Locks of whispery gray hair dangled across her forehead as she placed herself on the edge of her bed, one palm pressed upon her wrinkled bed sheets as she hoisted herself forward and the other wrapped around a small mug. Wisps of steam ascended from the cup as she raised it to her thin lips, taking curt sips intermittently as she spoke to us.
Her voice suited her demeanor—soft and quiet, but strong. Inklings of a smile occasionally tugged at her lips. My family and I listened in rapt silence, taking time to digest every word of hers. She paused in between sentences, sipping from her cup and shrouding the room in attentive silence that was broken only by the mild purring of a cat curled up in the corner.
It was 2015, and Roma Chowdhury sat in her dimly lit room atop the Lusai Bhaban in Chittagong. My family and I were fortunate enough to serve as a private audience for a woman renowned across the nation, spoken of as “the spirit of Bengali emancipation.” Her humble home, devoid of any extravagance but lined with books and pictures from the war, further proved her longstanding dedication to her identity as a genuine patriot living for her nation, her people, and their history rather than for herself. Donning a modest sari made colorful by an interplay of soft colors, her resilience, and peaceful determination in spite of her painful history has made her a national icon of the relentless strength that Bangladesh aspires to.
Roma Chowdhury began as a schoolteacher after receiving a degree in Bengali Literature in 1961. A decade passed and when the Bangladeshi Liberation War struck the Indian subcontinent, she and her three children found themselves in the village Popadia and her husband in India. On the fateful night of May 13, Pakistani soldiers raided her home, leaving it in ashes with the help of local rajakars (traitors) and raping the young Roma. Left brutalized and rendered homeless, she and her children found themselves destitute and desperate as the war raged on around them. Two of her children, aged 5 and 3, died within the next two years.
Like the fictitious phoenix rising from the ashes, Roma ascended from the depths of brutality and agony to become a longstanding icon of hope and a beacon of courage. She has authored 19 popular books, each one shedding light into the nuances of the Liberation War and recording the history of those affected by the war. Thanks to Roma, several aspects of the war have been cast out of the shadows and displayed to the world, and people have seen the history of the Bengali people as what it really is—a history of suppression, desperation, and suffering, but also a history of courage, resilience, and passion.
The reason Roma has proven to be such a remarkable, beloved figure is that she lives as she writes—her life has been one long tribute to the bravery of Bengali soldiers and the grief suffered by the country. She refuses to wear sandals on Bengali soil, choosing to walk barefoot as a means of expressing respect towards the soil upon which her sons had lost their lives. There is no hypocrisy or superficiality to be found her demeanor—her way of living has been consistent with the eternal gratitude she has always voiced towards her country and its people.
Her widespread fame and recognition have failed to diminish her admirable sense of humility. When being invited to meet with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Roma politely declined Sheikh Hasina’s offers of governmental assistance and welfare, instead of making just one request to the PM—to buy one of her books.
Roma Chowdhury is truly the epitome of what Bangladesh aspires to. A woman raped, brutalized, stripped of all she owns, made to live through a war that seized her family from her. A woman who chose to work to overcome all her sufferings and setbacks by pursuing a beautifully genuine lifestyle, a life of respect and gratitude—finding peace in modesty, success in humility, and wonderfulness in simplicity. An icon of resilience and the Bangladeshi spirit, let us look to people like Roma Chowdhury on this Victory Day. Let us look to people who make Bangladesh great.
To know more about Roma Chowdhury: http://www.thedailystar.net/roma-chowdhury-honoured-14814
Adeeb Chowdhury is a student at William Carey Academy.He is a fan of writing, researching and debating, focusing mostly on social issues, human rights, and global affairs. His multiplicity of interests include Model UN, international matters, and science, and his writings have been published on sites such as the Women Chapter, Mukto-Mona, Shuddashar Magazine, The Bangladeshi Humanist, BornoMala News, and more. He is also the Co-Founder and Vice President of the William Carey Academy Model United Nations Club.