21st February: The shaping of a country’s destiny and my amour with Bangla Stories

My schooling days started off with going to a very fancy British Curriculum based institution where I spent my entire adolescence. I was exposed to different dimensions of learning starting from liberal arts, culture, sports, humanities etc. but a comparatively less importance on my mother language Bangla. It was a strictly conducted English medium school and we were charged a fine for speaking Bangla within campus premises, for instance, Taka 2 per Bangla word. So basically, that’s how I spent my entire childhood at school being all alert and conscious of not blurting out a Bangla word in fear of being fined. Yes, we were definitely taught in school about the phenomenal language movement of 1952 that today, on the 21st February is celebrated across the globe as International Mother Language Day. Ekushey February is a red letter day that goes back sixty-four years ago during 1952 when Bengalis, as a nation, were caught up in a struggle against the then state dispensation for the recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages of the then Pakistan. On this day, students held a mass demonstration in Dhaka against the decision to impose Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan. Police opened fire resulting in killing of several of the demonstrators. This massacre aggravated the situation and soon shaped a national movement for rights and justice. And the rest is history. The 21st of February is a date like any other one on the calendar. But Ekushey February is much more. Beyond its numerical value, “Ekushey” is not a date, but a phenomenon in our national lives. The tremendous power of this phenomenon, its élan vital, is reflected in the ambivalence of its commemoration every year. The formal trappings of the day, designated as “Martyrs Day” and the only holiday when the national flag flies at half mast, is of mourning. The ambience, however, is celebratory. People walk barefoot, wearing black badges to the Central Shaheed Minar. The somber monument stands proud and flood-lit, flower-bedecked. Brilliant alpona motifs and quotes from Bengali poetry written on the walls and streets all around the monument create an aesthetic experience far removed from grief. After years, when I was in my 6th grade, knowing the kind of a crazy bookworm, I happen to be, one of my friends gifted me with a Bangla fiction book called “Kohen Kobi Kalidas” written by the legendary Humayun Ahmed. Yes, that was officially my first ever encounter with a Bangla storybook and I was in love. I was in love with the book, the simplicity, the passion, the beauty of my language. I remember I kept reading the book over and over again and began to regard that very book as my best birthday present ever! And that was it; my never ending journey with Bangla literature. I explored my language like never before, an expedition of knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment, sophistication and artistry. I never stopped since then and have continued reading, fathoming and comprehending my beautiful language: the language that pours down love and warmth, the language that I have a romantic affair with. Every year on the 21st February, like all the other proud Bangalis, I remember and mourn for the valiant martyrs who led from the front in shaping our destiny, our language, our nation and the proud Bangla speaking community we are today throughout the globe. We simply cannot thank these heroes of our nation enough for achieving the long cherished dream and freedom for us to speak in our language, our mother tongue which upholds our identity and our individuality. Today, Ekushey February has enriched our aspirations, our culture, and our creativity and dignified our struggle as a sublime achievement in the world. Ekushey February does us proud as Bengalis. Remember my friend, it is not Bengali, it is BANGLA; Amar Shonar Bangla. “Because without our language, we have lost ourselves. Who are we without our words?” ? Melina Marchetta

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