Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
Bangladesh the nation was born in bloodshed, in a nine-month war of liberation from Pakistan in 1971. Local folklore has it that the principal progenitor of the war was Pakistan’s determination that the national language would be Urdu. For East Pakistan (well over 1000 kms from the seat of power in West Pakistan) this was a sleight too far. In East Pakistan the people speak Bangla and wanted to continue doing so. They took up arms in 1971 in opposition to Pakistan’s edict. The name ‘Bangladesh’ literally means ‘land of the Bengalis’.
Bangla is a language peculiar to the Ganges Delta. It unifies a great proportion of today’s Bangladeshi population. Even the Chittagong Hill Tribes speak Bangla (as their second language). In fact, it’s not unknown for teachers at our school to become fluent during their stint here.
The language contains quite a few English words, notably those which are used to describe objects or phenomena which had no history in the delta. These include technological devices like telephones etc but also plants and animals which did not originate here eg. dog.
“sorry” and “please”
Curiously, there are also no words in Bangla for ‘sorry’ or ‘please’ and only a vague resemblance of ‘thank you’. Local people say these pleasantries are missing from the language because they are understood via the tone of speech. Moreover, some people explain the lack of ‘thank you’ by saying that such etiquette is not required because doing something for your fellow man is expected and therefore not to be seen as going beyond the call of courtesy. Apparently, quite a few languages contain no words for ‘thank you’ and no expression for ‘please’ (Lingara, an African language is one example).
the cricket commentary
It’s interesting to listen to cricket commentary on the radio here. The Bangla speakers are describing the game in front of them in the same way that Australian commentators do. Every so often it’s possible to recognise a term which clearly had no evolution in the region. Peppering the dialogue, you can hear “midwicket”, “off stump” and “outside edge” intermingled with the Bangla. I suppose it goes to show how much jargon there is in sport, precisely the point made by Fred Dagg in his merciless parody on the mythical sport of farnarkeling.
The bilingual kids at school all have strong accents which are quite endearing. This includes the plosive ‘t’ and shortened vowels. The language – for reasons which are a bit difficult to fathom – pronounces ‘sh’ as ‘s’ and vice versa. They also pronounce ‘z’ as ‘j’ and vice versa. A town in the south of the country is called Cox’s Bazar after the penultimate governor of the region under the British Raj. The locals pronounce it ‘Cox’s Bajar’.
The written language is Sanskrit, a legacy of the invasion of the Muslims about a thousand years ago. English in written form is increasingly used in commercial spheres. This is where the Bangladeshi version of “Engrish” sometimes raises a wry smile. There’s a business group in Dhaka which has adopted the English name of “Good Luck”. They have various enterprises which – you’d think – shouldn’t really require the consumers to take such a risk as rely on good luck: Good Luck Motors, Good Luck Hair Styles etc.
The bloody liberation war left the country independent from Pakistan but dependent on NGOs. The retention of the language is held as the big prize and often quoted as the reason behind the sacrifices. Our school offers Bangla as a subject for study on the curriculum. Incidentally, the language martyrs (six people who were killed for their obdurate resistance to the Pakistani ruling on language) died on February 17 of that year. That day has become International Mother Language Day ever since. It comes from East Pakistan.
The photograph of the people on the top of the train was taken in Dhaka a few weeks ago. There had been a big Muslim gathering just north of the city. You will possibly be pleased to learn that the people don’t habitually ride on the roof like that. It looks a bit on the dangerous side, doesn’t it?
khoda hafez from Dhaka