'Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought'

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury | Published: Sunday, 25 March 2018


Immediately after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur declared the independence of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971, the people braced themselves for an onslaught from the Pakistani army.

The news of the massacre carried out by the Pakistani army in Dhaka on the night of March 25 had already reached distant parts of the country.

In this situation, the Sub-Divisional Officer of Kishoreganj declared at the sub-divisional stadium filled with people that he would join the liberation war and urged all to take part in it.

This courageous freedom fighter was the late Dr. Khashruzzaman Choudhury.

Moved by Bangabandhu's historic speech on March 07, 1971 at the Racecourse Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) in Dhaka, Choudhury had made up his mind to take part in the independence war.

Choudhury provided support to the operations by freedom fighters in his sub-division. On April 10, 1971, Choudhury received information that the Pakistani army was advancing towards Kishoreganj. He immediately paid three months' salaries to sub-divisional employees and left for India via Netrokona.

After liberation, Choudhury returned to the country to become the Deputy Commissioner of Mymensingh. Later, he also became the Deputy Secretary of Relief and Rehabilitation and Education ministries.

Besides being a freedom fighter and bureaucrat, Choudhury was also an educationist. After achieving Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Harvard University and Ph.D. in economics from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, he taught in a number of US universities including Syracuse University and the Southern University.

Choudhury was also a regular author in both English and Bengali languages. He has written six books.

After his death on February 04, 2013, he was awarded Swadinata Padak posthumously in 2014 for his contribution during the liberation war.

Before writing his book 'Amar atmakatha: 1971', poet Nirmalendu Goon had written to Dr. Khashruzzaman Choudhury, who was Sub-Divisional Officer of Kishoreganj in 1971, to know about the resistance the freedom-fighters put up against the Pakistan occupation army in Kishoreganj. Choudhury had replied back with an email, where he reminisced about his contribution to the liberation war. Text of the email:

“Goon Babu:

Here are some of the answers to your questions. My wife recollects her meeting with you at Bangla Academy, when you gave her a copy of one of your books. "Dukkho Korona-Bacho" on 22 February 1989!! She sends her best wishes. Same from me. Please acknowledge the receipt of this email, so that I know you received my answers and related observations.

First about myself. During 1971-1972, I acted as Deputy Commissioner of Greater Mymensingh. Then I worked as Deputy Secretary first in Relief and Rehabilitation (1972-1974) then in Education (1974-1977). I was the first Secretary of the reconstituted Bangladesh National Commission for UNESCO. I graduated from Harvard University, USA with a Master in Public Administration (MPA) degree in 1978 (1977-1978) and from Syracuse University, USA with a Ph.D degree in Economics in 1987 (1983-1987). I resigned from Govt. Service in 1980.

Here are answers to your questions. I do recollect you met me in my residential office on April 5, 1971. Because petrol was in shortage, I had to control it. I remember to have given you some petrol. I do recollect the boy, but I do not certainly recollect his name. I believe his name was Babul. Yes, my brother-in-law Galib was with me. He stayed with me throughout the Liberation war. Earlier, in late march, I had set off my wife Tahmina Zaman from Kuliarchar in a passenger launch off to a safer destination with my 8-month-old son, Faisal (who is now a young man and works as a Marketing Director in a USA company in San Diego, California!!!) I thought their presence with me restricted my ability to work harder, and free of extra worries, for the war activities. To stop the advancement of the Pakistan Army, I destroyed some important bridges in and around Kishoreganj.

What happened next was that Bhairab, under my jurisdiction, fell to Pak Army although we had destroyed part of the bridge. Captain Nasim (now retired chief of staff) and others fought so hard at Bhairab but could not save it! I was constantly in touch with Bhairab when the battles were going on there. Bhairab fell to Pak Army probably in April 10, 1971. I got news that Pak army was advancing towards Kishoreganj they had come upto Sararchar, only about 20 miles from Kishoreganj!!

That was the big decision moment! I had to decide what to do. I had assured the people of Kishoreganj that if I left, I would let them know in advance. I must keep my promise. Kishoreganj was not safe any more, and I could not protect anyone any more!

I took decisions which my conscience dictated. I paid three months advance salaries to all SDO's office employees, violating all Govt rules!! I asked them to leave town and go to safer places. Under my instruction, microphone announcement was made all over the town that the SDO (that is, me!) could no longer provide protection to anyone and everyone should seek proper safer shelters! It was also announced that I would also leave at the appropriate time.

The time finally arrived. Someone rushed from Sararchar to warn me. I then left in the night of April 17, 1971. I left in my official jeep - the SDO's jeep.

My companions were my brother-in-law Galib, my driver Subodh and his family (wife and 2 children). I took them with me because I feared for their lives!! We went to Netrokona with great hardships. I was stopped several times!! At one point, villagers were almost attacking us, thinking that we were Pakistanis!!

I reached Netrokona the next day. My CSP batchmate Abdul Hamid Chowdhury (Retired Secretary, Govt. of Bangladesh) was then SDO, Netrokona. I urged him to come with me to Meghalaya. Finally, my companion and I reached Baghmara on Indian side after crossing the treacherous Kongsho river. We left our jeep behind and walked into India. I was received by BSF who provided me with a shelter! I heard later that Kishoreganj fell to the Pak army probably on April 22, 1971.

This is part of my story and part of history!! My wife and I have written in Bangali (and some English) many episodes on the Liberation war days and events: Next time we are in Dhaka, we will contact you and share those moments. Poet Shelley so rightly wrote: "Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought"!!

Many people want to publish my book on the war. Maybe I should write soon! (I have my diaries).

I am very very busy. Yet I thought I must honour your request. What I am sending you is in a rush - probably somewhat disorganised. I write much better English, though! (I got the highest marks in English in the then East Pakistan in my matriculation examination.)

I am in tears as I am writing you these lines. You threw me into the past, a past which still haunts, and pleases me even in my dreams. I love Kishoreganj and I love Bangladesh. Bangladesh is in my blood - oi desher shonge amar narir shomporko!! I can never forget. I only pray for the country and its real people!

I believe you came to Lafeyette, Louisiana, only 50 miles from Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capital city, where my wife and I live. I came to know of this very late - long after you had left!!

Our regards and best wishes to you. Please stay in touch.

Once again, I am grateful that I was lucky enough to be in your thoughts. To me, this is a great pleasure; and also a great treasure.

I am a professor now. I must thank my Ph.D. Student who is kindly sending this email for me. (I cannot type long emails!!)

Wishing you all the best.

Yours Sincerely,

Khashruzzaman Choudhury”

tashfinster@gmail.com

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