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December 18, 2011

Papa's Lessons - Patriotism and Animosity

I'm probably going to offend a few people with this post...but when has that ever stopped me from writing something that's on my mind?

December 16th. A glorious day for my Motherland - Bangladesh. 40 years ago, Bangladesh achieved victory in the war against Pakistan; She won her freedom. We were Bangladesh, free to love and live as Bangladeshis. Now I won't say I know much about the details or the statistics of the war...especially, considering I spent most of my life in Canada. However, I'm not completely ignorant. I know what took place back in '71. My father would once in awhile get really patriotic and he would take every opportunity he could get to tell me tales of heroism and victory. 

My father was the youngest son in the family, the apple of my grandmother's eye. So when my father expressed his desire to join the war, my grandmother said NO WAY. But my father always had this subtle hero complex, he always wanted to help others in need, fight for justice and for him what better way was there to do that then fight for his country, for the people who were dying. So one day, my father decided he just couldn't sit around and do nothing. He ran away and joined the war. Oh, did I mention he was only 15 at the time. Yeah, a slight 15 year old, wealthy momma's boy ran away from home to join a war. (Would make for a great book huh?...) He was one if the youngest soldiers to fight in the Liberation War of Bangladesh. He fought, no experience, no training, for the last few months of the war and made it home in one piece. 

He was very proud of what he had done. So proud, that a few days before he passed, he asked me for a pen and paper. I knew he was weak and in pain and couldn't speak, but what could he possibly write down that he couldn't verbally express. I later found the piece of paper on the bedside table. He had written in the upper hand case as he almost always liked to but his writing was all shaky. As I traced my fingers over the letters, I could see how his hands shook, where he paused to steady his hands and push on. He had written down what he wanted us NOT to forget to write on his gravestone - "Proud Freedom Fighter in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War".

My father is the happy teen in the front with BOTH his arms in the air :)

My father had remained close to his battalion, especially the Major general who is also my uncle (mother's brother-in-law). Years later, my parents met for the first time when my father tagged along with my uncle to my maternal grandparent's house. For my father, it was love at first sight :)

Anyways, fighting in a war had left my father with a desire to fight for justice. He realized his passion for politics and country and become heavily involved in student politics at his university. He led marches and protests and gave speeches in the university common room. He wanted to be a politician and change the face of the then young Bangladesh (although I've always wondered if he could have been a great politician - it seems to me being cut-throat and unethical are often necessary qualities and my father was as far from both as one could be).

Then he met my mother, got married and couple of years later I was conceived. When my mother was 6-7 months pregnant with me, my father was thrown in jail. It wasn't the first time either. 
The time before that, he was thrown in jail (albeit for a couple of hours - my grandfather was a very well connected man) for smacking a police officer across the face. He told me this story numerous, always with humorous pride. 

My dad was on a rickshaw when the traffic police put his arm up to stop one side of the traffic. The old rickshaw puller couldn't stop in time and bumped into the traffic police. The traffic police turned around and slapped the rickshaw puller, who apologized for his mistake and pleaded forgiveness, but it wasn't enough, the police officer slapped him again. That's when my father leaned forward and smacked the police officer. I remember my father laughing at this part while he told it to me. He said the look of absolute shock on the man's face was the highlight of his day. The traffic police, still feeling like he needs to prove his authority turned around and slapped the rickshaw puller again, too afraid to do anything to my father. That's when my father demanded the traffic police apologize to the rickshaw puller or he would keep slapping him just as he had slapped the poor old rickshaw puller. Apology was given, but unfortunately for my father, more traffic police joined the scene and decided to haul him off to prison for the public humiliation. My dad didn't care, he had enjoyed putting that man in his place and standing up for someone who could not stand up for himself.

The next time he went to jail, he had been at a rally, protesting something (can't remember what). The whole bunch of student were thrown in jail together. My father was soon given bail, however, he refused to leave. He said he wouldn't leave until every single one of his peers were released as well. So my stubborn father spent the night in jail. The next day, they sent my pregnant mother to the police station to convince my father to leave. I remember the look on his face as he would tell me this part of the story. He said my mother had walked in with food and a huge belly, teary eyed that he had chosen to stay in jail and left her all alone. He had tried to justify his actions to her, he told her it would be wrong for him to be released just because his family, it would not be fair. My mother didn't want to hear any of it, she left the police station in tears. When my father did eventually come out - he made a life changing decision. He realized that if he stayed on the path he was on, his wife would be unhappy and if he stayed in Bangladesh there would be no way for him to steer himself of that path; he didn't want to put his wife and kids through living a 'political' life. So he left behind everything he was so passionate about and immigrated to Canada with the thing that mattered most to him - his family.

So I grew up in Canada and when I was 9 years old, I came home and told my parents about a new girl in class who I had befriended, she was from Pakistan I told them. My parents were very happy I had made another friend and my father asked me to be nice to her and show her around school since she was new. Eventually this girl became my childhood best friend. One day, at a Bangladeshi party, I heard some people talking about how terrible Pakistanis are and that we Bangladeshis should hate them with a passion for what they did; how they are all cheats and brutes. Needless to say, I was shocked and upset best friend was Pakistani! I still kept my feelings to myself and few days later, my father came to pick me up at my friend's house. I was extremely nervous, my friend's father was home and I didn't know how my father would react to meeting him. My father came up, shook his hand, exchanged pleasantries, said they should meet up sometime and we left. No drama, no fighting, no name calling. I started crying when we got home and told my father everything I had heard and asked him if I should hate Pakistanis too. He sat me down and said NO. He then told me about the war, his involvement in it, the crimes the Pakistanis committed (although he appropriately left out few of the extremely horrific details). He then explained to me that I should feel hate and anger towards those who committed the crimes...Anyone who commits such hateful crimes against innocent people doesn't deserve anything less. However, I should NOT hate those who had nothing to do with it, like my friend. He asked me if I would like it if people hated me for the crimes my grandparents or parents had committed. I said No. He asked me if each new generation should be given the chance to be judged as they are, not as they forefathers were. I said Yes. He asked me if my friend or friend's parents had ever been evil or shown/done anything wrong towards me. I said No. Then why should you hate them, he asked. He told me that we should judge people as individuals, we aren't in the war any longer and there are new innocents being born in every country who don't deserve the hatred we carry for the previous generations. With that, my father had managed to erase my fears of losing my friend and change how my young soul would grow - without hatred or prejudice. Hatred breeds more hatred and that viscous cycle hasn't done this world any good.

So what was this whole story about (yeah, I know...I can never get to the point)? Well, over the past few years, I've come across many people who carry around great hatred and don't have a problem expressing it on their Facebook status'. As I told a friend of mine, everyone is entitled to their opinions and I don't feel I need to change anyone's, I know where I stand and I express my opinions, you can express yours. However, when I saw those stats the writer in me immediately accessed those wonderful files logged away in my memory. And I each time I think of my father's story, I feel like it needs to be shared. Because it is not only a story about war and sacrifice but also about forgiveness, tolerance. Patriotism does not have to equal perpetual Animosity.


Anonymous said...

Some of your posts bring tears to my eyes. You are a wonderful writer and your father seems like an inspirational man.

Antara said...

Thank you very very much! He was truly inspirational, as a father and a human being :)

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