place-
Let us rest a while. Everyone's tired."
"Sir, if we go on five miles further, we'll reach
Nabinagar. It's a big marketplace, there's a police
station there. We should get to Nabinagar before evening
"Why? Are you afraid?"
"Of course not. Sir. Why should I be afraid?"
The major turned towards the group and said something-
a soft hubbub arose. Within moments everyone was sitting
down, sprawling here and there. They began removing
The major said in a low voice, "We have to tie
up the madman." He sat down on a wooden box and
lit his pipe. Pipes don't usually go with someone wearing
khakis. But this major was impossibly handsome- Anything
looked good between his lips.
The madman was tied to a mango tree. He did not protest.
Rather, he seemed quite happy to be fortunate enough
and be allowed to stay near these people. No one paid
much attention to him- They were terribly tired. Their
gazes were vacant and without thought. The major drank
a few gulps of water from his water bottle. He took
off his boots. He had a blister on his left ankle.
Rafiq said, "Would you like to have a green coconut.
The major said in a calm voice, without answering his
question, "In the past, whenever we entered a village,
there would always be a small group of people with a
Pakistani flag in hand to welcome us. They no longer
come. Do you know the reason for this?"
"I don't know, Sir."
"They don't come because they are afraid. All the
people of this village are now hiding in the jungle.
Am I right?"
Rafiq did not answer.
Crazy Bodi said, "I feel like drinkin’ some bottled
"What does he want?"
"He wants to drink water from the canteen, Sir."
Even though all the villagers had fled, Aziz Master
had been unable to because his sister had arrived from
Ghonapota. Her labour pains had started that morning.
One cannot drag a person in such a condition around.
Still, Aziz Master had said twice, "If we could
somehow get her to the boat, then she could be taken
to Shyamganj." In response, Aziz Master’s mother
had made an ugly remark concerning his cowardice. She
compared him to a cat with a broken leg.
Aziz Master did not protest because it was true. He
was an awful coward. Ever since he had heard that the
army had entered the village, he had been feeling the
need to piss pretty frequently. He was sitting in the
yard, and he started violently at the least bit of noise.
"Master, you home?"
A few Nilganj elders entered the yard in an apprehensive
manner. "You should be goin' there. Master."
"Where should I be going?"
Instead of answering the question, Dabir Mia said in
a low voice, "Who else c’n go other than you? You
know English. You know how to speak proper."
"You asking me to go to the military?"
"What could I do there?"
"You could go and tell them that we have no trouble
in this village- Take the Pakistani flag with you. There's
nothing to be afraid of."
Aziz Master did not speak for a long time.
Dabir Mia felt irritated and said, "Why don't you
"How can I go? We're such trouble at home. Puti
is havin' a baby -"
"There's nothin' you c'n do here. Master. You're
neither a doctor nor a kaviraj."
Aziz Master said in a faint voice, "Where do I
get a Pakistani flag?"
"Why, what’ve you done with the school flag?"
"Threw it away."
"Threw it away? What for?"
Aziz Master did not answer.
Dabir Mia said in an angry voice, "Even if you
have passed your IA exams, Master, you still don't have
much brains. What made you throw away the flag? Now
what else can you do? Then, go on, go empty-handed."
"I'm afraid, Uncle."
"There's nothing to fear. These are neither tigers
nor bears. You just go and be nice to them, say nice
things. It’s a matter of a minute or so. What do you
"Don't delay. Go before it gets dark."
"It’s better to go alone. Go by yourself. Recite
the Kulhu Allah in your mind three times and place your
right foot forward first. Say Yaa Muqaddemu silently
in your mind five times. There is nothing to fear Master.
This is Allah's sacred text. It has special and sacred
Aziz Master remained sitting there with his head bowed.
He felt the need to urinate again. Puri was whimpering
inside the house. This was her first pregnancy and she
"How can I leave my sister in such a state?"
"What sort of talk is that? What can you do at
home? Always talkin' like an idiot- Get up now."
Aziz Master got up.
The major stared at him for a long time through narrow
eyes. It was getting dark. The statement on his face
was hard to read. He was sitting on a large wooden bench
with his legs spread wide apart.
The major asked in clear Bangla, "What do you want?"
Aziz Master was taken aback. This guy knows Bangla?
" What do you want?”
"Well, I don't really want anything."
The major said, in English this time, "If you don't
want anything, why are you here then? To watch the fun?
