“I didn’t have much experience of war but I knew that the tragedy was huge and I had to do some justice to it. When I look back at the images, all those emotions of pain, suffering and misery come back to life. It was a time when a whole new generation’s fabric stood brutalised. This is what happens when you record an important event in history. It becomes a photo history of life,” says Rai.
One of the many striking photographs in the book is that of a woman dressed in a sari, sitting on the ground with her sons sleeping in her lap. The caption reads “She lost her husband, but was lucky to have escaped with two sons”. There is another one where a number of hume pipes can be seen placed on top of each other. The words “To survive the wrath of the rains, many families took shelter in hume pipes” help solve the mystery about why people, including children and aged men, could be seen sitting, eating and sleeping inside these tiny shelters.
Talking about one stark memory that has stayed with him even after four decades, Rai said, “The most vivid is that of this old woman, whose photograph is the cover photo of the book. I saw her sitting like a stone. She looked at me and I took her pictures. She then looked down and went on crying and howling. I didn’t say a word. In suffering what do you ask. Do you ask ‘why do you suffer?’”
The book comprises 91 photographs, many of which have not been displayed in India. The photographs were earlier shown at an exhibition in Dhaka and received an overwhelming response. The last section of the book has photographs which capture the celebration of victory and humiliation of surrender in Dhaka. This includes a photograph of General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the man who commanded the Indian forces in Bangladesh. The photograph shows him walking with his chin up and General AAK Niazi beside him, with his head down.