Born to be a Bengali?

Bangladesh is steeped in history. Art, music, folklore, wars and struggles are all pillars of this magical land. When the foundations of a country are so deeply rooted in heritage, one cannot help but be patriotic. But loving your country, defending it from destructive criticism and donning the red and green on specific national days is great – until it’s not.

All too often, we see patriotism turn violent. We see it in the shards of broken glass of the dressing room of the opposing cricket team. We see it in the judging eyes of the people who wear black and white on Ekushey and see someone who wore colours. We see it in the trolls we make of other countries and give them weird names. We also see it in the cursing and foul-mouthed jabs of the “patriots” when other countries retaliate.

Loving your language is an amazing sentiment. Whether we speak Bengali as fluently as the next person, this sweet language brings a smile to our faces just the same. We love our black and white attire. In fact, most of us may even have succumbed to the marketing campaigns for Ekushey and shopped for an outfit to wear on that day. But if that is all we get out of the day, is it worth it? How many of us know which year the language movement happened? Was it a battle or a protest? Which year was it recognised as the International Mother Language Day? Can we quote the Bidrohi Kobi intelligently, in Bengali? Can we use and understand Bengali idioms as well as we can in English?

Come February each year, all that comes out from Ekushey is a new clothing line from various brands and the age-old English medium vs. Bangla medium argument. Pause for a moment and reflect: would it not be more patriotic and a more justified use of time to educate yourself on the history behind the day, or on the language itself? Can you sing a song in the Marma language? Can you name a painting by Zainul Abedin?  Language, fundamentally, is used to unite people, give people a collective identity. Education primarily helps you to learn things. When and why did we mix the two anyway?

What about our Independence Day – 26th March? How many of us can, within a millisecond, remember which day is dedicated to independence and which is Victory Day? Are the two terms interchangeable? What happened on 7th March and what happened on the 17th? Why is each of these dates so very special to us? Is it more Bengali to be able to hold intelligent conversations about these dates or simply draping a saree or kurta in the flag colours enough?

Spare a thought to the ever famous Boishakh. Panta Ilish, bharta and paesh fill our thoughts and senses, as they should. After all, the food and the art murals are an integral part of our heritage. However, does beauty only lie in the masks and floats designed by Charukola? As conscious ‘Bangalis’, can we not make an effort to avoid spitting and littering on the streets of our country so it can remain beautiful throughout? Just as we adorn the women in our lives with colourful sarees and flowers on Pahel Falgun, can we not nurture them throughout the year so that our sisters, mothers, daughters, wives and friends can feel spring every day?

Let’s also look at the ever-burning issue of cricket. Despite our national sport being Hadudu, we have chosen cricket as the most beloved sport of the nation. Where other countries prefer to promote and support their national sport to no end, we choose to fight over this one. So much so, that we seem to have stopped treating cricket as simply a sport and have instead made it a measure of patriotism. The more you support the Tigers, the more Bengali you are and who don’t are sure to be called names we better not promote in this write-up. It doesn’t matter that the person you call these names probably supports the education of five Bengali children in their neighbourhood. In fact, more ‘Bengalis’ are seen cheering inside the boundaries of the Mirpur stadium than standing for the Bangla National Anthem inside dimly lit theatres. Even worse is when patriotism turns to barbarism – we are known to have thrown plastic bottles and eggs at guest players and attack their coaches. We have also been known to curse other countries and make objectionable parodies out of their names. If the aim was to prove our patriotism by disrespecting other countries and their people, we seem to have done a stellar job!

Bangladesh is a land born out of struggle, it is a country born against all odds. It espouses bravery in the face of oppression and for standing up for the rights of its people. When we fight among ourselves, be it for language, for the colour of our clothes, or for the medium of education for our children, we forget that somewhere, a Bengali woman is being raped. Somewhere, innocent countrymen are deprived of fair prices of their products; somewhere, we are being sold expired goods as imports, somewhere, some religious establishment is being broken in the name of false patriotism, or that we have failed to provide justice to our brothers and sisters from ethnic minorities living in hills and flatlands.

This year, Bangladesh celebrated its 48th anniversary. We are indeed a young nation. However, in the age of digital communication, we must educate ourselves with the mantra to fight for the right reasons. Make a conscious effort to buy products which are made in Bangladesh, try to hold on to your trash until you see a dustbin instead of littering on the streets, choose to carpool and save the country from air pollution, make the effort to stand for the anthem when you are in the theatre, and do all of this, especially when, no one is watching you. Because patriotism never depended on what people see, it always depended on what you feel.

We are Bengali when we take in refugees when no other nation would. We are Bengali when we make primary education free for girls so that there is now more female enrolment than male in rural Bangladesh. We are Bengali when a daughter of the nation chooses to save 10 people from another country in an airplane accident instead of opting to save herself. And we are Bengali when we feel proud of the three Bengali women in the British Parliament. Know these statistics. There is plenty more to be proud of about this land than just cricket and the colours of red and green. The land is already golden. Will you help it shine?