Agartala, and travel thru The ‘Pahar' line!

Agartala's population had doubled by March 1971. Therefore, when we arrived in that town it did not seem like an Indian town. Almost everyone was speaking in our language, nay our dialect. As it is, most people of Agartala spoke in a dialect that resembled that of Comilla. The most interesting thing that we encountered in this small town was almost routinely meeting people that we knew in Dhaka. We stayed in the first floor of a two-storied building in an innocuous road at Agartala. A mat was spread wall to wall for us to sleep. If I remember correctly, about twenty of us slept in that bed on the floor that night. I remember a few political stalwarts of the student and youth wings of the Awami League also spent the night with us. Messrs Tofael Ahmed, Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni and Abdul Quddus Makhan were some of them. I distinctly remember that we spent a sleepless night thinking about what we would do now that we could be officially termed refugees. We could not obviously find a sense of direction that night but reached at a unanimous decision that perhaps we should move to Calcutta to be near the Mujibnagar government.

After a couple of days, we embarked on the journey in a truck. The travel was far from being smooth as to we sat on top of the cargo that the truck was transporting from Agartala to Dharmanagar, the nearest railway station in Tripura. Nevertheless, the route was picturesque winding through hills and a lush green landscape. We arrived at the Dharmanagar station in the evening. No one had a clue about where we would stay overnight. Therefore, we laid a couple of mats at the far end of the platform that provided us some space to sleep at night. At Dharmanagar the arrangements were far less than the minimum comfort we were accustomed to. We ate some half baked loaves of bread with tea for our dinner that night and went to sleep on the platform full of destitute refugees. I have discovered during those calamitous days that people can adjust to conditions that would otherwise seem impossible to cope with. It was not possible to sleep long in that crowd of people with activities galore. It was five when I left our make shift bed. I decided to take a walk after attending the morning rituals. Dharmanagar, then a tiny market-centric town, was abuzz with Bangladeshis waiting to catch the one and only refugee train to come the following day. I thought how much can residents of a small place like this or even Agartala can take! I can't still imagine any group of people, however magnanimous they are, for bearing such onslaught on them for days on end. When I returned to the platform, our group of nine was wide awake. Signs of discomfort were rife in their appearance. We sat to discuss how we were going to confront the next 24 hours in a situation like this. Just then we saw an Indian army officer of the rank of Brigadier with his escorts approaching us. They asked my brother-in-law if he was a member the parliament. The answer, obviously, was in the affirmative and the Brigadier saluted him. We were then invited to his tent for lunch that day. We were happy at the prospect of a decent meal that we were deprived of for many days. Little did we know that the lunch would comprise Chapatis, mixed vegetable curry and Daal. The kids were looking for meat and were clearly unhappy. We told them that they could happily eat as much meat as possible on reaching Calcutta.

When the train rolled in the following morning a colossal chaos ensued. We hardly expected it. The Brigadier was there with his men advising us what to do. He told me to enter a compartment through the window and make room for the women and kids which, with the help of a friend, I did. Once we were settled in, the Brigadier came near the window. He wore an apologetic expression and explained that in India a military officer could not be seen helping a select group of civilians where the others were helpless. This could have been considered a transgression. Later we talked about how in a similar situation in Pakistan the men in uniform would just block the entry to the compartment for others and settle their friends in. But that was another story of a different country that we had not merely left but had now embarked upon to undo.