It is not a matter of one or two years; the decades of seventies, eighties and even nineties have passed. But the waiting of Suriya Khanam Chowdury is not over yet. She is still waiting for the return for her younger brother Abdul Halim Chowdhury Jewel, a guerrilla fighter of the famous Crack Platoon of Dhaka. This son of the sun of Bangladesh was martyred in the hands of the Pakistani Army in 1971.
Shahid Jewel's life was full of climaxes before he was captured by the Pakistani Army. Sometimes he could be seen with a cricket bat in his hands, sometimes with a machine gun. He left the cricket bat and picked up a rifle-machine gun to free his beloved motherland from the hyenas. He travelled city to city fighting for freedom. But at last, he travelled to the city of no return.
Even after 50 years, Suriya Khanam's eyes got wet while remembering her younger brother. Thousands of memories popped up in her mind, memories that do not allow her to sleep in peace. And on every 16 December, Suraiya Khanam's heart burst into tears. The colourful celebration of the Victory Day touches her too, but a certain part of her mind starts crying.
Suraiya Khanam spoke to The Business Standard about the memories of her younger brother Jewel on the occasion of 50 years of independence.
The childhood of Shahid Jewel
Jewel and I were back-to-back children of our parents. He was two years younger than me. We lived together, played and even fought with each other. Jewel used to play cricket since childhood. I think cricket was a matter of his heart. If he could not go out during the strike, he would bat in front of the house (then our house was in Tikatuli).
He asked me to bowl. But I was not a good bowler. But still, he played with me, it was everything for him. He then started to play with Mohammedan and Azad Boys Club. He was more interested in sports than studies.
He was very naughty during his childhood days. But when he grew up, he became calm. There was a biscuit factory named Babul Biscuit Company in Hatkhola. We went there for a walk. One of my friends put her hand in the machine, and Jewel switched it on. She was injured severely as one of her fingers was badly hurt.
Jewel was very naughty. Many complaints used to come about him. One day he bit a girl. But he became so calm when he was in class nine or ten. I never saw him like that. He used to stay outside busy with sports. He was very fancy. He had a lot of shoes. He also used to buy shirts, pants and bracelets. But he had to die before his life came to maturity.
Participation in the war
He left for India during the war and was trained there. Then he came to Dhaka and took part in many operations. When he first returned home to Dhaka, we did not recognise him. He was wearing a lungi, bearded. He came with a grocery bag full of weapons. He did not use to stay at home much. Maybe that's how he was instructed. Sometimes he would come for an operation and then go to India again. That's how it went.
Operations that Jewel took part in
Jewel was involved in the operation at Farmgate. About 9-10 Pakistani soldiers were killed in that operation. He looked very tense when he came home after the operation. At that time, our sisters were at home. He thought the army would raid the house. Our house was a little inside from the main road, but he thought they would discover it. He said send our sisters to the village. At last, we sisters went to the village in Bikrampur.
That was the first time I saw him a little differently. One day I found something unusual in the bed where he slept. I picked up the bed and found weapons. Another day he brought a lot of weapons home. There were many rooms in our house. The weapons were kept in the room which was in the middle of the house. My parents guarded weapons all night. The weapons were later shared among the freedom fighters.
How he was captured
Jewel was staying at Alam's home in Eskaton. He came out from there saying, "I haven't seen Amma for a long time, I am going to meet her for a while". He then at first went to Azad's house in Moghbazar. There were many more freedom fighters there. He stayed there till night chatting with fellow freedom fighters and Azad's mother told them to stay. So, they stayed there, slept on the floor together after dinner. When the Razakars got the news, they raided the house and took them away. It was in August.
How Jewel's family got the news
Jewel was taken to Ramna Police Station. He was kept there at night and taken away at around 10 am. The captured freedom fighters were taken to the MP hostel and tortured to get information from them. One morning, Captain Roxana's father (who was a pilot) went to Ramna Police Station and saw him. Jewel told him to give the news of his detainment to our father. Captain Roxana's father delivered the news. Father tried a lot to get him out, ran in many places, but he failed.
I felt very restless after he was detained by the invading forces. Since I was a sibling, telepathy also worked. I was getting restless. I was married then, and had a child. I was staying in the village. But you could come to Dhaka by launch. I had an uncle, I told him to help me get into a launch. He was scared and told me that it would be not wise to travel Dhaka in that situation. But I insisted. Later I arrived in Dhaka.
When I came home, I saw my parents crying. Dad could not even cry. Because it was not possible to disclose his son's detainment in that situation. He used to get up every morning and go to the police station. There the Bengali police officers used to meet Jewel. He had a great desire to live. He told dad to try to save him. Dad tried but failed.
Jewel's dreams for cricket
He always wanted to be a great cricketer. Occasionally he played in Karachi. He wanted to be a great cricketer but, in that time, Bangladeshis were not given that many opportunities. He was an opening batsman. He was a very good cricketer. When he played in Karachi, he played very well there. At that time the Urdu papers of Karachi came to our house, they wrote about him.
Jewel had high hopes. A grenade exploded in his hand during the operation at the power station in Ashuganj. When doctors visited him, he told them, "My hand is injured. Will I ever be able to play cricket again in my life?" He used to think about cricket even during the war. Cricket was in his blood.
A sister's pride for her brother
The pain of losing my brother is unbearable. But at the same time, I also feel very proud of Jewel. There were boys and girls at that time, not everyone went to war. My brother did. He gave his life for the country and there is nothing more to be proud of. I am proud forever. I am as proud as I am sad.
I thought Jewel would be back. Many people talked about him and heard that I had a feeling that he would be back. I thought he had been taken to Pakistan, maybe he would return after a long time. I thought one day he would return suddenly.
Sometimes I dreamed that he was back. I looked for him in many places, but I did not find him. His body was not found. That is why we could not believe that he died. I thought he would come back.