The Quintessential Bangalee
Mahmudur Rahman writes for DOT
Coming in close proximity Ekushe February and Pohela Boishakh have established the essence of the Bangalee. One relates to the right to a language thereby tramplingon the Pakistani design of imposing Urdu as the state language. The other is a bit more confusing. Introduced by the Mughal Emperor Akbar initially as a form of streamlining tax collection the Pohela Boishakh marked a new Bangla Calendar for businesses to embark upon a new year. And though it was that through the ages the occasion was earmarked to protest the dictatorship of H M Ershad. Today it has become a cultural renaissance that sparks the imagination of Bangalees in Bangladesh and, to a lesser degree in the Indian State of Bangla.
But neither of the two occasions have led to Bangla being established firmly as a language with not Urdu but English holding its sway. In the eighties Kolkata based intellectuals pointed to the success in all signage in Bangladesh being in both Bangla and English, something they have since bettered but not completed. But when it comes to day to day usage we find a hotch potch of the two language. Moreover, it took a stricture from our Prime Minister and a ruling from the court to get FM Radio Channels to put in an effort to ensure Bangla was spoken properly by the R-Jays. Even that hasn’t helped. And so just like scouring the signage for Bangla versions on Dhaka’s Road 27 in Dhanmondi we are still no closer. Government correspondence is refreshing in Bangla though still full of mistakes but with international companies doing business in the country, Bangla tends to take a back seat.
Traditional businesses do operate the Hal Khata accounts system, especially in the jewellery trade but even their receipts stake out in English any orders placed. For the general mass it is another day in the year with the privileged few celebrating through a combination of new clothes sporting the colours of spring, the traditional melas and culinary delights in essentially Bangalee fare. There will be renewed pledges to establish Bangla in all spheres of life but for now it is a commercial thing. The Boishakh offers do in a way taunt poverty with the poor man’s panta bhaat sold at exhorbitant prices and purchase of new clothes. That such expense can be better utilised by treating the less well-off doesn’t occur. The cost of the celebrations is huge ranging from the Mongol Shovajatra to the price of the Boishakhi fare and a fraction of this could be better served by helping the poor.
In between there’s great festivity and the other side of spending is a fillip to small businesses of quaint pottery, masks, toys and quintessential Bengali food and snacks. That these play second fiddle to the western style fast food for the rest of the year is lost on the teeming masses. And it’s also due to the inability of outlets to stock enough of these or putting them on display that is partly to blame. Even those few outlets which pride themselves in selling organic and essentially Bengali food items don’t have the reach or promotion to attract the buyer. Cell phone companies bombarding subscribers with Boishakhi offers of food and clothing don’t run year-long campaigns simply because demand is seasonal. Perhaps that’s the thought that might encourage the one-day revellery to become year-long and entrench the quintessential Bangaliin what is a Bangla way of life.
The writer is an author, columnist, communications specialist.