By Akhil Kumar:
The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War And Its Unquiet Legacy
Aleph Book Company
The 2013 Shahbag protests renewed global interest in the bloody history of the birth of Bangladesh. With a history that’s mired in controversies, Salil Tripathi’s latest book “The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy” comes in as a much needed reference to the facts of the events that transpired. Not entirely about the Shahbag protests, the book tells the story of the simmering anger and discontent that culminated into the uprising.
The book opens with a disturbing account of the author’s meeting with Lt. Colonel Farooq Rahman, who orchestrated the assassination of Bangladesh’s first Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and draws its name from this event, where Farooq says, without any remorse – “Of course, we killed him. He had to go”. It’s in the powerful prologue that Salil talks about his experience of interviewing Farooq decades before he was tried and executed for his crimes, going on to trace the history of erstwhile Bangaal – from the time when Bakhtiyar Khilji brought Islam to the region, the partition of India, the blood soaked battle for the independence of Bangladesh, and right up to the setting up of the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal in 2010.
The narrative mixes political analysis with compelling storytelling, and the many personal accounts of those who suffered brutalities ensure that it’s not just a compilation of cold facts and data. The testimonies are chilling, and abundant. It almost reads like an un-put-down-able thriller, the tragedy being its historical reality. References to the documentation and symbolism of history through art are found in abundance in the book, as the writer makes us see the Bengal famine in Zainul Abedin’s sketches, the social reality of Bengal in Satyajit Ray’s films, the secularism in the songs of the Bauls, the horrors of the Bangladesh war through Raghu Rai’s lens, and the inspiration and influence of Tagore’s poetry.
With heart wrenching tales of brutal rapes, murders and other crimes, the book is sure to leave a long lasting impact on the reader’s mind, making it difficult to not feel emotionally overwhelmed. For instance, the writer shares an experience where he saw two teenage boys sniggering at Raghu Rai’s photograph from the war of a mother unable to feed her child from her emaciated breasts, he writes – “seeing them leer as though the image was vulgar revealed why Bangladesh needed to reclaim its history”. Salil quotes Milan Kundera in similar context – “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.
As memories of the horror wane over the generations, it’s important for people to reclaim that history and keep it alive, and to remember their roots. A highly recommended read for anyone keen on understanding the history of Bangladesh, especially the Bangladesh war of 1971 and its bloody aftermath.
To know more about what I think of this book, follow me on twitter at @Akhil1490