Our pride, our hope, oh my Bangla Bhaasha!
Famed for his Moder Garob, Moder Aasha, a-mori Bangla Bhaasha, poet, educationist and lawyer Atul Prasad is long gone. His much loved language is not lagging far behind. A hundred years before our independence he was born in Dhaka. Unbiasedly saying, the master composer's inspirational patriotic songs and the likes emerge today only on Ekushey February and Pahela Baishakh. Celebrations of March 26 and December 16 are dubbed with Hindi, English and Punjabee songs. Balle, balle…
Our government offices have title boards in English. Every Bangla name has been translated into English, not even bounded by brackets. Some have names in English, but written in Bangla font. Instead of possibly Ga-Pu-Aw, we have PWD. BRTC should have been BaShoPoK. Bangladesh National Scientific Technical Documentation Centre (BANSDOC) never saw the light of day as Bangladesh Boigyanik Projuktik Dalil Kendro. For better understanding of an international audience, an explanation may be given in small print in English, or Chinese, or Spanish, depending on the recipient. Most offices have two names, but the English one is usually dominant. A-mori Bangla Bhaasha …
Local training courses, not international, for instance, are often named in pure English. Thus, "20th Skill Development Course for Company Executives" for an exclusively Bangalee participation is written in its true form. Often though, farcically, the English title is written in Bangla alphabets on the banner, although there are Bangla words for skill, development, course and company executives. A-mori Bangla Bhaasha …
Almost every product in the market is in English. Top, Super … as if there are no Bangla words for those expressions, or all the consumers are non-Bangalee, just landed or long settled. Giveaways are announced as "Free". Customers are lured with the English slogan "Buy 3, get one free" rather than saying the same in Bangla, even in markets located in Sadarghat. A-mori Bangla Bhaasha …
Universities have English names with English abbreviations. Those which are named in Bangla acquire Eengrezee abridgement to, for example, DU instead of Dha-Bi. Then there are RU, JU, JnU …The short form of Bangladesh Prokoushal Biswabidyaloy (Ba-Pro-Bi) is limited to some of the university's documents, but the English acronym BUET has been made universally recognisable. Perhaps no rickshaw-puller or courier service will find Ba-Pro-Bi. A-mori Bangla Bhaasha …
Names are never translated. A Bangladeshi cricket commentator would die before addressing, say, English cricketers as Shikor, Indhon Jogacche and Khanshama. I am referring to Joe Root, Ben Stokes, and Jos Buttler. On the same note, Indian batsman Shikhar Dhawan is never addressed as Root or Apex Dhawan. Similarly, we would be floored if our Soumya Sarkar was mentioned as "Government".
By a random survey conducted by me, it was found that eighty percent of our shops, even those selling one hundred percent Bangladeshi goods, are named in English. A few have recently dared to name their retail houses in what sounds like Urdu, or maybe Hindi; I am none the wiser. Graceful, Tasteful, and Wonderful, Golden, Silver, and Bronze all have Bangla equivalent.
Each of our sectors are infested with alien jargon. The cellular phone world is flooded with top-up, F&F, deals, and packages. Banks and finance companies seem helpless without English terminology, such as leasing, deposit schemes, and investments. Bengali medical service is lost to diagnostics, orthopaedics, dermatologist, and gastroenterologists. In deliberately designing the invasion of English in the garb of globalisation, we have ignored the mass. They have been compelled to receive a service that is too often lost in translation and accepted in silence.
Our print and electronic advertisements too are suffering from lack of self-esteem. One gets the impression that the general conviction is that English reflects chic and class. They could not be more wrong. They are collectively caught up in a fallacious syndrome, where following the crowd appears safe. For them there is fear in relying on the Mother tongue. In seeking short-term profit, the loss for the nation is unfathomable.
A current Bangladesh TV commercial shows a lady uttering "Oh S**t". Its use in broadcast television is restricted even in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and allowed only in late hours when children and young people are "not expected to be watching". The said phrase, unprintable in any national daily, was apparently passed by the Censor Board, if any, to be uttered on national television for all our children to hear, learn, and repeat. How much smarter do we have to pretend to be to lead this country of language martyrs to the gutter? Nardama sounds that much dirtier.
While it is appreciated that some words are best understood in their native language, and trying to use them in Bangla will create confusion. But, we seem to be using that excuse so very sweepingly that in a few decades Bangladesh would be caught in the middle of nowhere, its rich literature, tradition and history sacrificed at the altar of wishful futility, hybrid culture, unnecessary dependency and inferiority complex.
Bangla is special because East Pakistanis in the early 1950s insisted that the language be accorded national status in Pakistan, which imprudently was initially denied by the predominantly West Pakistani junta. Martyrs of the language movement in February 1952 added fuel to the fire. In recognition of a people's sacrifice for their mother tongue, UNESCO in 1999 declared Ekushey (21st) February as the International Mother Language Day.
Bangalee craved for greater autonomy in view of years of exploitation by the non-Bangalee West Pakistanis, leading to mass upsurge in late 1960s. The snowball effect for a Bangalee nation continued. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, jailed and tortured for demanding emancipation of Bangalee, spearheaded the campaign and struggle for independence. From a language a nation was born.
It, therefore, seems utterly self-defeating that we should forsake Bangla and adopt a veneer of any foreign language. Conversely, we should take Bangla to the world.
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect, a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.