Is this a circus?"
Aziz Master started to sweat. The rest of the conversation
was carried on in English on the major's side- Aziz
Master answered in Bangla. It didn't create any problems.
The major understood Bangla.
"What do you do?"
"I am the Primary School teacher here."
"So there's a school here?"
"What else is there?"
"There's a mosque."
"Only a mosque. No temples? Where the pujas are
"Tell me the truth. Is there a temple here or not?"
The major lit his pipe. He said something in a cold
voice to someone in Punjabi or some other language-
A man came over and slapped Aziz Master hard on his
cheek- Aziz Master fell over on his back.
Tied to the mango tree. Crazy Bodi said in surprise,
"Oh Master, get up
then, get up."
The major asked as if nothing had happened, "What
is your is your name?"
"Azizur Rahman, do you have freedom fighters here?"
"Well, that's good. You yourself are a pure Pakistani,
If you're all Pakistanis, then what are you afraid of?
It seems to me that all the villagers have fled in fear.
The women are all hiding in the jungle. Am I right?"
Aziz Master did not answer. His head was reeling. He
was feeling nauseous. With great difficulty, he controlled
his urge to vomit.
"Do you think that we will take your women away?"
Aziz Master remained silent.
"Why aren't you speaking? Is your wife also hiding
in the jungle?"
"Sir, I am not married."
"Not married? How old are you?"
"Forty and not yet married? How do you cope then?
Do you masturbate?"
Aziz Master wiped the sweat off his forehead.
The major roared, "Answer me."
Raflquddin said in a thin voice, "Sir wants to
know whether you masturbate. Answer him, man. Sir is
"Really? Is your equipment okay? Let's see, take
your pajamas off and show everyone."
"What are you saying. Sir?"
"I told you to take your pajamas off and show your
equipment to everyone. Well, hurry up, don't delay.
I don't have much time."
Aziz Master looked at Rafiq in surprise.
Raflquddin said in an indistinct voice, "Take it
off, man. What's there to be ashamed of among men? Take
if off. Sir is getting angry."
The major said something in a low voice. Someone came
and jerked down Aziz Master's pajamas.
The major said, "Take his shirt off too."
Aziz Master tried to cover his nakedness with his two
hands. The soft hum of laughter arose around him. Someone
threw a ball of crushed paper at him.
The major said, "Do you love Pakistanis?"
"I love them."
"Good, do you love the Pakistani army?"
"Very good. You must love me too. Don't you? Go
on, tell me,"
"I love you, Sir."
"You love the man who is forcing you to stand here
naked? You seem to be a lover of the whole world."
A flood of laughter erupted as the major made some remark
in a low voice.
With eyes big in amazement, Crazy Bodi said, "Master,
where're your clothes? Hey, Master."
Aziz Master looked at him with muddied eyes. His nausea
had gone, leaving him with an intense and sharp pain
at the back of his head.
The major said, "Azizur Rahman, you are lying out
of fear. To save your life. Tell me the truth, and I
will let you go. Do you like me?"
"Now we're getting the truth. Do you want this
to become Bangladesh?"
"So, you're a traitor. Traitors should be put to
death- That is what I would like to do. Or do you want
Aziz Master did not answer.
"Don't delay. Tell me if you want to live."
Rafiquddin said in a frightened voice, "Say it,
man, say, I want to live. Why are you acting like this?
You're only bringing down danger upon yourself."
Crazy Bodi spoke again, "Hey, Master, put your
clothes back on. You're naked."
Aziz Master did not move.
The major said, "Put your clothes on. Put your
clothes back on and get out of my sight. Clear out."
Aziz Master did not put his clothes on. He spat. The
spittle fell on the right leg of the major's trousers.
The major lifted his eyes and stared. There was pin-drop
Aziz Master stepped forward and spat again. The spittle
fell on the major's shirt.
The major said in a calm voice, "We have rested
long enough. Now we must start moving again."
The troop of soldiers march forward. The major’s face
is impossibly colourless. Behind him stands a naked
man, his head held high.
[*] The story “1971” is anthologized in Humayun Ahmed's
Shrestha Galpa (Dhaka : Ananda Prakashana, 1988). This translation by Shabnam
Nadiya has been first published in a literary anthology
entitled "1971 and After: Selected Stories".
Ed. Zaman, Niaz. Edition 1. The University Press Limited
Dhaka, Bangladesh: 2001.