The book Dusk, Dawn and Liberation is a compelling read. This is the ultimate test of any book, fact, fiction or fusion of both. This book is hard to put down once you start. Even though I am thoroughly familiar with most of the history, I was drawn in from the very first narrative the setting, not mentioned, being in Larkana, Sindh, in the then West Pakistan. I found myself racing through the book turning page after page to see what came next. Events that most of our generation not just knew about but actually lived. The author’s ability to create suspense in a known narrative proves, more than anything, that he is a very good story teller.
Dusk,Dawn and Liberation is a seamless fusion of facts and fiction. But on reading it is difficult to see where the facts blend into fiction. Except maybe the tragedy of Mr. Rauf. Having said that, the question quickly jumps to mind— or does it? Is that fiction, or just changed identities? Because it could as really be true. Very good technique from the author.
A major contribution of this book is that the sinister minds of the Punjabi Pakistanis, instrumental in the creation of the disparities, the refusal to hand over power and finally the crackdown and genocide, is exposed. The President, “drunk” mentioned over and over again is either because the author was overwhelmed by the thought of how such a repulsive creature could be a President, or to demonstrate the degeneracy of his entire army and ruling cliques. Disgustingly replicated in the then East Pakistan by Tariq, code name for Niazi, exposes this heinous mindset of almost every Pakistani Army officer or soldier, many of whom are quoted. Several instances of the ‘managerial’ inefficiency and communication mentioned in the book leaves the reader in openmouthed disbelief of how such goons could be at the helm of power. This is a very good insight that the author provides. Even as the entire Eastern Province is being over run by the allied forces and the Pakistan Army is on the back foot on almost every front in the Western Province, General Tariq (Niazi) can’t get a single responsible top brass on the phone. General Rao Forman Ali says ‘I am junior to you, how can I advise you?’ The Governor says ‘I am a dentist what shall I do?’ and the Principal staff Officer to the President General Piru was busy playing squash.
On reading the book, attitudes of the West Pakistani politicians and military right from the start towards the Bengalis can be seen to be the main reason for the genocide they unleashed. Their decisions – not to hand over power, to simply tell Mujib not to react, to start flying in troops, to carry on farcical talks and finally to launch the crackdown – all appear to be taken almost casually. Evidence explicit that Bengalis were, in their minds, not even human. General Tikka is quoted as saying on March 27, “What? In two nights only 4,000! No this is not acceptable. Don’t you know the price of a bullet?” Obviously more than the life of a Bengali! Lt. Col Najar Hossain’s “give them a good thrashing they will behave.” Lt. Col. Gulistan Badainee’s “Why should the defendants be given an opportunity for self-defense?” “Have all of them shot by brush-fire” quoted in 1967, are used by the author to demonstrate the mindless arrogance and depraved mindset, which led to “the trouble would be sorted out in 48 hours” theory. Even as the Pak army was losing large numbers of its men, both officers and troops, the inherently embedded arrogances is on display as Maj Farkan asks “When did these rice-eating lousy people learn how to kill and more so, military people,” and frigate sunk Lt. Cmdr Madam Shah wondering how the Bengalis could fight a sea battle “I know about these fellows. They have never boarded anything other than country boats in their life.” Exposing and establishing for posterity the single biggest reason for the genocide, the hatred of the Pakistanis for the Bengalis. The author uses direct quotes from the Pak military, almost top to bottom, to establish this fact. Again a good technique because it is irrefutable and the author does not make comments.
The style is interesting. Narrative to drama to dramatic possibilities to almost a visual. At the beginning the narrative is of events in post-election 1970. The antics of the Nawab and President, though the stuff of drama, is real. The story of Mr. Rauf and his family is told in tragedy. In the unseen Minoo we see dramatic possibilities – all that could have been, should have been. Flashes reminiscent of war films to portray the final days of the War of Liberation have been used effectively, recreating the volatile atmosphere then prevailing. Which is a rather creative idea. The unities of time, place and action have been handled very well, even in the very fast moving segments.
Characterisation has been honest and the author does not fail to make mention of the futile but brave efforts of Admiral Ahsan and Commander Yakub.
Describing the mature coolness of the leader of the Bangalees, Sheikh Mujib as a “ big ocean going vessel not influenced when mighty waves pound on it” is apt and an important contrast to the Pak Generals.
The divisive dilemma of Mr. Rauf and his son Asad is another facet of our war of independence which is that certain instances still remain unresolved. The author in bringing this into the discourse has actually included another segment of the then East Pakistan. There were many families where the older generations who recalled inequities suffered under a larger Hindu population, continued to hang onto the homeland for Muslims, Pakistan, not being able to confront the new reality. The younger generations, not bearing baggage of the past, had often to join the Liberation War severing family ties.
The names of the Nawab with questionable parentage, the Aryan lady and a few others have not been mentioned. If the author has done this to add to the aura of fiction, I don’t really see how. Not revealing the names in the initial parts of the book to create suspense can be a technique, but leaving them out altogether has its downsides.
Leaving out names will leave posterity in the dark. Since the book has been written in English and printed from England, it is obviously targeted at a foreign audience. It cannot be assumed either that today’s reader will be from yesterday’s generation, familiar with our war, or will have read more than one book on Bangladesh’s war of Liberation. And then a book is for generations to come. Leaving out the names leaves scope for confusion. Admittedly this is not meant to be a document of history but it does mix fact with fiction.
The language is simple but not simplistic.The author succeeds in creating impact. On reading this book 43 years ago the readers of those times would have screamed for revenge. Today, forty three years later when the shadows are longer the same readers would still ask for justice.