Tushar Kanti Basak was 7 years old when the Pakistani army launched an assault on unarmed people of Bangladesh and the war broke out.
A 2nd-grade student at Gunak govt Primary High School in Feni, Tushar suddenly discovered that missing school was adult-approved. But little did Tushar Kanti Basak understand the real cause for this anomaly at that time.
"Our school was open all along, but as it was an emergency situation as the elders told us, we did not attend school and we were so happy to see that the elders were also okay with it! No one was forcing us to go to school anymore," an older Tushar recently recalled.
One day, Tushar along with his playmates went to a nearby rice mill yard to play and saw one of the older neighbourhood boys was having a meeting with freedom fighters. "We hardly had any idea of the seriousness of the war. It seemed like an adventure for us. We kids used to have processions and slogans as a new way of playing," Tushar remembered.
Then on one restless midday of July, Tushar and his family left their ancestral home in Feni and went to the refugee camp in India. "There in the camp, my father and my older brother used to work and make thatched homes for people. And I, with other kids, roamed around here and there, watching everyone," Tushar said.
In February 1972, along with almost hundreds of other Bangladeshi refugees, Tushar and his family journeyed back home. "That year when I went to my school, I saw all my classmates were auto-promoted to third grade. But as I migrated from the country, I was kept in the same grade, where I found my juniors as my classmates," Tushar recalled.
Now, a 58-year old Tushar is a farmer, living in his ancestral home with his wife, sons and their families. He is also an agro-entrepreneur and writer! Tushar is currently writing a book on his Liberation War memories.
And today, Tushar will be celebrating the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's Victory Day along with the rest of the country, even though he remembers little of 1971. Luckily, what he can recall are mostly his 'adventure' time memories.
When we speak of the war, we generally do not speak of young school children like Tushar.
In fact, Tushar was among the first batch of Bangladeshis who experienced school closure for a prolonged period of time. Bangladeshi school students recently went through a similarly long period of school closure because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has been only three months that educational institutions reopened and students returned to their classes. After an 18-month long school closure, we now know how our kids spent their pandemic days locked inside the house - mostly busy with online learning or, in the rural areas, kids have enjoyed their leisure while others dropped out of school or got married off.
But what were the war-locked children of 1971 like across Bangladesh?
On March 7th, in his historical speech, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ordered the activities of every educational institution and office be halted. But the Pakistani government sent letters to schools and colleges to remain open and continue their activities.
According to historians, it was to convey the message to the world that everything was normal in East Pakistan and whatever was happening was merely some instances of manageable internal instability.
Some educational institutions remained open and carried on with their activities while others remained closed for 307 days - from March 7 to December 31st, 1971.
The schools officially reopened on January 8th, 1972. And just like Tushar Kanti Basak, hundreds of other students had to return and readjust to going back to school.
In 1971, Delowara Begum Rekha was a sixth-grade student at the Ali Azam High School in Kutubpur, Feni. Rekha was the fifth of nine siblings and at that time she was 11 years old.
"Our school was open all along. But as we heard about the 'gondogol' (the war) across the country, we were not sure if we should continue going to school or not. Then eventually we stopped going altogether in April 1971," recalled Rekha.
In August, Rekha and her family heard a rumour that the Pakistani army was going to drop bombs on their village. As a result, Rekha, along with two of her little brothers and elder cousin, was sent to her maternal grandfather's home, approximately 2 miles away from their village in Anandapur.
"I will always remember that day", Rekha said as she reminisced, "We were walking and the road was so beautiful. My little brothers were like two butterflies, jumping and playing all along the way. I could not simply articulate the seriousness of the casualties of war. To me, it was a vacation to 'Nana-bari'."
It was not until December that Rekha and her two brothers returned home, and the next year as she went to school, she saw everyone was promoted to the next grade.
And what about the children who were living in the capital Dhaka during the war?
Tuhin Rafiq, a play-group student in a local kindergarten, was living in Jatrabari with his family in 1971. In March, their school closed and Tuhin remained at home. He said, "Back then our three-storey building was the tallest around.
We could see Demra to Kamalapur railway station from the roof. Back then there were three Pakistani army camps in the Jaatrabari moar and the soldiers used to come to our roof. Often, at night, we could hear their hurried and heavy boot steps and the firing all around.
Scared, we all snuggled inside our home, and lights were switched off," recalled Tuhin.
"That is how our days passed. One day in early December, a few trucks-full of Pakistani armies came to our home and ordered us to evacuate as they would place a camp there. My father asked for a curfew pass and with that pass, we moved to Demra," recalled Tuhin.
Tuhin's family moved back to their Jatrabari home after 16 December, 1971.
Like Tushar, Rekha and Tuhin, there are countless stories of 'adventure time' memories or a blurred memory of the Liberation War that are nestled in the minds of many across the country. And they are the lucky ones, the survivors.
Some have memories of fleeing their homeland to India, some of crossing the river to hide. Some lost their family members while some have first-hand experience of encountering the Pakistani military themselves, just like Motahar Hossain did.
Motahar was a fourth-grade student of Central Government School. His father was a railway officer and stayed at Shahjahanpur railway colony in Khilgaon with his family.
On 25 March, 1971, Motahar, with his siblings and parents, was hiding under the bed and the table. "Back then", Motahar said, "Rajarbagh police line had a bamboo-made hostel and that night the Pakistani army set it on fire. That fire was so massive that we could see the adjacent field turn absolutely white from the light of it."
For the next two days, they remained in the capital, preparing to migrate to their village in Dohar. And then on March 28th, the family left. But his father stayed behind in Dhaka as the Pakistani government had ordered the offices to be kept open.
Fast forward to 1972, Motahar Hossain got back to his old school and was promoted to the fifth grade.
In 1972, two batches sat for the matriculation exam, including the one that missed the exam in 1971. And it was probably the only time Bangladesh had two batches of matriculation-passed students in a single year.
Most of the students were promoted to the next class while some remained in the same class. From a literacy rate of 17.61 per cent of the total population, the country's literacy rate climbed to 76.1 per cent over the last 50 years.
While that is a commendable feat, the country continues to struggle with poor quality of education, and 24.4 percent of the populace still illiterate.
And after 50 years, there is now another generation of students who had gone through year-long school closures, auto-academic promotions and all the psychological effects of a prolonged lockdown. While the circumstances are drastically different, the country's students lived through a similar academic hindrance just like the first generation of our independent country experienced, as if history repeated itself.