ON 20 FEBRUARY, 15 days after protestors flooded into Shahbag junction in central Dhaka to demand the death penalty for Abdul Qader Molla, young Bangladeshis began talking to the dead. That afternoon, after we returned from Shahbag to the suburb of Dhanmondi, two of my cousins and two of their friends piled onto a bed to write a letter to those killed in Bangladesh’s liberation war.
“Dear Martyrs,” my 27-year-old cousin, Auni, wrote. “Our hearts overflow with love for you. How are you? Can you see us? We will not sleep until your slaughter is brought to justice.”
By the time they reached the end of the page, emotions were soaring and their eyes were moist. My 25-year-old cousin, Joyita, ended the letter with “Joy Bangla”, the mantra of Bengali nationalism. After signing it, they climbed up onto the roof of the building and tied the letter to a few balloons. At exactly 4.13 pm, the time that the West Pakistani army surrendered to Indian troops on 16 December 1971, they dispatched their letter into the heavens from the heart of middle-class Dhaka, in sync with thousands of other letters being released skyward from Shahbag.