Bangla: Our mother tongue

Maswood Alam Khan
Demographically speaking, Chinese Mandarin is spoken by about 885 million people, the largest population in the world speaking in the same language, while 332 million people speak in Spanish, 322 million people in English and 270 million people speak in Bangla, the fourth largest population in the world speaking in the same language. The fifth position is held by 182 million people speaking in Hindi.

So, a part of the Chinese population obviously can take the pride of being on the top of the world as users of their mother tongue Mandarin, of course number-wise. Now the question that must tickle everybody is which language should be deemed the sweetest? And everybody on this planet will claim his is the sweetest in the world! In actuality, any mother tongue is the sweetest language. Anybody’s mother, after all, is the sweetest human being ever born in this world!

However, our pride in our own language should not make us look down upon any other languages of this world. Rather, we should hold respect for every spoken language in this world, as every language has immensely enriched the human civilization in one way or the other.

But the fact remains it is the Bangladeshis who took the initiative in establishing an international day only for mother language on Ekushey February (21 February), the day in 1952 when humans for the first time since the start of civilization shed their bloods to uphold their mother tongue! It is the Bangladeshis who roused the world community to rediscover and savour the pride in mother language. On every 21st February people all over the world have to remember the day in 1952 when five students of Dhaka University embraced martyrdom to start the Bangla Language Movement that accentuated the independence of Bangladesh and impaled UNESCO to announce the day as International Mother Language Day to give value to humanity’s mother tongue.

Unless you are far, far away from your motherland, unless you have to part with your mother for a long time you don’t really realise how dear is your home and how beloved is your mother. Only when you are in a desert and you have only a few ounces of drinking water in your portable jar you do realise how precious water to quench your thirst is. Yes, when you speak in a foreign language to make a listener understand what you like to mean by your statements your tongue becomes anxious to use those immutable words you first picked from your mother’s tongue, following her lips, to babble, to mimic and then to speak the rest of your life!

When you migrate to a foreign land and become a citizen of that country it can be a heaven or a hell or a bit of both. Anyway, you have to forsake your mother tongue and adopt a different language for your survival. And, if you are not willing to fully integrate with the new country you will soon be left out in the cold and the future will be anything but happy for you as well as your family members who will be torn in two. The moral is: True love and happiness can be found in a foreign land but there is a price to pay financially, culturally and linguistically. If you are willing to pay the price, you can be a happy man. The irony is: Bangladeshis, when they are mellower, are not happy outside Bangladesh, as I found talking to many Bangladeshi Americans.

There are hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis living abroad together with their families and kith and kin for years and for decades. They had left Bangladesh in quest of opportunities. They studied abroad, had their higher academic degrees and ultimately settled there. They have built their careers with comfortable pays and perks. Many of them have hugely succeeded in becoming professionals. The alien society welcomed them. They also got used to the hospitality of the foreign land and its people. They speak in a foreign language; still, they dream in their mother tongue. At one stage of their life, however, many of them had spasms of pain deep inside their hearts and many cried out for their sweet home. They desperately went back to resettle in Bangladesh only to be disappointed with their country’s lack of discipline. With a heavy heart they went back to the same alien land that once had greeted them by offering a home.

I have met many such Bangladeshis who have been settled in America for ages. But the one the other day I got introduced with is different. He is special. Having his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1988 Shamsul Huda, a brilliant student of history, has been teaching modern history and American history for the last 25 years as a professor at the Xavier University of Louisiana, at New Orleans in America. His doctoral thesis was “Elite composition and power structure of Chittagong” and he is specialised on the history of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. He is in North America for the last 34 years.

Dr Shamsul Huda may be known as a brilliant academician in the Xavier University of Louisiana; but he is special to Bangladeshis not as a scholar of erudition in history, but as someone obsessed with his unalloyed love for Bangla.

For the last 19 years Huda has religiously been publishing a cute souvenir, an annual literary magazine in Bangla in commemoration of the 1952 Bengali Language Movement, where you will find pieces of poems and essays written by scholars on Bangla literature like Mizan Rahman, Dilara Hashem, Daud Haider, Khasruzzaman Chowdhury, Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and Badiuzzaman Khan Naseem and many others. The booklet-size magazine is neatly printed with an extraordinary cover. The title is musical: “Abinashi Shabdorashi”: “Eternal Words”.

Shamsul Huda is a saintly poet, a quiet and a shy man. He does not like someone drums his works into the readers through publicity. He is a silent weaver of Bangla words. Among Bangladeshi intellectual elite in New Orleans Huda is known more as a poet than as a teacher. His literary pieces in Bangla, especially his poems, could have stirred a myriad of learned readers had those works been regularly published in the local newspapers in Bangladesh.

His poems, as I could read one in the editorial of his 2011 souvenir, are like abstract arts. You have to read his poems with an open heart to hear their inner voices that are half-submerged and half-afloat. The meanings will dawn in your mind gradually the way sublime colors of an oil painting creep onto your serene mental screen. He puts the readers on suspense by his contradictory, yet complimentary, nuances on love, life and philosophy in most of his poems.

What more than anything else surprised me was Huda’s apt hand in painting. He prints about 250 souvenirs every year. All the works of the annual magazine are duly and neatly printed on good papers in a sophisticated press—except its covers. Some 250 covers—each and every single cover—are all painted by Shamsul Huda, one by one, in his own hand and you will not find a repeat of the cover design in any of the published souvenirs. For painting 250 covers of this year’s magazine Huda had to spend 30 days—God knows how many hours—to complete the job before February. This is his practice for the last 19 years. His passion for painting was born in the early 1970s when as a student of Chittagong University he was the sterling poster-writer for the then movements, thanks to his pearly handwriting. And he vows he will carry on this job of composing poems and painting covers in pursuit of his passion for Bangla and Bangladesh.

Writer is a contributor to daily sun and writes from Maryland, USA.

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