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The Taste of Freedom
I could hear the Commander stomping towards me.
“Are they dead?”He asked.
“Yes, sir”, replied the soldiers
“Have you checked?”
“Yes, sir. Fully checked.”
“Then why are you still here? Go and attack the next checkpost . ”
“But sir, it’s raining.”
“I don’t care. Go now!”
And the soldiers stomped towards their jeeps and soon I could hear them rushing away. Far away. The Commander mumbled out some swear words looking at the dead bodies surrounded all around me, kicked one of them with his sturdy boots ,got into his jeep and rushed away at high speed.
I could hear nothing now except for the pattering raindrops. I don’t know how long I had been acting as a dead man, lying among all my fellow freedom fighters who were now on the stairway to heaven.
After I had been sure that all the soldiers were gone ,I got up from where I had been lying and looked at the dead bodies all around me. There were so many of them. I could not recognize most of them as their faces had been burnt and spoiled. I had to struggle much to walk .I could feel my legs blocked. Somewhere in the head ,I had been shot with a bullet and I could feel its presence hurting me .I kept on walking and walking. People of the whole area had been shot by those soldiers and their Commander. The whole area was now a dead zone .I stumbled through the bodies and led myself into the forest. It was somewhere in the world’s biggest mangrove forest, Sundarbans in Khulna, Bangladesh. I had come here just a week ago with all the other freedom fighters with a hope to win the bright sun of this country from the rivals. Never knew I would have to see this. See all my friends dead, lying amongst the dust and be the only survivor.
I walked through the forest to the place where we had built our check post a week ago to see if someone was alive. I was relieved when I saw that there were no bodies outside the small hut that we had been living in.I went into the hut and there they were .All dead. All scattered across the floor .I could feel my knees breaking down seeing the vicious scene in front of me. I went towards the bodies and there they were-Shawkat, Shihan ,Zayan and everyone else who had come with me to fight for this country. Then at the corner was our commander ,Lieutenant Zeshan ,under whom we had been working and who were our father from the day we had started waging this war .Just beside him was whom I had been looking for, Raihan , my brother ,my best buddy .His body lying on the ground with rifle in his hand and with a smile on his face .I felt like crying out loud seeing him .Why??Why God, did you have to take him without taking me??Why am I the only one to live when I have nothing to live with? I still remember the day when I had first met Raihan outside the post near Sector-1.We had dreamt how we would wave the Bangladesh flag with pride after we had earned our victory. But now everything was over.
I took all the weapons that I found with Raihan and stuffed them in my clothes .While searching through his pockets ,I found a wet paper .Unfolding it I realized that it was a letter that he had written to his mother, about to be posted. It said-
Take my Salam. How are you?
Maa, are you angry with me? i know what I did was wrong. Maybe I should have told you about my decision of going to fight for the country .But Maa, do you think it would be possible for me to come where I am now if I had seen the tears in your eyes while watching me leave? And do you think you could have let me go so easily? Maa, I could not endure those Rajakars (traitors) walking around our house all day. I had to take the revenge of Baba’s death. So here I am now, in Khulna, waging war all day. For you. For Emma. For this beautiful country, Bangladesh. Maa, I love this country as much as I love you. I cannot just let it pass by with some cruel men who do not know the value of love, patriotism and motherland .I hope you understand.
Maa, I promise I’ll come to you the day this country achieves its independence .And you, I and Emma will wave our flag from our roof proudly staring at the fiery, red sun glowing with joy.
Maa, I’ve met this guy named Rezwan in Sector-1. He is the best buddy I have here. He has never had the luck to have a family and so I‘m thinking of bringing him to our house as soon as the war is over.
Are you doing well, Maa? You wont believe how I much I miss you and my little sister ,Emma everyday .I miss your hand cooked food so much. Please cook ” Prawn Malaikari” for me the day I come. I am dying to have a bite on it.I had kept some money in my bank account before coming here. See if that helps. I promise I wont let this war occur anymore.
Take care Maa .Dont be too hard on yourself.
I could feel tears coming out of my eyes after reading the letter out .I kept on rolling my eyes over the lines in which he had written about me ,how he hoped to take me home after the birth of this country and let me live like his brother. I stared blankly at the date. He had written it on the 10th of September and today it is the 14th of December and he did not even have a chance to post it within these four months. I knew what I had to do now .My last mission .I had to take this letter to Raihan’s family .I don’t know how .I just had to….
And so ,with courage in my heart ,I started strolling through the deep forest .I had heavy weapons on my shoulders ,my leg and head had been shot by a bullet and I had not been getting food for the last two days. So it was a bit too hard for me to walk .But I didn’t stop. i knew where I had to go. Jessore,my destination. Raihan’s birth place .I had found his address in the registry copy of our check post .It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was lucky to be an orphan….
