I wonder how many Bangladeshis out there are ashamed of their rich cultural heritage? Anyone with so much history behind them should realize that they have an identity from the moment they are born. Many people today wonder about what they are and what their history is, but we do not have to worry about any of that. As February 21st nears, any person who speaks any language on that day and knows that 21st is the International Mother Language Day honours my nation and her people even as they honour theirs. This instils within me a pride that fills me rarely these days, particularly when I am forced to digest news of corruption, nepotism and criminal activities in all spheres of activity within this nation. It is something to marvel as to how be it possible that a nation with so much blood shed for her could have borne children bearing disregard bordering on contempt for the nation, people and for the very things that had led us to earn immeasurable respect in the eyes of the world?
“You are a normal, common man. Just one,” as I am often told off. My grandfather was a common person, yet he went to jail for dissent during 1947. My paternal uncle was a simple man trying to live his life when he picked up a gun and went off to fight the Pakistani Army. So many others were ordinary people who went off to war and raised their voice against injustice despite the odds against them. There were no superheroes during 1952 or 1971. There were only ordinary men with relic guns in their hands and a target – to free themselves from oppression. Sheikh Mujib was no superman, yet he secured a homeland where the Bengalis would be free to speak their own language. It may be that that ushered in an end for the very people that Sheikh Mujib had dreamt would get a new beginning. End of a time when people could have boasted about how they cared, for their fellow fellow citizens, for their culture and, above all, for their country.
While many rush to celebrate 21st February, who actually stops to wonder what the language revolution was truly about? Paying lip service to dead people is amongst the easiest duties that all of us can carry out. And we all stop right there. Sing songs of praise, write reams of text on their ‘great’ deeds and watch quietly as their stories are retold till we can tell every version to another who is unaware.
Many of us have failed to realise what makes ‘great’ people great, it is the legacy of their deeds and I stress upon legacy. They are great not because of their deeds, but because they have made an example of their life through their actions. Examples do not exist for show, tell and parade, but for emulation. That is precisely where the majority of us lack today. We fail to appreciate what would have happened had our martyrs stood down on those days decades back, when an oppressive government had them all squarely in its sights. It is not that different even today, as we are being targeted by our own failure to tackle poverty, bad governance and acting as responsible, alert citizens who can keep a check on our own government. On a personal level as well, we have called troubles on ourselves by neglecting to large extents those things that identify us as a Bangladeshi. Our culture is the result of centuries of filtration and refinement; our language was the primary reason that we have our own land; yet most of us fall over ourselves to adopt another culture and attempt to learn foreign languages by ignoring ours. The result is that we cannot connect to this country or to her language, or feel very comfortable with the foreign culture/language that we attempt to pick up. Exceptions excused here, there are many Bangladeshis who have completely integrated into foreign societies, but I am referring to the majority. I personally spent my entire life out of this nation, but my dedication to this nation has never wavered, nor have I ever felt that I must try to shed myself of this ‘Bengali’ tag.
1952 – 1971, roughly 20 years when I feel that the people of Bangladesh were aware of their duty as citizens of a country and fought to save her. I was not around then, but something tells me that the feeling in the air back then was quite different from the disappointment or hopelessness that permeates now.
And that brings us back. How many of you are ashamed of the language, culture and country for which so many people sacrificed their lives? If you are not, then honour the martyrs by living as honest, dedicated citizens of Bangladesh, who rise to the occasion when they are called upon to do so.