Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bangladesh War of Independence: A Tribute to My Father

Dr. Peter D'Costa, B.H.
Photo Courtesy: Studio 'H' (Nawabpur, Dhaka)

My father, Dr. Peter D'Costa, B.H. (Bachelor of Homeopathy), also known as 'P. D'Costa Sir' to the students of St. Gregory's High School in Dhaka, was born at Rangamatia Village of the then Dhaka District (now Gazipur District) on January 5, 1904.

After passing Class (Grade) 3 from Kaliganj Pilot School, Dt. Dhaka, he was sent to study at St. Anthony's High School in Calcutta. After the Entrance Examinations, he taught at the same school and studied Homeopathy at night at the Dunham College of Homeopathy, Calcutta. After four years, he received his B.H. degree and was awarded the 'Ratimanjari Dassi Memorial Medal' for scholastic achievement.

After one year of the independence of Pakistan, he returned to his village and practised homeopathy medicines. As the financial condition of the newly-independent country was not strong, he could not do well financially in his practice. In 1951, he left for Dhaka and joined St. Gregory's High School (English Medium) as a teacher in the primary section. In 1968, he retired from teaching after suffering a stroke.

He was spending his retired life in the village when on November 26, 1971, the West Pakistani armed forces attacked the village and killed 14 persons including him and burnt down about 90% of the houses.

When we received the news that the military started wading thigh-deep water in the beel (marsh) to come to attack the village, men sent their womenfolk and children away to another village on the other side of the small canal. We did the same with my mother Agnes D'Costa, a teacher of Rangamatia Catholic Primary School, and my adopted sister.

In the weekend I had come from work with the Pratibeshi weekly in Dhaka and could not return due to military and mukti bahini (freedom forces) confrontations in different places, including Kaliganj). So on this Friday, November 26, with fright, my father and I were watching the fires at the far end of the village in the west as well as hearing wheezing bullet sounds over the trees. I tried to coax my father, who could walk with some difficulty with the help of a cane, to go with me as far away as possible, but he refused and said: "If they see me old and sick and still kill me, let them do so. I would rather die at home than in the fields and jungles."

When the bullet sounds became louder, I asked my father to go away with me and again he refused. Then I said that "I have to leave because if they find a young person, they would capture or kill him instantly." He told me to leave immediately. I touched his hand for the last time and left home and ran towards the other village in the north. As I neared the canal, one bullet wheezed past a few inches by me and struck one of the bamboo trees and divided it in the middle. It scared the hell out of me and I shouted: "Jesus, save me!" and jumped over a cane bush and fell into the canal. I waded knee-deep water and climbed over the side of the canal and reached the other side.

Behind the houses in the field I find about three hundred villagers -- men, women, and children -- huddled on the ground. My future wife and members of her family were also there. A few minutes later, we see two muktijuddas (freedom fighters) running past us away to the east. I shouted and asked them whether they had fired at the soldiers. When they said "yes", my common sense told me that the soldiers would definitely come to the other side of the canal and search for the freedom fighters.

I told my future father-in-law, Joachim Costa, a teacher of St. Joseph's High School in Dhaka, that the army would definitely come and, if they find us, would finish us all. He told me to take my engaged finance, her mother and others and walk further up towards the east. As we started to move, others also followed us. We first went to the villages of Deolia and Baktarpur and then finally, just before evening, reached Kapashia village, about three miles north-east. It was a Muslim village where we never set foot in our life. They received us with such care and empathy that we immediately felt at home. They immediately began to offer us water and muri (puffed rice) followed by emptying of some of their rooms for our stay! We will never forget this sacrificing hospitality.

Those who did not move from near the canal, that we left earlier, were ultimately killed by the army.

As a tribute to my father, I had written a poem in Bangla and it was published in the weekly Pratibeshi of February 21, 1972. Below I render the English translation of the poem:

I Remember You

By Jerome D'Costa

Dad, I pleaded with you,
Let's go with us,
Flee somewhere away
From the hands of these
Blood-thirsty barbarous robbers,
Otherwise, they will tear us apart.

You said, No, you go, wherever you can,
Save your life,
I am old, I am sick,
If they come and kill me,
I'll be proud of it,
I've died for the country,
Even if I didn't take up any arms.
Yet, I am a Bangali,
A supporter of Bangladesh,
If I have to die, I will die,
In my golden home,
Where I've taken care of every plant and tree,
Every bug, every insect of my home recognizes me,
I have a deep intimacy
With the golden earth.

Yet, Dad, I pulled you
By the hand and told you that
They're almost here,
But you refused and asked me to leave.

As the frightful rat-a-tat sounds of bullets
Were closing in,
You told me, Leave and go,
Save your own life,
If you die,
Who will then serve the country?

I couldn't stay, I was frightened and heavy-hearted,
I had to go far, v-e-r-y far,
Leaving you alone,
In face of hellish atrocities.

The blood-thirsty beasts came and saw you
Squatting in a trench-like mud-hole,
They didn't hesitate a second,
They threw the deadly bullets at you,
Piercing your belly
And coming out the other side with the bowels.

