Towards 1971 III: A Few Good Pakistani Men

[Part 3 of 6: IIIIIIIVVVI]

I hate all armies. Yours, mine—all armies.

-Muhammad Zinnatul Alam, the lone survivor of the Thanpara massacre.1


The main focus of Sarmila Bose’s much talked about book, Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War is the civil war in East Pakistan, and not the international war between India and Pakistan or the Cold War context of the conflict, though they are not completely ignored. Her stated aims are to study and scrutinize how the war of 1971 is remembered, perhaps to illuminate what is willingly forgotten. Growing up in West Bengal, India, Sarmila Bose was familiar with a particular narrative about the conflict: “Our Bengali brethren …once again fight for freedom” from their fellow countrymen from West Pakistan, who “seemed for some inexplicable reason intent on killing them all.” India had played the role of “white knight to the beleaguered Bangladeshis.” The latter claim she deftly dismantles.2 During her research, realizing that something was off, she militated against this narrative (and her Bengali informants). As Naeem Mohaiemen points out in his incisive review of her book, “her fury was of the naïf making a late discovery. What animates Dead Reckoning therefore is that palpable rage.” Having grown up with my own nationalist blinders, I empathize with the rage that comes with the realization that one has let oneself be duped. But Bose’s research and her book, perhaps still guided by the force of the nationalist narratives, “goes so far to the other side as to create a new set of biases, even more problematic.”3
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  1. Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, Columbia University Press, June, 2011, p97 []
  2. For India’s role in exacerbating the conflict, see Eqbal Ahmad, ‘Notes on South Asia in Crisis,’ Bulletin of Concern Asian Scholars, Winter, 1972. Available online at []
  3. Naeem Mohaiemen, “Flying Blind: Waiting for a Real Reckoning on 1971,” Economic & Political Weekly, vol xlvi no 36, September 3, 2011. []

Towards 1971 II: The Making of a Tragedy

[Part 2 of 6: IIIIIIIVVVI]
Painted on a wall inside my old school.

 Translation: The Ideology of Pakistan: Every nation has a specific civilization and culture. The civilizational and cultural capital of the Muslims of the Subcontinent comes from Islam. This capital, their beliefs and religious rituals, mannerisms, religious and historical literature, literary and technological research, is preserved in their literature and philosophy. On this basis, the Muslims of the Indo-Pak Subcontinent understand themselves to be a separate nation. This was also the reason why two societies, that is, the Hindu society and the Muslim society, came into being in the Subcontinent. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Muhammad Iqbal stressed that Muslims are not a a faction but a separate nation. When with the beautiful efforts of these elders, Muslims came to believe firmly that Congress, established by an Englishman Allen Hume, is an anti-Muslim Hindu organization, they put forth a demand for a separate homeland for themselves. Foundational Principles of the Ideology of Pakistan: 1. The Muslims of the Subcontinent constitute one nation. 2. The Muslims will live freely in accordance with the eternal principles of Islam. 3. The Muslims of the Subcontinent need a free country to retain/maintain their separate/distinct national existence, so that they can make religious, societal, political, cultural, and economic progress. Truth is weary of bodies without soul / The living God is the God of the living.

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Towards 1971 I: A Personal Journey

[Part 1 of 6:  IIIIIIIVVVI]

Forgetting is imposed as a strategy to hide the haunting memories that cannot be revealed without destroying our romance with nationalism.

~Yasmin Saikia

During the many blackouts and power outages in the Pakistan of my childhood, my family used to sit in the veranda of our home cursing the electricity department and cooling ourselves down with hand-fans. But on cool autumn nights, blackouts were rather enjoyable, and we would ask Ammi to sing. ‘Aa ja sanam, madhur chandni mein hum,’ a Raj kapoor and Nargis number, apt for a moonlit night in the veranda, was her favorite. That was also the song that she and her favorite nephew (her eldest brother’s first son) used to sing at Eid dinners as a duet. The whole family adored him. He was brilliant and a high achiever. Every kid in the family, to this day, is compared to him: Those that do well in their studies are likened to him and those that don’t are chided to try to be like him. I never got to meet my cousin.
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Postcards from the Archive: Goodbye 2011

The biggest event on CM was the publishing of “Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination – “a curated, edited collection” of sepoy’s posts in book form, with foreword from Amitava Kumar, launched with much fanfare, and earning rave reviews (here, here).

Meanwhile, commentaries and reflections on happenings in Homistan continued to grace CM: Ramanujan’s transformative texts, Salmaan Taseer’s murder and an exploration of the “emergence of the Prophet as a centralising and orienting raison d’etre for Pakistan,” Pakistan’s fugue state and “the notion of treason and affiliation in the colonial and postcolonial setting,” the state of Pakistan’s ways of seeing, and the forgotten “memory of East Pakistan and the sins of West Pakistan.

Sepoy continued his essays on the frontier in imperial imagination, experts and policy prescriptions that aid the myopia of empire.  Reflections on the 10 years since 9/11 by Sepoy, Farangi, and Lapata delighted CM readers, as did discussions of Imperialism and racism (I, II, III).

Lapata was busy holding art-shows and winning awards for her writing , but found time to hold a flash fiction contest with Kuzhali Manickavel as judge, which Amitava Kumar won. The Best Writer of 2010 brought us insightful review essays of Aag ka Dariya, Teju Cole’s Open City, Dictator literature, “Yashpal’s great Partition novel, Jhootha Sach,” and a reflection on the interior landscapes in early Indian novels (and an adda post!). Lapata also interviewed some “prominent Blaft personages” including the “illustrious flash fictionista Kuzhali Manickavel,” and reviewed a host of Tamil pulp fiction.


PS. Naim Sahib contributed a characteristically brilliant review of Deborah Baker’s “The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism.”

PPS. Jassasa’s Goat Spy won the internets (here, here, here, here).

PPPS. See Lapata on OBL, and dental care.

PPPPS. More pics! (here, here, here).

PPPPPS. See yours truly’s humble attempt at an essay.