There are the many spells of sadness we have gone through in this country. There have been the sepulchral silences we have enveloped ourselves in. There are the tears we have shed for those we have lost, through the laws of mortality or the predatory instincts of men. But nothing, absolutely nothing, compares with the vacuity you spot in the eyes of the widows and children of the military officers murdered in such insanity at Peelkhana eleven years ago. A silence, one you cannot quite put into words, has come over Nehreen Ferdousi. She is not the Nehreen you knew once, regaling people with her conversation, making her way to places where she knew people would sing good songs. And, yes, she and her husband, Colonel Mojibul Haq, always made sure that at the end of the day the soul would give of itself to melody, to poetry.
Suddenly, Nehreen is the symbol of huge sadness. And she is more. Through her, through her quivering lips --- and they quiver as they whisper a 'thank you' to you for being there --- you understand once again the futility of existence. There is nothing you can say to her. Her loneliness is vast. It is so thick you could slice through it with a knife and yet not be able to plumb the depths of it. She loved, and loves, her husband. And these days she strives to keep his memory, his legacy and that of his murdered colleagues as it were, alive through the Colonel Mojib Trust. It is a cause she has dedicated herself to. And she has brought with her, indeed has caused to gather around her all those young women, for they are all young and all alone, who have not forgotten the good men their husbands were, who have not forgotten the beastly in all those other men who felt no shame, no sense of sin, as they went hunting those good men to kill on a February day.
And all these women and their children came together on a droopy evening eleven years ago to remember their husbands and their fathers. Some of these children, babies really, would not know their fathers --- for their fathers saw their lives end even as they found theirs taking form in their mothers' wombs. There were the other children. In their eyes, there was a strange gleam that comes of a recalling of tragedy. If you have read of the deaths of the Greek heroes of old and of the pains of the women and families they left behind, you will have a fairly rough idea of the desolation that cast a thick shadow on everyone that evening. The young son of a murdered officer put it all in perspective. It did not really matter, he said in that tone of voice which hovers between anger and grief, if his father's killers were or were not brought to justice. All that he knew, that other children like him knew, was that all the fathers were gone, all the joy of life was gone and there was certainly nothing to look forward to any more. All fathers are the best of friends to their children. It was a truth reinforced once more by that young man. He looked into nowhere in particular. Or maybe he went reconstructing his father's image as he had known it. In the death of his father, he had lost his best friend. Not one eye was in the room that did not fill to the brim with tears.
A sense of the eerie pervaded the room. The dead men were there, in all their martial spirit and in all the agony of sudden, swift death. You could feel it in your bones. You could recreate their images, the contours of their smiles, the sounds of their laughter, the elegy in their dying eyes, as you looked around and glanced at the women they loved in life. These were women whose tears flooded our rooms, our homes, in February as we heard their hearts crack because their husbands' hearts had been forced to a stop by the murderers.
And then there were the mothers too, a couple of them. Enshad Ibne Amin's mother, in the fullness of dignity, was unwilling to be pitied. She is a writer, a poet. On that darkening evening, that reputation did not matter to her. But that she was a martyr's mother, that indeed she spoke for the mothers of all the other martyrs, did. And in the voice of the brother of a martyr, the brother who enlightened that sad gathering on the principles and purposes of the Colonel Mojib Trust, was a raw wound that nevertheless was reflective of pride in the heroism of the dead.
At a point after the fall of twilight, those mothers and widows and children went back home, sadder than ever. You saw, in the gathering ghostly dark, a world destroyed. You said goodbye to Nehreen. Again those lips quivered, to say 'thank you'. She was holding back tears.
(Altogether 74 people, including 57 army officers, were murdered by mutineers in the Peelkhana headquarters of erstwhile Bangladesh Rifles on 25 February 2009).
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