Bhasha niye bhasha-bhasha chinta
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?
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).