The Bangladesh Diaries – I

Shredded - 1

Its only when you fly across India to get to Bangladesh [formerly East Pakistan], that you realize how cruelly the lines that partitioned the Subcontinent had been drawn. Who, in their right mind, would believe that a country could be governed when it was split apart – or as Rushdie describes it, a moth-eaten country.

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Hello Bangladesh.

The tigers!

Dishoom!

If there is one thing that has left me with an overwhelming sense of envy, it is the patriotism of the Bangladeshi people. I consider myself a patriotic Pakistani, and wouldn’t give up my green passport for the world, but the sense of pride here is something one must experience first hand. Arriving in Dhaka as the Cricket World Cup kicked off in the capital, you can feel how the people here are immensely proud of who they are and what their nation stands for, and this is fuelled further by being hosts of the CWC. Even though Dhaka is by far one of the most tourist-unfriendly metropolitans one has ever visited (the people are wonderful and helpful though); there are no signs in English, for example – and if you don’t understand Bengali, you might as well end up in another part of town [as I did, trying to get to the Liberation War Museum and ending up at the National Museum in another part of town]. One ends up feeling like a character from Scoop, “Anyone here speak English and knows a Prisoner of War?”

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In Dhaka, there is no avoiding the past. Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman’s posters line the streets, and on walls, there are graphic representations of a member of the Pakistan Army snatching the dupatta of a Bengali girl. By the end of the visit, I had told so many people I was from India to avoid getting into a 1971 conversation, that the waiter at the hotel’s restaurant kept consoling me when Bangladesh’s batsmen hit fours and sixers against India in the first Cricket World Cup match.

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The tiger.

As one travels around Dhaka, which really is quite a beautiful city, one feels a sense of irrevocable loss – we lost a beautiful city, and a wonderful nation with such rich culture and diversity, and we’ve left millions of people with a deep-rooted hatred for what happened to them at the hands of those wearing Pakistan Army uniforms – and for what?

I have never wanted to apologize so badly for something I wasn’t even responsible for.

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You can see the rest of the pictures from Dhaka here

19 comments
  1. roshni said:

    What about the bengali cuisine? =/

    • I think the bengali cuisine, which I fell head over heels for, deserves a separate post🙂

  2. neel123 said:

    @ Huma Imtiaz,

    Your above article reflects a conscientious soul that would like to make amends for the past evils of her nation.

    But would you accept that people like yourself are a minuscule minority, and Pakistan today is a nation dominated by barbarians that promote violence in the name of religion and security …..?

  3. sonia said:

    @neel, no neel, we are not a nation of barbarians. Your over generalized and over assumed statement stems from maybe hatred or maybe ignorance. your comment above not only hurt but it showed me how ignorant the world really is. Thank you, neel, for showing me the reality.

  4. Imad said:

    Ok I couldn’t agree more with your notion that it was highly impractical to try to govern a country split into two regions with a very unfriendly country in between. I dont get why you are expressing sorrow towards the end ….”one feels a sense of irrevocable loss – we lost a beautiful city, and a wonderful nation with such rich culture and diversity, “… it was for the best. they deserved to have sovereignty! it was just plain ego of politicians of West Pakistan that kept people from East Pakistan from exercising their vote! I dont feel any sorrow or loss….yes how it happened is truly regretful….

    secondly… before partition politically active muslims in the sub continent were united to have independence from the rule of the British and a homeland separate from the other ethnic majority of India.

  5. Robin said:

    Nice read…. looking forward to more🙂

  6. readinglord said:

    A nice show indeed. I remember Dhaka when I visited it on an official tour during, December, 1970, when according to our media ‘mohabat ka zam zam’ was running there. But I was shocked when leaving Dhaka Airport, at the very start of my journey to the circuit house in the city, the driver of the car, a Bihari fellow, taking me, perhaps, as some high official, put me a startling question,”Sir, what would become of us Biharies as Bengali’s say they won’t leave us now even if we support Bangladesh?”. I tried assure him that he should not worry as the Government of Pakistan was in full control and would not allow them to harm you. But soon I was made to realize how inhospitable Dhaka had become as we passed through a Bazaar. There, they apparently recognizing us non-Bengali’s, started raising slogans of ‘Jay Bangla’ from one end to the other. Subsequently I had to experience lot of inhospitality which showed that the very name of Pakistan has become an anathema here. It saddened me so much but what happened afterward during December, 1971, made us West Pakistanis ashamed also as Faiz had said, ” Dhulien ke yih daaghe nadaamat kitni barsaton ke bahd(?)”.

