Dr Rashid Askari
Once an Indian friend of Tagore's in England called on him at his place. Most undesirably, he started speaking in English. Discomfited by his pseudo-intellectual snobbery Tagore reciprocated with a pitying smile: "That you've forgotten Bengali is not regrettable. But unfortunately for you, you haven't learnt English quite well." We do not know what his friend told in reply, but we surely know that there are still a whole lot of mortals very much after the fashion of Tagore's snobbish friend. To speak the truth, they are far inferior to him. Tagore's friend knew English although not to an expected extent. But these guys today know neither good Bangla nor good English. They speak a weird lingo, which is not fully English nor is fully Bangla. It is a grotesque mix of both.
To speak a language pretty incorrectly can sometimes be accepted, especially when the purpose is only communication, and the mode of communication is oral. However, to speak a bizarre fusion of Bengali and English with queer strong accents and intonations cannot be acceptable by any accounts. It is an ugly hybridization-a stupid mule born of a horse and a donkey.
But many a youth of our time seems to be taking great interest in speaking this strange hybrid language mockingly called 'Banglish'. It could have done no harm for us if it had remained confined to the domain of a particular group of a snob subculture. But it becomes a cause for concern when it comes into public domain. These ultra-fashionable youths are not using this language in heart-to-heart talk so that it can be looked on as dispensable. Some of them are giving currency to it on the electronic media. They are presenting different entertainment shows in which they are indiscriminately using this queer language. And the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young folks are taking huge fancy to it. These mock-smart presenters speak this heady Banglish brew as quickly as chanting incantations to ward off evil spirits. It is difficult to make out what they speak. They trill their r's artificially vibrating their tongues, which sounds very discordant on the Bengali ear. However, they, perhaps, do this to show off as ones out of the ordinary.
Some of the actors and actresses of the long-running TV soap-operas jauntily use this hybrid language. They seem to be sick of the timeworn and clichéd use of traditional Bangla, and hence want to spice it up. These people exert a tremendous impact on the impressionable youths who try to mimic their language with interest. The children of the Bangladeshi Diaspora across the globe try to learn their mother tongue mainly through these satellite channels. Are they getting a true impression of it from these corrupted approaches?
Apart from these freakish performers, there are a good many talk-show hosts and guests on different TV channels who are greatly distorting the language. Their political dissent sometimes gives rise to such angry altercation that they start shouting abuse at each other, which continues even after the camera is shifted from them for commercial breaks or the close of the show. They, too, do a great deal of abuse of their language. These sorts of formal public appearances also give the impression of a quarrelsome people, which may not be unexpected to the seasoned elderly, but it must be disgusting to the ingenuous youths who are growing with the great vow of tolerance and mutual respect. They want to watch their role models on the television, or listen to them on the radio.
The hybridization is also noticeable in the glitz and glamour of our music scene. With scant regard for our glorious musical legacy, some hipper musicians are composing offbeat songs by blending Bengali lyrics and Western rock, and spreading them throughout the young generation via satellite.
Every literature has a great contribution to the development of the language it is written in. In the long way of the development of modern English language-ranging from late Middle English author Geoffrey Chaucer to contemporary Ted Hughes- a series of authors have enriched the language through creative exploitation and new coinages. We notice similar process in the advancement of modern Bengali language too. Most of the Bengali men of letters had a wide knowledge of English language and literature, which exerted a strong influence on them that found expression in their writings. But that was neither a mindless mimicry nor an absurd fusion.
But what do we see in what we call present day literature in Bangladesh? The main stream of literary pursuits (judging of course, by quantity) has degenerated into junk due to the substandard writers who are spending a mint on quickly making their name. They feel an irresistible urge to appear in print in the shortest order regardless of whether they are going to have a flash in the pan. They usually take their chances on the occasion of February Book Fair. They are loath to allow much time for their publication, and hasten to give birth to children by a Caesarean. The baby born premature is usually left with physical and mental handicap. But it is not worth bothering with it. The point is to multiply the number. A poet like Shamsur Rahman published his first book in his own good time about a decade after he took to writing poetry. But these upstart writers are spawning tonnes of quick and dirty stuff called 'books'. The lesser mammals are more prone to procreation. These writing animals are abusing their native tongue by creating catchy pseudo-literary stunts. Admired by the cheap claptrap of the arty-farty spot- entertainers, their high self-esteem proves justified. There is, nonetheless, good writing, but it is unfortunately the exception rather than the rule.
