Ekattor-er boiguli | Dhaka Tribune
This series covers reviews of literary works focused on the Bangladesh Liberation War. This is the first installment.
Over ten years ago, after hearing about an upcoming trip to Dhaka, a friend invited me to an event. “Great, it’s around the same time Meherjaan will be released, and you have to come to the premiere.
“Meherjaan? “, I asked, not knowing anything about the love affair on the big screen with Jaya Bachchan and Victor Banerjee which takes place in 1971. In this case, family commitments kept me from attending the party.
Those who attended, however, were likely unprepared for the reaction from the Bangladeshi blogosphere. Director Rubaiyat Hossain had portrayed the ultimate effrontery: a Bengali girl falling in love with a Pakistani soldier. Didn’t she know – both the eponymous character and the director – that there was a war going on?
Of course the noise and the fury around Meherjaan were light compared to Sarmila Bose’s reaction Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War.
While the film was fiction, the book was academic research. Bose, an Oxford scholar, questioned the fundamental Bangladeshi narratives around the pre-planned nature of the genocide that originated in West Pakistan – in fact, that a genocide took place.
Instead of responding intellectually to Bose’s claims, many Bengali studies researchers have engaged in occasional attacks on social media. The exceptions were Akhtaruzzaman Mandal, Nayanika Mookherjee, Dina Siddiqui, Afsan Chowdhury, Urvashi Butalia, and Naeem Mohaiemen.
The test for the Economic and political weekly and follow-up response to Bose’s response in the same journal by Mohaiemen, an anthropologist from Columbia, are the most effective rebuttal of Bose’s thesis to date.
Over the past decade a number of books have appeared on the Bangladesh Liberation War. This series covers three volumes focusing on warfare from the perspective of conflict studies and grand game maneuvers – by Garry J Bass, Srinath Raghavan and Salil Tripathi.
In the midst of the ritualistic commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Victory Day, these books – both reading what they cover and discussing what they are missing – are useful for a more nuanced understanding of the events leading up to to the founding of the country.
Of course, this series is by no means an exhaustive review of the 1971 literature. Some key works and works on particular aspects of the creation of Bangladesh – economic causes and consequences, refugee flows and community and ethnic dimensions, violence against women and men. genre – are not explored in the series, mainly because these are not the focus of Bass, Raghavan and Tripathi. However, in examining these three books, other relevant works on 1971 are also discussed.
Most non-fiction reviews have an element of – the author covered XYZ, but missed ABC. For example, in his review of these new books in a later essay for WDW Review (The ginger merchant of history), Mohaiemen concludes that – “The ‘ginger merchant’ in history was far more crucial in building and waging this war than we realize …”
Ginger Merchant – adar byapari – is the proverbial Bengali little trader who is said to be misinformed about the liners that symbolize the world capital and all that is dictated by it.
In the context of 1971, Mohaiemen argues that “… the radical left guerrilla, or the desperate peasant fighter, are the ginger traders who were turbulent street forces who made crucial differences in the fateful negotiations” which preceded the war.
What a review considers missing tells us as much about the reviewer as it does about what is under review. This review is not immune to the tendency to state what might be missing from the books.
Nonetheless, to keep the discussion focused, I will explore two questions: what does the author propose to tell us that we would not have known from the existing literature; and does the author manage to tell us what he is proposing?
Jyoti Rahman is a reader. He writes on what he reads to www.jrahman.substack.com.