  7. oppurbaBD said:

    I liked your post very much and many many thanks to you for visiting and loving this great bengali nation.I was born about nineties so did not see the war but my family has huge anger on Pakistan as my teenie elder uncle was taken away at one morning from the house by the paki army but never come back.My gradparents has died with world of sorrows. The reality of wounds for us is so deep that there are very little hope for reconcilation between this two neighbour.Thousand of civilians were died,Roads,bridges,and the economy was totally broken through this bloody war but what was more unfortunate that just before the surrender Day Pakistani army and thier collaborator killed the bright son of our nation starting from a movie director to doctor, writer, teacher,architect and other intellectuals, keeping mind with such a state of position this nation will not exist and be failed.They were successful for sometime but thanks to the effort to our lovely people despite having a mega natural disaster in each five year we still exist and hope we will emerge as the second biggest economy after india in coming years.

  8. aneela z said:

    do bear in mind that you were in dhaka during “Language Month”..Runa Laila is still facing flak for singing Mast Qalander in horrors! Urdu at the opening ceremony…otherwise the “locals” do quite OK with Urdu, what “we” couldnt accomplish their undying love for Shahrukh Khan has managed in a couple of years.

    Re: being the ‘other’ in this town…fingers crossed never an awkward moment so far, I would say its good manners other than a “lack of national spirit” that has kept them from putting me through an inquisition. The driver after an year of keeping his peace did finally throw me a googly (keeping in mind all things cricket). He asked me Obama is not American right, and Im like no actually he is but clearly Driverji had something in mind. So he continues Jo bhee, he was not theirs but even then they were so eager to have him as President.But we were yours, why didnt you accept us?
    Clearly, why? why? why?
    And were random buildings introduced to you as “Pakistan kay time sey”?!!
    I wish I knew you were in town..it could have made negotiating the city a bit easier.

    • True – I’ve been told Bollywood has helped in this regard – maybe i should’ve sung my requests to the tune of Chaiyya Chaiyya!

      And will look you up the next time I’m there!

  9. readinglord said:

    @aneela z says:
    (February 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm)

    “He asked me Obama is not American right, and Im like no actually he is but clearly Driverji had something in mind. So he continues Jo bhee, he was not theirs but even then they were so eager to have him as President.But we were yours, why didnt you accept us?”

    What a googly indeed, thrown by the Bengali driver! Have we, the west-pakies, any answer to that and took any lesson from the history?

    Even today, the majority of Pakistan (post-Bangladesh), is clamoring for construction of Kala Bagh Damn which is opposed by some political groups of the smaller provinces only, ignoring the fact that it is it is the life and death need of the nation, only because, it is so most of all for those living in Punjab and called Punjabies. Unfortunately there is no leader like Mujiburehman in today’s Pakistan who could assert the will of the majority as he did in creating a new country against opposition of the four provinces of the then West-Pakistan.

  10. aneela z said:

    Did I actually use “like” in a sentence. I blame all the Bryan Adams for this Bring Back the Nineties moment.

  11. Preeetam Rai said:

    Found your post via Global Voices. I am happy that our generation is traveling and whatever little way we can, we are trying to connect and make friends with people we had past/current quarrel with.

  12. Sharbet said:

    Great post and I too would love to visit Dhaka! I may be mistaken but wasn’t it Jinnah who first used the term ‘moth-eaten Pakistan’?

  13. Huma, I just read your write up in the Tribune, the comments are cringe worthy to say the least…for the first time in my life (and I am hoping the last) I would suggest comment moderation (though I am against censorship of any kind) but there has to be some way that we can hide The Ugly Pakistani from the Bangladeshis! Your op/ed was the best we can do right now in way of apology by acknowledging the pain (yours when you are confronted by the physical reminders of torture, theirs as they live through their lived memories …but the comments somehow undo the journey you have taken on behalf of most Pakistanis.

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