On 19th July, 1905, George Nathaniel Curzon, better known as ‘The Lord Curzon of Kedleston’, the last Victorian Viceroy of India, announced the first partition of Bengal that eventually split undivided India’s province of Bengal into two parts with effect from 16th October, 1905. This dismemberment purely along communal lines (East Bengal had a majority of Muslims and West Bengal had a majority of Hindus) was politically motivated and sought to subvert India’s unrelenting freedom struggle against the harsh and oppressive British hegemony in India. To revitalise the undivided spirit of Bengal and to raise public consciousness against the devastating blow of the communal political divide, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, India’s national poet and author of India’s national anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’, penned his ever inspiring song ‘Amar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomai Bhalobashi’. The lyrics first appeared in the September, 1905 issue of ‘Bongodorshon’, a well known Bengali literary magazine founded in 1872 by the prodigious Bengali writer and composer of India’s national song ‘Vande Mataram’ and rejuvenated in 1901 under the editorship of Tagore. The song, along with its musical notation (referred to as ‘swaralipi’ in Bengali), thereafter appeared in the popular Bengali musical journal ‘Shongeet Biggnan Probeshika’ in the very same month and year. Indira Devi Chaudhurani, Tagore’s favourite niece and celebrated author, musician and litterateur, jotted down the musical notation hearing it from Tagore’s own lips. The melody of the song was excogitated from the song ‘Ami Kothay Pabo Tare’ composed bythe iconic ‘Baul’ poet Gagan Harkara, set to ‘Dadra Tala’. The song inspired Bangladesh’s nine-month long liberation war, which began after the Pakistani military junta unleashed ‘Operation Searchlight’ against the hapless people of East Pakistan on the night of 25th March, 1971 with monstrous barbarity and the dastardly Pakistani President Yahya Khan wantonly declared, ‘Kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands’. The first ten lines of the song were encapsulated in Bangladesh’s national anthem after the birth of an independent, democratic and secular People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The national anthem captures the inexplicable beauty, shades, affection and tenderness of Bangladesh!
Bangladesh, the hallowed land of my forebears, has never ceased to fascinate me. Both my parents and both my in-laws hailed from Dhaka. My only brother was born in Dhaka. My father was in his heydays the opening batsman of Dhaka University. My mother, an alumnus of Kamrul Nissa School, Dhaka, was a distinguished freedom fighter. My senior and guru Asoke Sen (whom I affectionately called ‘Asoke Mamu’) was from Dhaka and was the unparalleled leader of the Indian Bar for over 50 years. He was a contemporary of the internationally acclaimed jurist and second President of Bangladesh Abu Sayeed Choudhury and was the Union Law Minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shashtri and Rajiv Gandhi cabinets. My maternal aunt’s husband Pankaj Coomar Ghose was an astute lawyer and was one of the leading counsel in the historic Bhawal Sanyasi casein the Privy Council in London involving the apparent death and cremation of Ramendra Narayan Ray, the second Kumar of the opulent Zamindari estate of Bhawal. I have over the years met and befriended many Bangladeshis, including distinguished ministers, lawyers, jurists, diplomats, musicians and film personalities like the stunningly beautiful actresses Aupee Karim and Joya Ahsan. Like a typical Bangali, I am irresistibly drawn to football and belong to a family of legendary footballers like my father’s elder brother Surendra Nath (‘Robi’) Bose (who playing bare feet for Mohun Bagan in February, 1927 scored 6 goals against the formidable Regimental Football Team of the Nottingham and Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) in Dhaka!) and his first cousin Bagha (‘Tiger’) Shome. The Dhaka Wari Club, one of the premier football clubs in Dhaka, was promoted by my family. My maternal grandfather was the Superintendant of Police of Chittagong when the spellbinding ‘Chittagong Armoury Raid’ was carried out on 18th April, 1930 by a band of valiant revolutionaries led by the firebrand Surya Sen, who earned the sobriquet ‘Master Da’. And my paternal grandfather was an eminent educationist who was secretly killed in a desolate forest clearing near Dhaka for his open and unstinted support to young patriots who had bravely placed their lives at the altar of our freedom struggle.Bangladesh would never have materialised but for the truly stellar role played by Mrs. Indira Gandhi about whom Bangladesh’s great and charismatic Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, ‘she was not only your leader, but our mother. She gave us shelter in our days of trials and tribulations.’ At a personal level, I was extremely close to Mrs. Gandhi who was more than a mother to me. Walking down memory lane, Mrs. Gandhi visited Dhaka on 17th March, 1972 on the happy occasion of the 53rd birthday of the towering Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed founding father of Bangladesh, who is popularly known as ‘Bangabandhu’. At a mammoth public meeting at the Dhaka Parade Ground on that day, Mrs Gandhi declared , ‘If India has helped you, it is because we could not sit idly by after hearing your voice and after knowing of the sorrow and suffering that you have undergone. If we have helped you, it is in order to be true to ourselves, and to the principles to which we have adhered for years. I trust that, in the coming years, friendship between our two countries will be built not on the basis of the assistance that we might have given to you now but on the basis of the full equality and mutual benefit of two free and sovereign nations. Our ideals are similar, but your path has to be your own. Just as India’s path is India’s own, the path of Bangladesh has to be Bangladesh’s own, designed to meet the needs and aspirations of your people.’ Significantly, later that evening, Bangabandhu, at a lavish banquet he hosted in honour of Mrs. Gandhi, said, ‘We have in our midst, for the first time, the Prime Minister of India,
Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The people of my country hold you in great esteem and admiration. I take this opportunity to express my sincerest gratitude for the services and sacrifices that you have made for the liberation of our country. The maintenance of close friendship with India is one of the fundamental objectives of our foreign policy. This is the dictate of both history and geography. The freedom-loving people of India under the leadership of their great Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, gave us unstinted help and support during our liberation struggle. The Indian armed forces made supreme sacrifices for liberating our motherland by fighting shoulder to shoulder with our brave Mukti Bahini to end the tyrannical colonial rule of Pakistan from our sacred soil. The friendship between India and Bangladesh has, therefore, been cemented forever by blood and common sacrifices…
The recent events have made us realise more than ever before that India and Bangladesh have everything to gain by co-operating with each other.’ Fortunately, I was one of the very first persons to meet Bangabandhu shortly after he arrived in Delhi in a long flowing black overcoat after being released from the vicious incarceration of the Pakistani dictatorship. Unfortunately, I was also one of the first persons to learn about the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu and members of his family on 15th August, 1975 at a time when I happened to be having breakfast with our former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao (whom I used to call ‘Uncle PV’) at his residence on the auspicious occasion of India’s Independence Day. Mrs. Gandhi gave him a tinkle immediately after her Red Fort Independence Day address and broke the terrible news to him. I still remember how I cried uncontrollably on that melancholy occasion and how Uncle PV tried to console me. To commemorate the tragic death of Bangabandhu, Bangladesh and Bangladeshis all over the world observe 15th August as the ‘National Mourning Day’ with solemn reverence to Bangabandhu. I was deeply attached to India’s first Jewish Kolkata born General J.F.R. Jacob, who led the Indian forces to their incredible triumph in Dhaka in December, 1971 and who penned the international best seller ‘Surrender at Dacca – Birth of a Nation’. I am an indefatigable admirer of Sheikh Hasina and her unswerving and uncompromising commitment to the cause of peace, democracy, secularism, development and human rights. As a limb of the law, I am aware of the fact that she has been awarded Honorary Law Doctorates from several top universities of the world like Boston University, Waseda University (Japan), Australian National University, Catholic University of Brussels and Dhaka University. I have been greatly impressed by the manner in which she was able to achieve the historic peace agreement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in 1997 and thereby solve the 23 year old insurgency in the Hill districts of Bangladesh as well as the manner in which she tackled the worst ever floods that ravaged Bangladesh in 1998. And her spectacular victory at the last hustings in Bangladesh was a clear victory for democratic and secular forces in Bangladesh. I have realised to my utmost delight that Shiekh Hasina and I share a few things in common viz. we both graduated in the year 1973 and we are both Paul Harris Fellows of the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. I have had the rare privilege of meeting Sheikh Hasina twice in Delhi and having brief but memorable interactions with her on both occasions. Here, I am highly emboldened to share with readers the glowing tribute paid to Sheikh Hasina by our former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on 12th January, 2010 when she received the prestigious Indira Gandhi Peace Prize at the hands of our former President Dr. Pratibha Patil, ‘Bangladesh’s return to democracy owes a great deal to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s courage, sacrifice and unshakable belief in the will of the people…By championing the cause of democracy and pluralism, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the people of Bangladesh the means to realize their true potential and strengthen peace and harmony in the country.’
The former Bangladeshi High Commissioner to Delhi Tariq Karim, who happens to be a close friend of mine, has given a new and positive depth, direction and dimension to our bilateral relations during his long and challenging tenure as Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to India.
Our colossal Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to Dhaka in July, 2015 was a resounding success and at the far end of his visit to Dhaka University, Mr. Modi, quoting the prolific Bengali poet Jibanananda Das, said ‘Abar ashibo phire’ or ‘I shall come back again’. Modi not only won the hearts, minds and souls of Bangalis but forged a solid personal relationship with Sheikh Hasina about whom he said, ‘I am happy that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh…is openly saying that she has zero tolerance for terrorism. I would like to congratulate Sheikh Hasina for her courage to deal with terrorism with zero tolerance.’ That momentum in our bilateral relations was sustained and strengthened by Sheikh Hasina on her last visit to India in April, 2017. The door is now open and destiny beckons to our two nations! This is a time of trial and testing not only for our people but for all of us who love, value and cherish freedom, liberty and human dignity. To the blood thirsty fundamentalists and terrorists who are deeply embedded in India and Bangladesh, I cannot do better than proclaim in a Churchillian vein, “We will not have any truce or parley with you, or the grisly gang who work out your wicked will. You do your worst, and we will do our best.”
Joy Bangla! Joi Bangabandhu! May Bangladesh Live Forever!
The writer is an Advocate, Supreme Court of India,