Well, it’s Victory Day here in Bangladesh. School is out, I slept in till nine o’clock this morning and the Bangladeshi national anthem is on repeat, constantly blaring through impossibly loud speakers several blocks away. The words are permanently seared into my memory now and, I’m sure that as I attempt to sleep tonight, Amar shona Bangla ami tomay bhalo beshi eeeeee, will course nonstop through my brain.
Victory Day is a local holiday celebrating Bangladesh’s bloody war of independence from Pakistan. Exactly forty two years ago, Pakistan officially surrendered after a short but brutal war that resulted in the murder of (Pakistan claims 26,000, US sources quote 300,000, Bangladeshis will tell you 3 million…we all know how history can be!) Bengali civilians. I won’t get into the details but the war crippled the country and has really shaped and molded Bangladeshi national identity.
Last year, I was astounded at the enthusiastically patriotic nature of Bangladeshis. I naively assumed no one would be proud of a country racked by poverty, cyclones, corruption, ridiculous traffic, pollution and political violence. I was wrong. Swarms of Bangladeshi flags, which represents a pool of a martyrs blood in a green field, adorn rickshaws, CNGs, businesses, houses, cars, bicycles and pretty much anywhere else you can affix a flag. Bangladeshis are proud of their country and that makes me happy in a weird, hopeful way. Bangladesh has many problems but the country has so many things to be proud of as well.
As Dani and I biked around the city today, the majority of people wore the national colors of red and green (conveniently coinciding with the Christmas theme), loudspeakers broadcast speeches from the 70’s (prelude and postlude by the aforementioned national anthem), and people seemed to be smiling more than normal. Although I purchased a Bangladeshi flag last Victory Day, I bought a little headband from the dude below and, as a result, received dozens of smiles, thumbs up, waves and shouts of “Joy Bangla”, the slogan chanted by Bangladeshi fighters during the Liberation War, as we ran errands. I was reminded just how important history is for average, ordinary, even illiterate person and how the lens we use to view the world is shaped by our personal and communal history.
That’s all for now. Happy Victory Day and Joy Bangla!