Dad, whenever I visualize the scene,
My mind and body become cold,
I could never imagine that
Such a death could snatch you away from us.

Dad, you became a martyr
Like thousands and thousands of other Bangalis.
The grateful Bangalis
Of the independent country,
Will remember you for the time to come,
For, the birth of Bangladesh
Became possible due to
The death of people like you.

From the depth of your heart
You longed for this country's independence
That became a reality
Due to your sacrifice.
You are great, you are immortal
In the heart of every Bangali.
Bless us, Dad,
That we may preserve the independence
That you've brought for us
By sacrificing your life.

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  1. Thanks Jerome D Costa for your work!

    Christopher Purification

  2. Thank you Christopher for your kind comment. As a writer please keep up your good work. Do more research on and interviews of the Christian Muktijuddhas and tell their stories in different publications and newspapers in Bangladesh. Use photographs of the muktijuddhas as much as possible. Tell others in your writing group to do the same.

    It is the first and foremost duty of us -- Christian writers and journalists -- to portray ourselves, our history, our accomplishments, our contributions to our country so that others may come to know of us better.

  3. Dear Dada,
    Heartiest thanks to you for your advice. Yes, we have the responsible to focus our community in the broader ground. We have to write and publish in different media.

    Alongwith this, I would like to propose you to please suggest our Archbishop and Pratibeshi authority to publish Pratibeshi online edition so that we can have the access to read Pratibeshi and write frequently there.

    Thanks again for your commitment and works.

    Christopher Purification

  4. Hello Mr. Jerome D'Costa.

    Please allow me to say how moved I am with your account and by your poem dedicated to Mr. Peter D'Costa, your dear father - and my dear teacher. He was the first teacher who walked into my class at St. Gregory's High School when I joined in Class 3. "PD Costa Sir" will always be in our minds and in our hearts - for showing us the path to knowledge and for being the wonderful person he was.

    I maintain a Facebook site for our 1972 batch, and I have taken the liberty of posting our dear sir's picture and the link to this page without your permission. I hope that is okay with you.

    Best wishes,
    Dr. C. Zaman

  5. Thank you so much for your appreciation of my father as a teacher at St. Gregory's High School. You are one of the examples of the extension of himself in instilling in you the spirit of seeking knowledge and contributing to the society at large. May God bless you.

  6. Dear Mr.Jerome ,
    Today I was searching for my friends ,when I have left Dhaka in 1971 ,at that time I had gone to class 7 .

    And I found the name of Your father and our my mentor Mr.Peter De Costa ,whom I still remember.

    We had cried ,when he had the stroke.

    I live in Dubai.

    Mohammad Iqbal

    (Memories of Gregorian studied in SGHS in 1971).

    Dear Fellow Gregorian,

    1971 is an important year in Bangladesh history. It is also an important year for St. Gregory’s High School. I am collecting information on your memories during your student life at the "St.GREGORY’S HIGH SCHOOL- IN AND AROUND 1971". I would like to compile these memories for a publication. I am requesting to write down the experiences of the Gregorians / teachers / staff / well-wishers of St. Gregory’s High School, who attended or who were associated in any manner during that period.

    Your recollection could be anything related to the school life, school time, or any other school-related events (please see points 1 to 15 below). I was a student of the 'morning session' (class-2) in 1971 & I vaguely remember some events. 'Day-session' Gregorians were young enough to remember in details on the events going on around them.

    Please share your stories (in Bangla or in English) with the future generations. If you have any write-ups/ pictures/ paper-cuttings or any other materials related to that period (or any query), please contact with me. (Also, if you are 'lazy writing' - I can do a telephone interview).

    Currently I am in abroad (UK). However, collecting information/ writing on 1971 and old-Dhaka is my passion.

    Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

    Md. Emad Uddin, PhD (Greg. #1980).
    1. Your name and Date & Place of birth.
    2. Parent’s name and their occupation in 1971.
    3. Where (area) did you live during 1971.
    4. Which class in 1971?
    5. Member/ supporter of any political organization in 1971?
    6. How was the situation in school before 25 March 1971 (post 1970 general election; January to March 1971; School fully/ partly opened in February/ early March? Attitude of teachers/ non-Bengali friends/ Bengali friends? Situation at home).
    7. Experiences of 25th March Night.
    8. Any memory about the Saheed teachers.
    9. When school opened after 25 March? Attitude of parents about sending you to school. Classes were regular? Attitude of teachers/non-Bengali friends/ Bengali friends.
    10. Any friend or family member injured/ killed in 1971?
    11. Memories up to 16 December 1971.
    12. For SSC Exam candidates of 1971: detail experiences.
    13. Post-16 December 1971: when school opened/ class started in Bangladesh; Non-Bengali/ Bengali friends.
    14. Your Photo.
    15. Copies of any materials related to that period (like letters/ diaries/ photos/ newspapers clippings etc).

    ◙ September, 2013 ◙