A glimpse of history in Chattogram : The Tribune India

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A glimpse of history in Chattogram

A glimpse of history  in Chattogram

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Himmat Singh Dhillon

AS the first light announced the end of a well-earned rest, I felt the disorientation that often accompanies travel. Even before the alarm had had a chance to go off, I lurched out of bed. As I opened the heavy drapes, there appeared a spectacular view of the city from the 37th floor of the hotel. The mother-of-pearl hues, filtered and softened by feathery clouds, took away the fatigue of travel.

It was a well-planned layout with neat buildings set amidst green environs and tree-lined roads arranged in a grid. At one end was a majestic stadium. There was also an elegant colonial edifice fronted by a water feature with a statue.

Duty beckoned and I made haste to complete my ablutions. Formally dressed, I hastened to Chittagong Grammar School for the Regional Round Square Conference. Chittagong is now known as Chattogram.

During an interlude, I casually referred to the graceful building that was located just below my hotel room. Little did I know that an assassination had happened in that building, then the Circuit House, in 1981 and that relatives of our host had been occupying a nearby room on the night of the incident. It had since been converted into a museum.

With an hour to spare before departure for the airport, I took a walk to the building. At the entrance was a ticket booth. I had enough local currency to pay for a ticket. My attention was drawn to a board which said that foreigners had to pay a higher price. My attempts to get them to take dollars for the ticket were met with a polite response that only Bangladeshi takas were accepted.

I asked in vain for a currency exchange. Finally, I stood outside and took in the grounds from behind the imposing cast-iron gate. As I took a photograph from between the bars of the gate, a young man came and held out an entry ticket. Grateful for his kindness, I offered money in dollars, but he refused.

The moment I walked up the wooden stairs and into the foyer, it was like taking a trip in a time machine. There were dioramas of the birth of Bangladesh; the Mukti Bahini; patriots in olive green; Major (later Lt Gen) Ziaur Rahman announcing the birth of Bangladesh on the radio. There was a memorable photograph of him in sunglasses and a jaunty peaky cap while he was on an intelligence-gathering mission. Rahman was serving as the President of Bangladesh when he was assassinated.

Returning to the hotel, I collected my luggage. As I checked out, the receptionist was happy to exchange dollars for takas. As I headed out of the hotel, I saw that young man again, along with two of his friends, taking pictures with their SLR cameras. As I offered to repay him for his generosity, he just shook his head. He simply would not accept the money. ‘However, we will visit you in India and discuss this matter,’ he said with a smile.


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