Mukti

Bhasha niye bhasha-bhasha chinta

Posted in culture by jrahman on February 9, 2008

Tired of speculating about the regime’s next move, or feeling disgusted about the blatant human rights violation, or worrying about the skyrocketing prices?  Here is something completely different to discuss over.  Is the Bangla we speak ‘mangled’?  Should we be worried about the demise of ‘impeccable’ Bangla?  Who decides the standard of impeccability anyhow?  These questions were raised in a series of articles in Prothom Alo some time ago, and have been revived by a recent Daily Star piece (hat tip: Udayan).  I’ll summarise these articles first before ending with some thoughts.  Looking forward to the comments.

Let’s begin with the recent Daily Star article by Syed Badrul Ahsan.  The full article is available here.  It begins with this sentence: All these years after the Language Movement, it makes sense to ask what we have lately been doing with Bengali, or Bangla as many would like to call it.  The penultimate sentence is: Listen to Aparna Sen and Buddhadev Bhattacharya, just across the frontier, getting their thoughts across in impeccable Bangla.  

This being February, we expect pieces on language.  But half a dozen pieces on language in November?  Yes, that’s what we had in Prothom Alo.  The debate was kicked off by Mehtab Khanam of Dhaka University’s psychology department on 6 Nov (here).  She wants school kids to learn to distinguish between ‘shuddho uchcharone promito Bangla’ from ‘aat-poure bhasha’. 

Mustafa Sarwar Farooqi, filmmaker whose TV serials Ekannoborti and Unoshottur broke new grounds by introducing the ‘aat-poure bhasha’ to our TV, responded on 8 Nov (here).  Farooqi argues that language is an evolving thing.  Today’s Bangla differs from that of Akhteruzzaman Ilyas, which differed from Tagore, who was accused of ‘Bangla bhashar barota bajano’.  Farooqi tells a story: apparently someone once set an exam where students were asked find flaws in a passage from Tagore.  The piece ends with the question: shey prosno rochonakari aaj kothai, bidyaloy kothai, porikkha kothai, porikkharti kothai, aar Rabindranath kothai?

A series of articles followed.  This and this argue the case for promito Bangla.  This one is for aat-poure. 

Then, Sumon Rahman, a writer, brings in politics and class into the whole thing, and lands a killer punch against the promito-wallahs.  Here is the article.  He asks: who decides on the standards?  Surely it is unreasonable to think that the pundits from the 19th century Kolkata should decide on what we can and cannot say today.  Much more importantly, he exposes the class roots of the language warriors.  On one side of the language Kurukshetra are the upper class with their mobile culture, and the other side is the middle class (the self-proclaimed defender of our national culture) that Mr Ahsan and Prof Khanam represent.  Sumon Rahman asks: where is the working class in this battlefield?  Sumon wants to bring in the urban poor that listens to Mumtaz.  Theirs is, after all, the language of the majority.That’s the debate. 

I should share some of my thoughts.Of all the articles from Prothom Alo posted above, my own views accord most with Sumon Rahman.  I do urge everyone to read the article.  I also note that I haven’t heard anyone say ‘amra aat-poure bhasha-i kotha boli’.  Is ‘mukher bhasha’ not promito enough? 

The blogosphere has had its share of language debates.  I recall commenters at UV in December 2006 criticising Iajuddin Ahmed’s accent.  After all that man was putting the nation through, some people found the accent big enough to criticise!  Well, now we have a shuddho uchcharan kora Tagore and Sukanta pora Chief Advisor, and 17 years ago we had another Chief Advisor with uchcharan shomoshsha.  I’ll let people judge the performances of Shahabuddin and Fakhruddin Ahmeds. 

