21 February: Bengali Language Movement

1992. Dhaka, Bangladesh

I peeped withone eye open asa nudge woke me up.
-“Wake up bapji, we gotta get goin! You don’t wanna miss the right time!” , a heavy lion-like voice spoke to me.
-“Can I wear sari, shadashari, kalo par (White Sari, black border)?”,  I  peeped from under the blanket, one eye open.
-“You’ve got walk a long way…my little girl will trip-over!”, he gasped.
-“Won’t you wear the white salwar and black orna, I brought for you?”,  my father told me lovingly.
-“Can I wear it when I grow up?”, I asked.
I only heard his  booming laugh.

 Half an hour later, I sat at the back of our car, watching my mother in passenger seat, in sari and dad dressed in our national dress, Punjabi,driving towards Old Dhaka.
As the big castle like building came into view, and I saw the big white gates, which, ba (short for baba in bengali) said, was made, so that the King’s elephants could walk through.
-“Ooooo…High Court! Are we going to the Shaheed Minar, ba?”. I asked excitedly.
He smiled in reply.
-“ Do you remember our Bhasha Andolon (Language Movement)? ”, he asked me casually, as  we parked our car near the High Court  area.
A few mixed up dates caught up in my head, 21 February, 25th March, Independence Day, 16December, and I confused all the stories he told me.
I began counting my little fingers and my baba picked me up in his arms.
-“Why are you walking barefoot?”, I asked.
-“ It’s  a tribute to our brothers’ whoshed blood for our language, and today you’ll present this little flower for them.”,he handed me a  Rajani Gandha and  walked towards the Shaheed Minar  offering his free hand to my mother. 

1952 Dacca, East Pakistan.

 Nearly 50 years ago on a similar wintry morning, a girl stood amongst the protestors in front of the Dhaka University campus. There was an aroma of burnt leaves in the chilled wintry February air. In front of the Faculty of Arts, Dhaka University,Snigdha did not notice the aroma, or the peaceful fog about her. Inside her wasa burning passion for her mother tongue, Bangla. The world better knew as Bengali. The mother tongue of world renowned Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Jagadish Chandra Bose. The right to speak Bengali was about to be taken away; Snigdha and her people would be forced to speak, readand write Urdu. Urdu was to become the official language of EastPakistan, like it was in WestPakistan. But how was it to be? Bengali had been the general language for East Pakistan since forever! If bengali would be made unofficial, thenbengali would loose its significance. The majority of East Pakista nspoke Bengali. The thought of every child being raised from then onto  forcefully  speak a different tongue, instead of thei rmother tongue was unbearable. It was only the beginning of West Pakistan dominance over East Pakistan. It had to be stopped before it went out of hand!

Snigdha thought it was a good idea to protest about the decision, the other day at the Dhaka University, National Language Committee. The students all decided to pledge a Language Movement.Although this brought about strikes in the educational institutions, but this was about“Freedom of Speech”, she thought. Maulana Abdul Bhashani supported the protest, which meant they were not wrong. As she approached the gathering, her heartbeat began racing! This was it! With all her passion she joined in with the slogan,

-“Matri bhashabangla chai,Matri bhasha bangla chai,” (Bangla be our mother tongue!)

The mob approached with revolting voices only, of students demanding their rights of speech, of freedom.And suddenly Snigdha wrapped her hands around her ears, the sound was tantalizing, the firing bullets, the unfinished voices only ringing around the February air, a melange of pain, anger, revolution.

1992. Dhaka, Bangladesh

-“Here we are my little angel,”, my dad pointed at the bring red ring behind the Shaheed Minar.
-“Now we pray for Barkat,Rafiq, Jabbar and Salam.”
I looked up as my ba prayed for the souls and I copied him.
-“How will they know it’s from me ba?” I asked leaving my little white rose in a corner.
-“Because you will remember them everytime you speak. ”, he said proudly.

2000. Dhaka, Bangladesh

 -“Mark this year, my Snigdha. Ekushey is no more just our Omor Ekushey. Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar and Salam has reached every corner of this world, it is now International Mother Language Day.”
I said nothing, but smiled and wiped a tear with my sari. I was named after  my grandfather’s sister. A participant at the Language Movement 1948.


&copy Tasnim Hafiz 2013

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