I don’t how long I had been walking for. 5 hours maybe? It was night already .I could see the moon lighting my way .Suddenly I heard a sound .I knew exactly what it was. I could hear the song “Joy Banglar ,Banglar joy” from a distance .I wished like running towards the song but I couldn’t .I had to walk slowly and soon I found a check post of the freedom fighters from Sector-7.They were quite stunned to see my condition .They asked about all that had happened to me and provided me with medical help and delicious Bangali dinner .I ate like a hungry elephant .After dinner ,we all listened to the radio .Some patriotic songs that inspired us a lot .We also heard that there was a possibility of a curfew to be held all over the country the next day .We went to sleep late that night.
I woke up early the next morning. The fighters wanted to move towards Barisal. They had information that the Pakistanis had attacked the innocent people there .I couldn’t but disagree to go with them. They did not want to let me go alone .But I knew what my mission was. What I had to do .So I started walking on my way .Before I left, a soldier whom I knew closely handed me with a radio.“Keep it. It might help you” ,he said. I smiled and started my journey towards Jessore .It aint much far from Khulna . All I needed was some help to cross the river and then I could be where I wanted. So I walked towards the river through the forest.
Half way to the river bank ,I found a shelter hut of the Pakistanis .I made no delay and blew up their hut with a hand grenade. It was fun to be able to take revenge on those beasts for killing millions of innocent people of my country.
I arrived at the bank at about 5 pm. I had to cover myself up with a blanket that I had been given by the guys from Sector-7 since there was a possibility of the Rajakars and the Al-Badrs having their houses built there. Luckily I found a ferryman who agreed to take me to Jessore. I got into the boat and revealed to the ferryman that I was a freedom fighter in response to which he showed me the highest respect anyone could ever show .I was overwhelmed to see the love of the people for this country.
I couldn’t sleep in the boat well that night .All I could think was if Raihan’s mother was alive, how she’d react when she’d find out about her son ,how Raihan’s sister is and if I was doing the right thing. Of course I was .I had to be doing the right thing. Raihan stood up for me as an elder brother when I had no one else. Now it’s my time to pay him back.
16th December,1971.It was at about 8 am when I reached Jessore. The boat rower informed me that there was no fear of the Pakistanis then. They were about to surrender that evening. I felt relieved. I felt ecstatic like I never had.
I got out from the boat, paid the rower and started to look for Raihan’s house .It was at a village named Chanchara. This was the village where Raihan had started his journey for the Liberation War killing 50 Pakistani soldiers along with his force with only five machine guns. Chanchara was a village where those traitors still existed .I had to get a jeep from the Cantonment office of Jessore city to ride my way to Chanchara .After I got into the village ,I saw the rival soldiers packing their bags up and getting on their jeeps .The local people peeping through their windows with smiles on their faces. After the army had gone ,I led to all the houses in the village asking for Raihan’s mother and his sister .But there was no one who could tell me about them. Lanes after lanes, houses after houses I checked, but there was no sign of them .I got tired and took some rest under a tree at the end of a lane .I took out the radio from my pocket and listened to it-
“Joy Banglar ,Banglar Joy !It’s 1 pm .Just a few hours to go. All the Pakistanis and the Biharis are fleeing away from the country. The aviation war is still under rest .The Bangladeshis are rejoiced and have disagreed to comply with the existing curfew……….”
Suddenly I saw a fully ruined house behind the large tree I was lying under. It was locked .A huge lock was hanging from its doorknob .I had a hunch that this could be where Raihan used to live .I don’t know why but I hit the doorknob hard with the end of my gun and it broke open .Soon I was inside the house. There was not a sign of a human being inside the house .I was about to come out of the house when I heard the squeaking of a high pitched female voice.”Hello?”,I called out .No reply .I went up to the second floor of the house and there they were……Two women .One of them seemed to be Raihan’s mother and the other to be his sister .I was so overwhelmed to see them. To finally know that they were alive after all these months’ struggle .But apparently ,they were not happy to see me. Rather, terrified.“Please don’t kill us .Please. P-pl-please……”, Raihan’s mother said. Her hair was all messed up. Her face pale white. She seemed like she had not been eating for months ,like all her blood had been drained out of her. So did Emma look like .I could barely talk to them. I handed out Raihan’s letter to his mom. She hesitated .I said , “Please trust me .I am Raihan’s friend .I am here with his letter. Please take this.”She took the letter this time.“W- wh -where is Raihan,son?”,she asked. I looked down at my feet and then said, “He’s no more.”She looked quite well composed hearing this .All she did was stared at my eyes .But Emma cried out loud…….
Raihan’s mother read the letter carefully…and cried.
It’s 5 pm. The Pakistanis have surrendered. I am now here with Raihan’s family in his terrace .Posting the flag of my Bangladesh. Our Bangladesh. The flag is waving with its bright red sun amidst the green nature with its map within the sun…. Raihan’s mother is staring blankly at the waving flag. Her tears shining by the reflection of the setting sun. Aircrafts flying above our heads denoting the sign of our victory. Everything is here. Except Raihan ….yet he’s still in our hearts, smiling serenely ,rejoicing at the independence of his beloved motherland ,Bangladesh .I live with Raihan’s family now .Just as he had planned, tasting the brand new freedom that we’ve achieved .Without his existence only…