Thursday, February 26, 2009

The tanks on Satmasjid Road

Today, Farhana and I went for a short stroll on Satmasjid Road in the afternoon.

Satmasjid Road is a straight, long stretch running north to south. At the southern end sits Pilkhana, where the soldiers of the paramilitary outfit, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), have been holding army officers and their families hostage.
Right outside the gate of our apartment building, a crowd was gathered, inspecting a piece of artillery and exchanging pleasantries with the artillery man. The soldiers were polite, taciturn yet friendly. They had somehow become part of the local society.

We asked some of them if we should leave our homes, but they just said to lie on the floor in case there was any shooting. That was a relief.
Earlier, rumours of approaching tanks had started a panic in our apartment building.

My friend, Munna, who lives above me, came to my flat and tried to talk about our next move. Unfortunately, the panic prevented him from talking: he was constantly called upstairs by a frantic household, terrified of the reported tanks.
I tried to assure them that tanks would have a deterrent effect: they were most welcome. My sanguine view did not prevail!

Farhana and I went out to look at the tanks.

The street was full: people were milling about, some were clearly leaving the area, others were chatting energetically into their cells. It felt like a festival, as though at the other end of the drag unspeakable atrocities had not been enacted by the BDR.

From time to time, the crowd would rush en masse backwards as they grew too inquisitive and the military charged them into retreat.

We decided to stay on the pavement.

Not a car or even a trishaw was to be seen: all told, I think I caught glimpse of one white sedan and one trishaw carrying passengers.

Almost every side street seemed to have a contingent of soldiers in camouflage fatigues and similarly camouflaged vehicles.

It was a cool February evening, and a benign sun descended behind the tall buildings.

Then the tanks came into view: there were eight of them, but we could see only five. We didn't get too close lest the mob scurry back and I broke my glasses!

They say the tanks did it: scared the BDR personnel into a hasty surrender. I wouldn't be surprised: tanks are an imposing spectacle.

The mutiny had spread throughout the country: it seemed as though it was the BDR versus their military officers. As a BBC reporter commented, could all this mayhem be due to grievances over pay and facilities? The government began to air suspicions of a conspiracy, and it certainly seemed plausible.

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