It was a routine morning of 1966 in Rawalpindi. The effects of the September War had started abating but not for Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), where war courses were being run in addition to and as regular courses to make up for the shortage of officers. Indeed, many young officers had lost their lives in the September War and their replacement was to be filled by new comers. Mrs Ayesha Saleem, a widow in her early forties who had lost her husband after just two years of marriage, was sitting in the lawn of her house.
Her husband, Captain Saleem, had embraced martyrdom in the Kashmir War of 1948 and she was living with her only son and father in law, a retired DIG from police. While she was sitting in the lawn, she heard the sound of the Jawa Motor Bike, a 250 CC heavy bike, which was gifted to her son by his grandfather on his nineteenth birthday a few days back. Her son, Ahmed, had applied for commission in the Army, and had been selected in a ‘War Course’ being run at PMA. He was coming back from the market after buying his Mufti Dress, Oxford shoes and other items that were mentioned in the ‘Joining Instructions’ as after four days he had to report to PMA.
About 1800 kms away, in Jessore East Pakistan, another mother Mrs Matti-ud-Din was helping her youngest son, Danial, to pack his stuff since he also had to leave for Karachi by ship the next day for his subsequent journey to Abottabad. Danial was full of excitement as he was selected for commission in the Army. Both unrelated mothers, living in two different corners of the country, were bidding farewell to their sons, not knowing what fate had in store for them. Both, Ahmed hailing from Rawalpindi and Danial from Jessore, reached PMA to join the same course. Over the course of their arduous training at PMA, both had become good friends. After passing out, Ahmed was posted to Jessore as his unit was serving in 107 Brigade and Danial was posted to Rawalpindi as his unit was under command 111 Brigade in Westridge.
On January 26, 1969, Lt Ahmed got married to his cousin Amina who had just completed her bachelors in Fine Arts. During his P-Leave in Rawalpindi, Ahmed and Amina used to roam around on the same 250 CC Jawa Bike in the bazars of Rawalpindi, shopping for their subsequent journey to Jessore, East Pakistan, where they were to start their new life as a married couple. Life couldn’t get better for Amina; in her heart she knew that she was lucky to have found a caring husband like Ahmed. Two weeks before their journey to Jessore, Ahmed received a telegram that the situation in East Pakistan had worsened and he was told to report to his unit forthwith. This news left Amina heartbroken as she knew that due to the worsening situation she would not be able to join her husband in Jessore and would have to stay in Rawalpindi. Finally, the day arrived and Ahmed was ready to take the flight to Karachi from where he had to fly to Dhaka and then reach Jessore by road. Amina went to the airport to see her husband off, uncertainty all around them, they knew that it could be the last time they saw each other. Amina hugged Ahmed and with tears in her eyes she whispered in his ears, “I am pregnant, you better come back home alive to raise your child.” It was too soon after their wedding for her to bid farewell to her husband who was to participate in a war looming on the horizon.
One day, Ahmed was out patrolling in Jessore Bazar when his party was ambushed by rebels. There was extensive fire at Ahmed and his men from all sides. Ahmed and his men took their positions and started firing back at the rebels who were firing from the roof tops of the shops. After a few minutes, Ahmed realized that his party did not have enough ammunition so he signaled his men to disengage and fall back; during their retrograde move another party of rebels started following them. Ahmed knew what it meant to be captured by rebels; he had heard the stories of atrocities inflicted by Muktis on captured soldiers. While Ahmed and his handful of men were searching for a safe place they reached a street, where Ahmed randomly knocked on the door of one of the houses. After a brief moment, an elderly, grey haired, graceful woman decently draped in an off-white sari opened the door. When Ahmed told her about his predicament she hurriedly let Ahmed and his men into her house and made them hide in the forage room where they hid themselves behind the fodder stacks. After ten minutes there was another knock on the lady’s door. On opening the door, she found armed Muktis asking her about an army officer and his men. “We have been told that soldiers had been seen near your house,” said the gang leader. The lady replied that she had not seen anyone, at which the gang leader pushed her aside and told his men to search the house. The Muktis searched the whole house, one of them even entered the forage room but after seeing the stacks of fodder neatly piled up, he left. After the Muktis had left, the lady opened the forage room and offered Ahmed and his men a decent meal and told them to stay the night and leave in the morning as in those days it was believed that “in the daylight Government of Pakistan rules the land and at night the rebels are the law.” She told Ahmed that he could sleep in her son’s room who was also an army officer and was presently serving in Rawalpindi. To Ahmed’s pleasant surprise, the lady was the mother of his course mate, Danial.
The next day, Ahmed left the house of the lady and on reaching his unit he wrote to his course mate Danial narrating how his mother had saved him and his men’s lives. After a few days the situation became worse, the hijacking drama of RAW finally ended up in the closure of air traffic between East and West Pakistan. Things became daunting for Ahmed when the ‘Money Order’ facility between East and West also broke down, which meant that Ahmed could no longer send the money to his family. Ahmed’s mother, after the death of her father-in-law, was now running the household on Ahmed’s salary. It was very frustrating for Ahmed.
