The pages of the diary were yellow like sycamore leaves in fall. I opened to a page that read:
“Each passing moment made the pages rusty”.
“On Friday 1971 at 12 PM, India attacked east/west Pakistan’s borders. But until now, no airplanes are coming our way. At 1 AM, I could hear the sound of bombing somewhere far away from our place.”
This is the diary of Rukhsana Shaheen Saeed — the memoir of my mother, the chronicle of her experience of the 1971 war, when Pakistan and India went to battle for a third time, this time over East Pakistan, which ultimately became present day Bangladesh.
I wonder why my mother took to writing in that time: possibly as a distraction to cope with the ugly reality of a country ravaged by war, again and again? Possibly to never forget the fear and horror and constant angst of that time? To always have something to remind her of what had happened and to rest assured in the fact that it would never happen again?
It has happened so many times again.
“It was raining heavily. Baji called me to check her temperature. I was not feeling well either. The war has made the situation chaotic, internally and externally. We kept hearing the news of innocent lives lost and the bombings taking place each time, with another loud noise.”
My mother was still a college student when the war broke out. I wonder what that life was like: staying up all night listening to the sounds of gunfire, looking out of the window, heart thumping, as bombs fell like shooting stars in the night sky? It was an entirely different universe from mine. But was it? Our generation is no stranger to everyday violence either. We have our own scars. We’ve had to cover our ears so many times too. We are the children of terrorism.
“The news on the Pakistan Television transmission was stating that each minute, we are losing lives and losing the 1971 war as well. The bloodshed may wash away with the rain, but the stains of the ruins are still alive. The soldiers are still fighting whether with an aim or purpose. I have questions. My education is at stake. Would I be able to achieve my aims of being an educated woman? My thoughts kept getting interrupted with the fires and the transmissions of radio signals going weaker. Ami jaan called me up to go to sleep. It was getting late. And to pray for the good times. Schools and colleges remain closed. And the effect was on my poetic thoughts. They were more like black shades than the colors’ of my rainbow sky.”
“The war ended. Left many of us, to bleed the cry of other part dying- East Pakistan separated. I will write more after offering Maghrib Prayers.”-
That was the last page of my mother’s diary. She signed off: Rukhsana Shaheen Saeed. There was no more to be said.
Today, 46 years after that horrible war ripped open a perpetual wound in the heart of Pakistan, I wonder if anything has changed from that time my mother cowered in her room, waiting for the bombing to subside. Tensions between Pakistan and India continue. Bombs go off in Pakistan everyday. Mothers send their children to school, never to see them return. We have fought so many times since then, even if the nature of the war has changed. So this post is for all the mothers who like my mother desperately hope for things to change and, as she wrote in her diary decades ago, “pray for the good times.”