Dusk, Dawn, and Liberation is a profound historical fiction which undertakes us to a journey through the days of struggle and courage of the people of the then East Pakistan during our liberation war.
Masud Ahmed’s unique narrative is compulsive reading because of the historic details vividly penned in such an impartial but spirited way, that his incredible array of characters from history come alive on every page of the book.
When he was portraying the persona of retired General AM Yahya Khan, who took power as the president of Pakistan in 1969, he put forward the emptiness of a hollow confused man, indulging himself in liquor during the crucial moments of national crisis.
The influence of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Machiavelli of Pakistan politics, on the military regime was visible in his conversations with the president in different stages as was visible from their belligerent military actions in the Eastern part of the country, after Sheikh Mujibar Rahman won a landslide victory in the 1970 election.
At the end of the narrative, every reader is bound to surrender to the pain of the grueling memories of 1971 that live on history pages and through authors like Masud Ahmed. The weight of the impact is profound because of the author’s delicate literary craftsmanship and vivid details
In the process of unfolding history, the chronicler’s style of storytelling mesmerises the reader to total absorption.
He was so truthful in narrating the history that in description of the good deeds of Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan during his two years tenure as the Governor of East Pakistan, who was humiliated, ultimately sacked, and sent back; the reader will find a soul full of humanity among the otherwise cruel and desperate Pakistan army.
His narration covered the lives of the powerful generals who gave orders and the low ranked officers and soldiers who carried them out.
Masud Ahmed is an English Language and Literature graduate from Dhaka University.
After more than nine drama and short films made based on his stories, more than 19 publications of short stories and novels by reputed publishers, he became a versatile writer who proved his prowess in whichever form of literature he ventured onto.
Masterfully, he portrayed the patriotism and aspirations of Asad, a student of journalism, who came to Dhaka to live with his father, a government officer and staunch supporter of Pakistan.
The difference of opinions and the way they looked at the ongoing crisis created by the military junta emerged vehemently in every conversation between the father and son.
The older generation who witnessed the partition of India on the basis of religion, was taking time to realise and understand the true face of the ruling Pakistani junta.
The oppression of Muslims at the hands of British rulers and the upper caste Hindu populace, who were accomplice of the ruling establishment for so long, created the feeling of unjust suppression deep down in their depleted hearts.
The younger generation, like Asad, was confronting the wrong doings, biased and inhuman treatment by the Pakistanis with agony and despair.
The same feeling was permeating in the minds of the elders very quickly, leaving behind very few like his father.
The book can also be read as an allegory of the history of our Liberation War. Masud Ahmed beautifully crafted his story lines, episode by episode under pressure to generate enthusiasm among his readers, all the while maintaining the historical truth.
Every day the youth of the country like Asad were getting more and more agitated.
Then they heard the historical speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 7, 1971 at Racecourse Maidan. The author with his powerful portrayal, stitches together the historical moments, inter-weaving occurrences in such an eloquent manner that every reader becomes a part of that time.
“Since we have given blood, we will give more of it. The struggle this time is for emancipation. The struggle this time is for independence!”
People across the country were waiting for such a passionate speech; it unraveled their deepest aspirations and so the difference of opinions between Asad and his father grew further.
One can appreciate the way the author described the persona of the Father of the Nation, during his first meet with the governor of East Pakistan, Admiral Ahsan on February 27, 1971 -- who invited him for an urgent discussion.
“He stepped down on the cobbled path and there was a majestic aura in his gait. He was wearing a white cotton punjabi; his eyes showed affection and love. There was a strong personality exuding out of him but there was no cool pride there.”
The author puts us in tears when he takes the readers to Srimangal, Moulavibazar, and Hobigang of greater Sylhet district, showing us vividly what happened during the “Operation Moonlight.” Under direct supervision of Brig Mukhtalib Rana in the month of May in 1971, the Pakistani army chalked out a blueprint to annihilate the entirety of Hindu population from that area.
The description of how cowardly the war-trained Pakistani army swooped on hapless innocent civilians was articulate: “He swiftly opened the door and watched the outside with panicky eyes. All houses of the neighbourhood were ablaze. Its torched wooden frame and structure of the roof were now falling. He turned around with a scream, ‘Ma’ and started for the bedroom.”
And then, the author described the planned killing of intellectuals in precise accuracy: “Following his green signal, enthusiastic masked groups armed by General Jamshed crashed in many selected houses later on the early hours of December 14.
They picked up the listed people from those houses, blindfolded them, and transported them to unknown destinations.
They were the best of the intelligentsia of their community. People found their maimed and rotten dead bodies two days later at the killing sites of Rayerbazar.”
During the war, the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, played a decisive role. She was intelligent, bold, and courageous.
Interestingly the author mentioned Indira Gandhi in many places as The Aryan Lady, epitomising her as a cool conquering warrior of modern time.
The cruel war of destruction and annihilation seemed to be a child’s play to the Pakistani Army against the innocent civilians.
But when they started confronting courageous, trained freedom fighters in numbers much bigger than their anticipation, the steam of their brutality started to fade.
Peter J Armstrong rightfully wrote in his review, “I had spent some time in Bangladesh, but knew little about the country’s tortured, difficult birth, until I read this book. It is an extraordinary story, told in a balanced impartial way, in spite of the terrible things done to those who wished only to speak their own language, in their own country, and who wished to be the master of their own destiny.”
At the end of the narration, every reader is bound to surrender to the pain of the gruelling memories of 1971 that live on history pages and through authors like Masud Ahmed.
The weight of the impact is profound because of the author’s delicate literary craftsmanship and vivid details.
Readers will remember the freedom fighters and millions of people who sacrificed their lives to bask in the dawn of liberated land. And they will remember them only with honour and love.
Shakib Lohani had a career in Integrated Marketing Communication for more than three decades, and is also the Vice President of PEN, Bangladesh.