The pristine purity of our language is being worst affected by these fake writers. We are encouraging our youngsters to develop reading habit. But what to read? Reading bad books may have an adverse effect on our children. Selection should be a prerequisite for reading. The bad books not only infect our kids with the abuse of language but also infect them with the abuse of knowledge. How can we forget the process of distortion of the history of our Liberation War? So the younger generation should read books judiciously selected at least until they attain enough maturity to select books on their own or to learn how to stay immune to fakes and falsehood.
This synthetic hybridization in the use of Bangla is posing a threat to the practice of its standard form. The subliminal effect of this multifaceted hybridization is a deterrent to the proper methods of learning language. This is not only incumbent upon the concerned teachers and the prescribed texts to teach standard Bangla. The print and electronic media can play a pivotal role in this regard. Through numerous programmes and shows, they can indirectly instruct millions of people in the right usage of language. But everything hinges on how well we understand the importance of a state language, and how seriously we preserve the dignity of a mother tongue. Bangla is not only our mother tongue, which we have been speaking for millenniums. We had to pay dearly for establishing our right to it. It is our highly prized possession! So it should not be open to abuse.
As far as linguistic abilities are concerned, Bangla is not a language to be sneered at. Tagore did not have any problem with it in winning the Nobel Prize. Bangabandhu found no problem with it in delivering his UN address. Satyajit Ray did not find it impossible to take his Bangla movie to the heights of Oscars. Our historic Mother Language Day (21 February) had not been disqualified from gaining the 'International Mother Language Day' status. So, why feel inferior? Some callow youths may think Bangla unfit for their eccentric taste, and therefore may like to take the responsibility to raise its standard by oddly injecting English ingredients into it. But we do not want to indulge their every whim. This clumsy blend resulting from a callous disregard for their mother tongue and a high fascination for the international language and Western culture is nothing but an outcome of a petty-imperial mindset. This sort of colonial hangover is always a big problem for free development of our own language and culture, which is a pressing need in this post-colonial era.
We do not, however, discourage our people from learning other language(s). We are not against any language. Every language has its own importance. Even the dead languages are not dead from the diachronic point of view. That's the spirit! We are never against it. But we are against the corruption of language. We should properly learn Bangla as members of the Bengali nation. This is our national duty incumbent more on the educated class. Together with this, we should properly learn other language(s), especially a second language. We should learn English as a citizen of the world. Bengali makes us self-conscious and English self-confident. Bengali captures the hearts and minds of our people, and English helps to have a good head on their shoulders. There is no contradiction between Bengali and English. Bengali is our sweet home, and English is our world! Bengali is the ground beneath our feet, and English is the sky above. We need the ground to stand on our own two feet. We need the sky, for it is our limit.
We want to learn both the languages. But we do not want to learn any distortion. Those who corrupt the language do not know it very well. Doctor Mohammad Shahidullah knew somewhere around seventeen languages, but his vast linguistic skill did not prompt him to distort his mother tongue. The great pillars of modern Bengali literature- from Madhusudan, Bankim, Rabindranath via 'five Pandavas of the thirties' and 'two Banerjees' of the post-thirties down to Syed Waliullah-all were well versed in English language and literature. But they produced pure works of Bengali literature. Although there are telltale signs of English influence on their writing, their language has not been infected by the germs of hybridity.
However, we are not meant to walk along the path travelled by those great masters of our language and literature. We would have our own sweet ways to look after our mother tongue. But we must have sincere love of it.r
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh.
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