Mr Ahsan is of course the bete noire of my fellow blogger from Dhaka.  This captures the manifest fallacies of the ‘liberal progressive’ politics of his generation quite well.  I urge the reader to read other posts under ‘Badruliana’.  In the article posted above, Mr Ahsan writes: Time was when oratory, or smooth, sophisticated use of language by politicians proved decisive in the making of epochal decisions.  He writes: Back in September 1974, when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spoke in Bengali at the United Nations, we went wild with excitement.  I haven’t heard that speech.  But I have heard the one he gave on 7 March 1971.  Many times.  And I get goosebumps whenever I hear ‘dabaye rakhte parba na’.  I suppose Mr Ahsan thinks ‘Ish, Bangabandhu jodi shuddho Bangla bolte parten – dabiye rakhte parbe na sounds so much better’.

And finally, Mumtaz rocks.

(Cross-posted at UV). 

9 Responses

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  2. Rumi said, on February 10, 2008 at 4:17 am

    Good one Jyoti. In fact we need to come up with this sort of blog post more often. I can say from my own experience that time is a major restrain in coming up with this sort of wel researched blog.

    I have couple of points to make here..

    1. Quality of language creation is a major factor is its readability beyond the era or even beyond the century. Read Rabindra Nath for example. You will feel someone from next door wrote it yesterday. But you will have a difficult time making sense what Mir Mosharrah Hossain, Bankim Chandra or Akhteruzzaman Illiyas, one decade before or several decades after Tagore, wrote.

    2. There is certain finger pointing at Faruqi. I also feel uncomfortable at Faruqi’s use of language. But what hurts me more is his use of ugly dirty name callings. That could easily be avoided. And use of spoen language in TV media is not new. In the past it was only used by characters like servants, beggers, drivers, poor people etc. Humayun ahmed did it very frequently. THis is sort of hypocrisy. Humayun AHmed himself speaks in spoken language but in TV, he prefers to show his type of characetrs speaking impeccable language and keep not so perfect languages for poor people of society.

  3. Priyobhashini said, on February 11, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Well…Bhasha niye bhasha bhasha chinta amra shobai kori.

    We, specially the more educated lot, want to speak better appear better and be better heard better. So we do think about it.

    Surely everyone knows that language is evolving all the time. Look at old English? Or Hindi? And Bengali itself….hasnt it changed over the years? It has and will keep on changing all the time.

    The debate that we seem to find ourselves in over the articles mentioned above ( pls look at the writeup and the comments they evoked etc) brings us back to the same point. That of the use of language in an “informal” setting and in a “formal” setting. Surely if there no need to somehow control the difference between the two, we really don’t need to run departments of language and linguistics in every language? We only need to let it go free to the people ( and language is FREE to everyone to use it anyway they wish to use it ) and let it keep on evolving. Would we need grammar then? (I mean almost every syllabus of the world contains almost 8-10 years of formal study of the grammar to lead to the first preliminary certification of schooling.. should we forgo that if we think the colloquial use of the language is all the better? I see a new debate here….) In that case in the departments of linguistics and Language we would only need someone to serve the clerical need to perhaps note down (or entry data of ) what new “forms” of the words/language people are using.

    Right?

    What Mr Ahsan says in his article is mainly about the fashionable trend of colloquial use of words and some new americanized accents and others that we have let creep into our language. His observation that such use of beautiful language mangles it, isn’t wrong. His expecting , perhaps, better use of words and accents by a head of state is not a far away cry in itself, In fact if we can have an institute to train our Bangladesh civil servant examinations passed officers about the language.culture and heritage of the country, thats for the betterment of the quality of service they are expected to deliver, in representing that country. There are no double standards about that. On those lines why couldn’t we expect our heads of state to be a little more “beautiful” in their expressions ( of which they make a LOT ). No one says regional accents or words make a persona less Bangladeshi or less valuable.

    Ofcourse, Mr Ahsan’s comparison to the use of Bangla Language in West Bengal isn’t very practical in East Bengal, is it?

