Seventy One: Of time and people

Published : 14 Nov 2022 08:02 PM

Lenin famously said, “there are decades where nothing happens;and there are weeks where decades happen.” 1971 was one of those times in the history of Bangladesh which saw the metamorphosis of an ‘effeminate’, ‘coward’ and ‘enervated’ people into an independent nation. Morshed Shafiul Hasan’s novel ‘Seventy One’ is an erudite effort to tell the stories of this phenomenal time and the people who lived through it.  

The novel was originally written in Bengali. Nibedita Haldar has done a wonderful job in translating it into English, and, thus, making it available to a wider audience. The book contains a brief but insightful introduction by Dr. Abedin Quader. 

The novel is about the impact of the war on two brothers –Helal and Sohel– from a middle-class family. Through the war, their lives flow in completely opposite directions. 

The novel starts with the incident when a Banker was arrested and interrogated ruthlessly by the Pakistani Army to disclose his attachments with the resistance movement. But he doesn’t have any political involvement although he was a follower of Maolana Bhasani many years ago. 

And whenever he was released from prison, it seems he lost his mental stature and he was scared about his job whether he has a job or he has already been sacked. Sohel has political lineages as a political activist of Dhaka University who eventually joined the war but being the main protagonist he does not act heroically instead has been a silent onlooker. 

His relations with Mili remain hidden between the two of them thus it has not been melodies, unlike in traditional novels.

The novel has a variety of characters 

and all of them are developed 

according to the need. But the 

female characters could have 

played a more prominent role

This novel deals with the gamut of 1971 from a historical point of view of how the Bangladesh liberation war takes place two decades after partition which was not only divisive, but also a decisive event for this subcontinent. It also includes the global scenario of 1971 in terms of USA-Russia and India- Pakistan rivalries which often came to the minds of these characters. 

In this novel, Hasan was faithful to history when he was depicting his personas which represent different layers of society in terms of separate political and religious creeds of that time.  

This novel brings the old debate around the literary debate that whether personal experience or imagination is more powerful in writing novels. 

Hasan tends to engulf both facts and feelings, history and myths in his dialogic form. Being a middle-class intelligentsia, he depicts many oceans of events from his own personal and social milieu which was quite general at that time also he gathers fictitious stories which have similarities with our conventional literature on liberation war 1971. 

His perspectives are fixed in a situation where the main protagonists are combined with many social and political powers. 

Often they had to seek support and shelter from the Pakistani collaborators which were their own relatives and neighbours but their morale didn’t agree in this enterprise. 

Thus this has been a real picture of the war of independence which doesn’t tell the readers only boastful glory or repetitive stories of rape and murders by the invaded army and its henchmen. Instead, an overwhelming terrific horror has been the core of this novel which the entire nation went through at the time which is partly missing in the works of many writers when they look at the events of 1971. 

Hasan touches on a lot of issues that were roaming around at that time and still some of them remain unresolved. When the two brothers Helal and Sohel migrated to Narshindi and India for different purposes, they encountered both Muslim and Hindu refugees who had to leave their homeland for their promised land, thus they were suspicious about the changing situation which eventually made Bangladesh a nation-state.

As the main characters are politically conscious, naturally, various political issues of the Liberation War have appeared in the novel. In the narration of those events, the novelist's deep political awareness and insightful analysis can be seen.

The novel has a variety of characters and all of them are developed according to the need. But the female characters could have played a more prominent role. 

Morshed Shafiul Hasan is primarily known as an essayist and researcher, but Ekattor, his first novel, has already attracted the attention of many and received praised in the newspapers as a different kind of literary work on our Liberation War. We appreciate his efforts and request him to continue his journey in the world of novels. 

Priyam Pritim Paul is pursuing his PhD at South Asian 

University, New Delhi.