The Financial Express

October . . . history through its falling leaves

| Updated: October 07, 2021 15:43:01

October . . . history through its falling leaves

History is a chronicle of human affairs as conducted through the seasons. It is a tale of human experience, with all its attendant successes and failures, in the twelve months of the year. There are the times we celebrate in commemoration; there are the days we spend in remembrance of tragedy.

Such a season comes in October. As October dawns, it is Mao Zedong's proclamation of the People's Republic of China on the first day of the month in 1949 we recall. At Tienanmen Square in Beijing, it was the culmination of a decisive revolution, the final defeat of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang the Communists brought the world face to face with on the day. It was a reminder of an earlier October, the October Revolution driven to fruition in Russia, subsequently to be the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in 1917 that was brought home to the global community as the Russian empire crumbled and a horrific First World War went on.

And yet there are the terrible heartbreaks which come with our collective experience of October. We do not forget the brutality with which Ernesto Che Guevara was murdered by the Bolivian military and the CIA in the desolation of a village called La Higuera in 1967. Guevara's hands were chopped off in medieval cruelty by his captors and sent off to Fidel Castro in Havana. Not until thirty years later would Guevara's remains be exhumed and transported to Cuba, to be reburied with full state honours. October 1981 was yet another autumn of collective pain, when renegade soldiers of the Egyptian army assassinated President Anwar Sadat eight years to the day he launched the Yom Kippur War against Israel in 1973. Sadat's murder was the end of a statesman the world was in huge need of inasmuch as it was in need of Indira Gandhi's continued leadership of India. Mrs Gandhi's assassins would not let her live; sworn to protect her, they violated their vow and killed her on the beautiful morning of 31 October 1984.

It was the month when, decades earlier, Mahatma Gandhi, that iconic apostle of peace, was born. And lest we forget, in October 1963 commenced what would come to be known as the Rivonia trial--- of the future statesman Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Mandela and his associates would be convicted in June of the following year and not until twenty-seven years later would the leader of the African National Congress (ANC) emerge into freedom, to forge a rainbow nation that would sweep away the detritus of apartheid. For Britain, the electoral victory of the Labour Party under Harold Wilson in October 1964 was a defining moment in history, for it was the first time in a long time that socialism, of the western kind, was returning to the country. And away in the Soviet Union, in the same month, socialism was going through its inevitable convulsions, with the troika of Leonid Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin and Nikolai Podgorny pushing the larger than life Nikita Khrushchev from power. In Mao's China, Communism took one more leap forward when Beijing detonated its first atomic bomb in October 1964, effectively becoming a member of the nuclear club. The sleeping giant was shaking itself awake.

If the Chinese were beginning to assert themselves in October 1964, the Germans cheerfully went into celebrations of the reunification of their divided country on 3 October 1990. In a moment of high drama consequent upon the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic --- a legacy of Nazi Germany's military defeat in 1945 --- came together as one nation again. Back in 1958, Major General Iskandar Mirza and General Ayub Khan pushed Pakistan into a state of martial law on 7 October. A mere twenty days later, Ayub sent Mirza packing through assuming all powers to himself. There would be another October, this one in 1999, when another soldier in the form of General Pervez Musharraf would dislodge an elected government and place Pakistan under its fourth spell of military rule.Go back to October 1951, when Pakistan's first prime minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, a significant cog in the wheel of the Pakistan movement, was assassinated at a public rally in Rawalpindi. The mystery of those involved in the plot to do away with him has never been solved, though the man who shot him was killed within moments of the prime ministerial assassination.

October 1962 is etched in history as a season to be remembered for the intensity it caused in global politics. The Chinese launched an unprovoked attack on India, the border incursions by its soldiers effectively damaging Delhi-Beijing relations in a way that would give rise to mutual mistrust that would go on. In the same month in the same year, what would come to be known as the Cuban missile crisis would push the world close to nuclear conflagration through the intransigence demonstrated by Khrushchev's Soviet Union and John Kennedy's United States. Not until the Soviets agreed to take their missiles back from Cuba and the Americans agreed to close down their base in Turkey would the world breathe a sigh of relief.

October 1974 saw Tajuddin Ahmad, the astute prime minister of Bangladesh's Mujibnagar government in 1971 and later finance minister in independent Bangladesh, tender his resignation from the cabinet and walk away, lapsing into a silence that would not lift. Tajuddin was murdered, along with three of his colleagues, barely thirteen months later in a country consumed by conspiratorial darkness in the aftermath of the murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975. Ten years earlier, in October 1964, Khawaja Nazimuddin, the former Pakistani governor general and prime minister then aligned with the political opposition campaigning for Fatima Jinnah in the presidential election against Ayub Khan, died in Dhaka. Three years ago, in 2018, the journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect documents related to his forthcoming marriage. He was never seen again, for in the precincts of the consulate, killers sent from Riyadh murdered and then dismembered him.

Martin Luther King, Jr, was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Peace in October 1964. In the same season, the French writer Jean-Paul Sartre won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Sartre declined to accept the prize.

Thus this brief journey through October, through an autumnal season that holds in its falling leaves images of history as they have unfolded in our times.


Syed Badrul Ahsan is a senior journalist and writer.

[email protected]

Share if you like