    The question is of standards in some places. Especially formal settings. Surely one wouldn’t want Mr Sarwari’s promoted colloquial words to be used to deliver news on a news bulletin? An accent (regional) there is no shame, but imitation of a foreign accent, surely is a shame? Mr Sarwari in his article himself points out the variation of language in formal and informal settings.

    I have noticed a lot of people bring in Momtaz’s songs as examples to tagore’s words. What a shame, truly, to compare them ?

    The pop culture evolving in our country, the remixes of old songs, the Bengali accents used in pop songs for decades now, have all enriched our culture, and also language. But in incomparable ways. They each stay in their own places. It would be an insult to compare lyrics of some popular song — like for example one of Mumtaz’s , as she seems to be a popular thread of examples here — to lyrics of say one from the Geetanjali.

    Both stand proud in their own grounds.

    About mass followings..surely there is where the sense of responsibility lies. To encourage (and expect) our children to pick up the good from amongst double meaning lyrics-containing-VERY POPULAR-songs and better literature is surely a matter of good debate.

    Thats where we all are concerned about where our language is heading. Some control is needed somewhere and the lines of demarcation ( of the right grammar and the wrong ) and lines of divide of formal and informal use of words in formal and informal settings comes in. its surely NEEDED. Of course these demarcations and divides are sometimes very fine, and delicate.

    But surely we will keep on debating on this. Words used in formal language today weren’t acceptable 20 years ago. Words ( and styles ) being criticized today will perhaps be VERY acceptable 20 years on from now. But that shouldn’t keep us from fighting to keep the good and discarding the shameful imitations and else at the present time.

    Who sets the standards? The demands of time. Perhaps also the vote (voice) of the majority.

    Let me try an example: If at an early class of rehabilitation of alcoholics, votes were called on keeping the availability of alcohol open to the people wishing to be rehabilitated, the majority would probably vote to keep the availability of alcohol around in the rehabilitation centre.

    Think about it. THAT voice of majority, would it be wise/right?

    Now someone might ask who sets the standards here .. ..perhaps a school of alcoholics should be allowed to keep alcohol free to them to help them find their own way out/away from the bottle etc etc…..

    Perhaps at a point that school of thought WILL become an established way to rehabilitate the alcoholics… etc etc

    Again WHO sets those standards..rules..ways?

    Like I said, its a very delicate balance….and evolves all the time.

    Well I thought I would share my thoughts with you.

    PS: I have mixed up my own spellings ..using both american and english ways….( damn this computer )! Pardon.

    PS 2: BTW Mumtaz Rocks, So does Tagore and Nazrul, and Trishma….and Sharat Chandra, and Mostofa Sarwar Faruki, and S Badrul Ahsan….and many, many more…..( hopefully my words too! )

  4. fugstar said, on February 12, 2008 at 2:17 am

    Someone once translated Calcatian to me as ‘chaste’. how awful a concept…. but hey there will always be class and ideology markers so long as people continue to seek fake and pretentious airs in relics like this.

    The people who set the rules are generally the scholars and elites. in some epochs they are less crass than in others. It seems some cultural force would like everyone to meet their standard, having inadvertantly ensured some kind of monolingualism over the years.

  5. jrahman said, on March 7, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Friends, my apologies for not responding to your comments, I was away.

    Rumi bhai, I wish we didn’t have to contend with a creeping military takeover or impending civil war, we could write more about this stuff then.

    You make a very interesting point about Tagore. The reason we find his language so familiar is because it is the language we have accepted as our own. Not Bankim or Mosharraf’s, no Ilyas’s. With a few modifications, Tagore’s language is what we call ours. No one made us do it. Isn’t it amazing that the generation that actively supported a concept of Muslim nationalism is the same one that unambiguously accepted Tagore?

    Priyobhashini, you make a lot of interesting points. I’ll try to take up some of them in a future post. A quick note, I wasn’t trying to compare Mumtaz with anyone. You do rock. Hope you’ll write again soon.:)

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