Today, I took a guided tour of two of Dhaka’s major museums, and came to the realization that the bloody history of the creation of Bangladesh is still very much a part of the national mentality - much more so than I first thought. The scars are still fresh it seems, as multiple generations who have witnessed the atrocities are still alive and well. I’m certainly not an authority on the subject, and am still trying to clear up some confusing contradictions I’ve read, but the short and gory is this:
Flash forward to present day, as I am taking my tour of the Liberation War Museum. It starts off fairly slow, as the first room is mostly newspaper clippings and photos pasted on the wall, interrupted by a few miniature, diorama-like models that strongly resemble my social studies project from third grade.
And I must mention, as I take in these sights, twenty gleeful Bangladeshi school children buzz around my hips. They’re there on a school trip to learn the history of their country, but clearly don’t get the gravity of the material. Perhaps it’s for the better at their age. They are chaperoned by a group of warm, school-teacherly looking young women, and one very angry looking man. He passes by me with a grimace, and an extended, cold stare. I sense he does not like my presence there. However, he keeps gravitating towards me. I keep my focus on the displays, avoiding eye-contact with him. I’m thinking about the inevitable headline of “Foreigner Starts Fight in Sacred Shrine of Bangladesh.” But then, as we are nearing the end of the exhibit, he comes up next to me and starts talking. His voice is very guttural, as if he has just lived through everything I just read about, and he says “There is nothing left…. There is nothing left to say.” He’s not angry at me. He’s angry at Pakistan. I can see it - he’s scathing.
I say, “This is just to remember…what happened.”
“Yes,” he says with assent.
I ask, “Is there still a lot of animosity towards Pakistanis?”
“Yes,” he says again. “We hate them.” He glances up at the propaganda war poster above us: “ANNIHILATE THESE DEMONS” (it depicts the Pakistani General Tikka Khan).
While I’d like to engage him more for the sake of cultural education, his intensity is raw, and I don’t care to get into a discussion with him about how evil Pakistanis are. I feel I am not here to judge, but to keep an open mind and learn as much as possible. This was certainly an eye-opening experience, though; and one that exposed a real area of cultural ignorance on my behalf. I truly thought that a war fought in 1971 would be in the past. I never think about the Vietnam War. But I could not see what this war meant to the Bangladeshi people. I do now.