While Ahmed was mired in these thoughts he received a letter from Danial:
From June onwards, Ahmed used to visit Danial’s mother every month and hand over her the money and same was done by Danial. On November 23, 1971, Indian 45 Cavalry along with an infantry unit attacked Garib-Pur enclave. Ahmed got wounded while fighting in that battle; he was hit by shrapnel of mortar, which pierced his right leg below the knee. Ahmed was evacuated to MDS Main Dressing Station (MDS) Jessore and eventually to CMH Dhaka via helicopter. After surgery of about two hours, Ahmed’s right leg below the knee was amputated. One day, Ahmed was sitting in the lawn of the CMH Dhaka having evening tea, the distant sounds of mortar and machine guns not loud enough to pull him out of his thoughts, when suddenly his attendant came and handed him a letter. He could recognize the hand writing on the envelope. It was a letter written by his wife Amina on October 15, 1971 that he was receiving on November 26. The letter broke the news that he was now the father of a beautiful baby girl. There was a photo attached, in which his mother, wife and newly born daughter could be seen. The news of becoming father rejoiced Ahmed, he could not wait to go home and hold his beautiful daughter but destiny had other plans for him. On December 16, due to inevitable circumstances General Niazi signed the ‘Instruments of Surrender’ and 40,000 Pakistani troops ended up as Prisoners of War (POW). From CMH Dhaka, Ahmed was shifted to Prisoner of War Camp No 3 where he had to spend more than a year till his repatriation. Meanwhile, after the fall of Dhaka, in the Western morsel, Danial like other Bengali officers were shifted to camps for their subsequent move to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. After the Simla Agreement, the exchange of POWs was agreed upon by India and Pakistan; his wife Amina could not be more excited. Every day, Pakistani officers and soldiers were reaching through Wahga Border and every day Amina along with her daughter used to wait for Ahmed at Wahga Border Gate. On the fourth day, while Amina was waiting along with other families who had come to receive their loved ones, she saw the gate opening and amongst the officers one face seemed familiar. It took her a few seconds to realize that it was Ahmed. He had lost a lot of weight and was walking with crutches. Ahmed had not disclosed about his injury and amputation to his mother and wife. Despite the shock, Amina could not hold back her tears; she was not sure whether she should ascribe her tears to joy that her husband was finally home, or to sorrow at finding him on crutches with almost no fat on his bones.
Time passed, and every passing decade helped dissipate the bitter memories and animosities between the two countries. In 1991, Ahmed who was now a Brigadier planned on travelling to Bangladesh along with his wife, daughter and mother who was now in her mid-sixties. Ahmed stayed at the famous and historical PC Dhaka and visited the beautiful city, which brought back memories. Ahmed also visited Jessore and met his course mate Danial. He, along with his family, went to his house, the same house where he was given refuge.
On knocking the door, a young girl who had striking resemblance with his friend Danial opened the door. Ahmed asked the girl about Danial, on which the girl looked back towards the elderly lady and said, “Daadi, there is a man on the door, asking for Danial.” From the partially opened, door Ahmed saw a glimpse of a very old lady sitting in a wheelchair, who he recognized as Danial’s mother. Ahmed asked the girl if he could come inside and meet the old lady.
When Ahmed entered the room, Danial’s mother immediately recognized him.
Ahmed introduced his mother, wife and daughter to Danial’s mother. Both mothers who had known about each other from their sons, met for the first time. Ahmed sat beside the Danial’s mother and held her hand in affection and asked about Danial, at which Mrs Matti-ud-Din said that Danial was killed by Mukti Bahini the moment he landed in Bangladesh. “All Bengali officers who were loyal to Pakistan were killed by Muktis on their arrival to Bangladesh from Pakistan,” she said with wet eyes.
There was complete silence in the room; Ahmed was struggling to absorb this news, the friend whom he had come to meet had died 20 years back. He could feel the pain in the Danial’s mother’s voice but was not sure what to say. Finally, Mrs Matti-ud-Din broke the silence and said, “Let me introduce you to Danial’s daughter, Asma.” Ahmed hugged his friend’s daughter and kissed her on the forehead. Ahmed and his family spent the whole evening in Jessore at Mrs Matti-ud-Din’s house talking about old days, wishing circumstances had not taken the turn that they had.
Ahmed returned to Pakistan with some subtle wounds and sweet memories. In 1994, he retired and got settled in Islamabad. In private gatherings, he still talks about the courageous Bengali mother who once saved his and his men’s lives. Ahmed’s daughter Sara stays in touch with Danial’s daughter Asma.
Both are making endeavours to bring the masses of two nations close by running a small social media group. HH
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