Salam and I devoured any books and magazines we could get our hands on. Detective thrillers were my favorite. I even wrote one, a complete whodunit, at the age of twelve. But it was not easy to keep our thirst for reading satiated. To meet our needs, Salam and I learned to improvise, buy, borrow, and steal. For instance, our favorite childrens magazine, Shuktara, held a yearly contest. The winners of the contest received a free subscription and had their names printed in the magazine. I picked one of the winners at random and wrote to the editor:
I am so-and-so, a contest winner, and we have moved. From now on, please mail my free subscription to Boxirhat Road Number .
I did not give our exact address, but a neighbors, so that my father would not
see the magazine. Every month, Salam and I kept our eyes peeled for our free
copy. It worked like a dream.
We also spent part of every day in the waiting room of our family physician, Dr. Banikjust around the cornerreading the various newspapers he subscribed to. This freelance reading stood me in good stead over the years. Through primary and secondary school, I was often at the top of my class.
In 1947, when I was seven, the Pakistan movement reached its peak. Areas of India with Muslim majorities were fighting to become an independent Muslim state. With its Muslim majority, we knew that Chittagong would be included in Pakistan, but we were not sure what other areas of Muslim Bengal would be included or what exact boundaries would be drawn.
Friends and relatives argued endlessly at 20 Boxhirat Road about the future of an independent Pakistan. We all realized it would be a most curious country, with its western and eastern halves separated by more than one thousand miles of Indian territory. My father, a devout Muslim, had many Hindu friends and colleagues who came to our house, but even as a child I sensed the mistrust between the two religious groups. On the radio I heard about the violent riots between Hindus and Muslims. Mercifully, there was little of this in Chittagong.
My parents were deeply committed to partition from the rest of India. When my little brother Ibrahim started to speak, he called white sugar, which he liked, Jinnah sugar, and brown sugar, which he did not like, Gandhi sugar. Mohammed Ali Jinnah was the leader of the Pakistan partition movement, and Gandhi, of course, wanted to keep India whole. At night Mother mixed Jinnah, Gandhi, and Lord Louis Mountbatten into our bedtime stories. And my brother Salam, though only ten, envied the bigger boys in the neighborhood who carried the green flag with the white crescent and star and chanted, Pakistan Zindabad (Long live Pakistan) in the street.
At midnight on August 14, 1947, the Indian subcontinent, which had been under British rule for nearly two centuries, was granted its independence. I recall it all as if it were yesterday. The whole city was decorated with flags and green and white festoons. Outside I could hear the blaring of political speeches, interrupted every so often by the chant, Pakistan Zindabad. By midnight our street was crammed with people. We set off fireworks from the rooftop. All around I could see the silhouettes of our neighbors staring up as the exploding fireworks filled the night sky. The whole town throbbed with excitement.
As midnight approached, Father led us down into Boxhirat Road. Though he was not a political activist, he had joined the Muslim League National Guard as a gesture of solidarity, and that night he proudly wore his guard uniform, complete with the characteristic Jinnah cap. Even my younger siblings, two-year-old Ibrahim and little baby Tunu, were with us. Exactly at midnight, the electricity was switched off, and the entire city was plunged into darkness. The next moment, when the lights came back on, we were a new country. The roaring slogan resounded again and again, from every part of ChittagongPakistan Zindabad! Pakistan Zindabad! I was seven and this was the first shot of national pride I had felt in my veins. It was intoxicating.
Excerpted from Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus Copyright © 1998 by Muhammad Yunus. Excerpted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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