The Pakistani president ordered the vote,
Confident of the usual majority
Of the Punjabis, Pathans, and Sindhis
In the Western Wing.
So the Bengalis did as he had bid,
Casting ballots under democratic rules,
Or so they thought. In eagerness
For freedom and self-determination
They overlooked conspiracy and war machines
And voted for one of their own:
The Bengali they knew and trusted
To lead them along the road
Toward autonomy and a better life;
The Bangabhandu, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The ballots were cast in December;
West Wing bullets cancelled them in March.
The semblance of democracy reeled,
Nurtured by the Mukhti Bahini,
The Bengali Muslim freedom fighters,
Ranging from peasants to landlords,
With support from a big Hindu neighbor.
It seemed an unfair, one-sided revolution;
A poor, guerrilla force in sandals,
Untrained; armed largely with hope.
Some had spears, bows, arrows;
Others tossed Molotov cocktails;
A few used guns a half-century old
Against tanks and jet aircraft
Of the khans of Pakistan.
The news traveled fast:
Issues of massacres and civil war
Threaded diplomatic conversation
At cocktail parties in world capitals.
Leaders had various reactions:
Some worried, a little; others sighed;
It was just another Asian military regime
Pulling the carpet from under pseudo-democracy;
It was an "internal" matter.
Washington cautiously announced
Aid programs were under review.
Arms sold for killing were killing
While nations watched; few acted,
Save for the flashing of diplomatic messages;
The Pakistani corps continued the carnage.
Thousands died within the legalities
And priorities of international law
During agonizing birth pangs of a new nation.
The United Nations debated now and then
While the blood of the Bengali patriots
Turned river-laced "Golden Bengal" red.
The Meghna and the Brahmaputra;
The Jamuna and the Padma, and Mother Ganga
Wept as they embraced and washed the dead
Dragged from execution sites;
From Dhaka and its shattered university,
Where the minds of youth and intelligentsia
That hadn't gone dark
Absorbed the lessons of duplicity and death.
Soldiers killed in the name of Allah
And territorial integrity.
Some of the young died in clusters,
Trapped in a Dhaka University dorm
Or lined up in rows in dusty villages;
The chatter of rifle fire
Stopped their hearts from beating
For freedom any longer.
They had voted for their rights
To walk their streets as the liberated;
To worship their Hindu gods
Or Jesus, or Allah.
They cast ballots for a dream:
To halt exploitation;
To earn their sparse rupees
Under the hot Bengal sun
And cool monsoon rains
As rice-planters and in tea stalls;
Sailing laden boats; pumping burra sahibs
Along pot-holed gullies in rickshas;
Fishing in swollen streams.
The huts of the poor burned;
Hindu temples were desecrated,
Bulldozed or blasted
With high-explosive shells.
Sheikh Mujib had protested the general's qualms
About a National Assembly meeting;
A constitution; a six-point plan for autonomy.
The president stalled, deliberating
With Sheikh Mujib and other politicos
But privately with his generals,
Planning a strike force
Involving tanks and planes
And staging surprise warfare
Against off-guard Bengalis,
Lulled and excited by press briefings
Concerning "progress" towards freedom.
When the ring of steel was forged
General Yahya Khan retreated to Karachi.
Tanks clanked in with cannon blazing;
Artillery thundered into action;
Bullets pierced bodies, crashed glass
And rattled against the walls of buildings
Where any anxious Bengali showed a face.
Fires lighted by soldiers' torches
Made easy targets of terrified civilians.
Dhaka's streets were wet and streaked
With blood and mothers' tears
And the churning combat treads
Of deadly heavy ordnance.
The capital, by nature bustling and teeming,
Overnight became eerie and lifeless;
Licking its wounds; mourning its dead,
Except for crows, smoking ruins and troops.
The Bengali will was purportedly weak;
It would all be over within 48 hours.
But Bengali backbones stiffened,
Symbolized by a paramilitary man
With set chin and fiery eyes and tongue:
"We will fight on as long as we have blood in us."
A leader of Sheikh Mujib's Awami League:
"It may be tomorrow; it may be the next day;
But we will succeed."
The price of victory was ultimate for many:
Floating in the wide rivers;
Tossed into mass graves;
Or reduced to ashes
Strewn over the waters and soil
Of their beloved Golden Bengal.
Then a new day dawned:
The thrust of Indian might
Ushered sunlight into the dark night
Of the Bengali soul
And restored hope and local rule.
The survivors pledged a free nation
Would emerge from the bodies
And the blood and the torn land;
From the recesses of courageous hearts.
The banner of Sonar Bangladesh
Flies high and proud today;
A dream, conceived from a nightmare,
Has become democratic reality.