english 4 today @ Jahangirnagar University
My generation grew up waiting for the textbook called English for Today. The experiments of localizing and naturalizing the textbooks at the secondary levels could have had only one outcome: wait for the textbook for the first quarter of the academic year. Our teachers at high schools had no other option but to teach us from the previous year's book which was not going to be in our syllabus. So we read poems like 'Sands of Dee,' and halfway down the year, we abandoned the old book and embraced the new one to find out 'How to make a solar pond.' Through our fictive friend Tareq, we even ventured to New York and learned to eat spaghetti!
We got admitted to English, knowing it was a 'good' subject! However, it took us quite a while to realize that the subject had a rather civilizing objective to make the students 'good' human beings. For most of us, it was a giant leap from the narration and voice change that we have done at the Secondary level to a class that focused on 'personality' change, and demanded that we dive into a pool of imagination. So in a ti-tum ti-tum rhyme, we indulged in an Elizabethan sonnet in which the lover did not intend to climb up 'rotten boughs.'
Just when we were taking comfort in the orderly iambic pentameter and in putting accent on the right syllables, we were introduced to wrong 'accents.' We tried to make sense of the 'english' that was written with a small 'e' in order to subvert its link with the empire. This brought a significant change in our syllabus; 'English' became more than a chronologically arranged study of 'from-Beowulf-to-Eliot.' English Departments, inspired by critical theories, became an interdisciplinary and extended version of cultural studies; texts were read not only to understand the 'authorial intention' but also to appreciate their context of production, distribution and reception.
But our courting with the radicals received a dent as the reality bite of the job market had a go at our syllabus. The functional aspects of English became prominent, as we have to cram Victorian prose and poetry into one single course in order to make room for a course on Business writing. Then the Romantics were trimmed to make room for a course on ELT. After all, English Departments are now producing graduates for the service sectors, while competing with the students from the Business Administration. Of late, we have started producing teachers for the foundation English courses at various private universities. Within the Department, our constant endeavour has been to open up to other versions of the language from Africa, Oceania, the Caribbean islands and the Indian subcontinent. But little were we ready for the sms language that began to pop up in our examination scripts. So in a desperate attempt to prove it to our students (dubbed as the Generation Y) that we too are updated, we decided to title the seminar English 4 today.
In the last twenty years, in my limited and peripheral capacity, I have witnessed the transformation of the English Department at Jahangirnagar. I am sure the experience and contribution of some of the scholars and academics present here today outweigh mine. Over the years, many of them have played an active role in changing the course and the nature of the English Departments across the country.
Indeed, we are humbled by the presence of the luminary figures that have attended this session. Their attachment and commitment to the discipline have been our constant source of inspiration. As a gesture of appreciation, we are saluting two of our former colleagues who were a significant part of this Department. Prof. Zillur Rahman Siddiqui and Prof. Abu Rushd Matinuddin require no introduction: in honouring these two figureheads we honour ourselves. We sincerely believe that this seminar will forge a bond between the old and the new; it will initiate a critical dialogue and explore the scope and status of English as an academic discipline.
Whether we like it or not, English departments have evolved. While we can mourn for the loss of the 'English Departments' the way they used to be, we also need to find out what we need to do for the next day!
(Dr. Shamsad Mortuza is the Chair of the English Department, JU.)
english4today: Conferencing English into our Lives
For two days, participants from different English Departments from across the country gathered at Jahangirnagar University to take part in a curiously titled seminar english4today. Different strands and strains within the English Departments became obvious, and the suspicion that English as an academic discipline is undergoing an extreme make-over was confirmed. The functional and utilitarian aspects of learning the subject at the tertiary level were posed against the discursive functions of engaging critically with the literary texts that constantly question and challenge their own validity. One participant, Prof. Mohit-ul-Alam, maintained, “english4today was a conscientious attempt to deal with a difficult question of how English can be ours when it is not ours.” Prof. Fakrul Alam, on the other hand, sums it up brilliantly in saying, “Conferencing English into our lives,” which forms the present title.
It could have been just another drizzly Friday morning for Jahangirnagar University that was trying to recuperate from the heavy business during the week. Instead, it became even more busy, and pleasantly so. The sweet shower perched to the root and bathed every vein of the greenery of the campus. There was freshness in the air that could only be inhaled outside Dhaka, far from the madding crowd. Even those who were a bit iffy about troubling the thirty-km travel from the city centre were engendered by the exuberance that Jahangirnagar University (JU) had to offer.
The experience was made even more pleasant by the thoughtful décor put in place by the students of the host university. The trees guarding the streets leading to the venue from the main gate were laced together in blue ribbons to represent both the symbolic wave and the theme color of the English Department. The wave of color was interspersed by a series of transparent placards bearing titles of different sessions. Together they looked like sail boats rushing towards the shore (i.e. the auditorium) where the event was taking place.
There were eight academic sessions in which a total of twenty papers were presented; two panel discussions reflecting on the past and the present of the English Departments and the role of overseas cultural and resource centers in Bangladesh; there was an inaugural session attended by UGC Chairman Prof Nazrul Islam in which the convener of the seminar Prof Shireen Huq presented the key-note paper to set the tone, and one luminary figure of the host university Prof. Zillur Rahman Siddiqui was awarded a reception; and there was the closing dinner that staged the recitation of the department's resident poet Mohammad Rafiq. And all the while the display on notes and notebooks presented by the students of the Department was there to remind the audience of the shadowy 'ghost-texts' that dominate and even dictate terms from their Xeroxed or Cyber space.
The Chairman of the University Grants Commission, Prof Nazrul Islam was the chief guest of the inaugural ceremony. Prof Islam termed English not only as a language but as a tool. He shared some personal anecdotes to point the finger at the decline of English language in Bangladesh. The special guest, the Vice Chancellor of JU, Prof. M Muniruzzaman explained how English had become a universal form of communication. Prof. Shireen Huq, in her key-note speech, signposted the turning points in the history of the English Departments in Bangladesh, an idea that chimed with the succeeding panel discussion that pitted the past against the present. The session chair obliquely referred to the lack of vision in preparing students for English studies in his welcome address appended here.
Most of the paper presenters were not even born when the panelists started their teaching careers. National Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Prof. Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, Prof Husni Ara Huq, Prof Nurul Islam, and Prof Niaz Zaman reflected on their experiences at the English Departments.
At 84, Prof Kabir Chowdhury is still offering regular lectures at Dhaka University. His focus was on human relationships. In the late 40s, when Chowdhury was a student, the boys were allowed to talk to the girls in the university only after receiving prior permission from the proctor. He expresses his amazement when a female student today extends hands without any inhibition whatsoever to help him climb the stairs at DU. Chowdhury also lamented the obsessive materialistic showmanship that had become a part of campus life. During his time, no teacher had any private car (only one teacher's wife had one!). “What mattered most to the teachers was the scholarship of a teacher, not whether he was a Professor or whether he had a car.”
Prof. Siddiqui, the former VC and one of the founding figures of the English Department of JU, observed that change was inevitable. The Oxford tutorial model that was followed in DU in its formative years can no longer be a viable option because of the overwhelming size of the English Departments.
Prof Husni Ara Huq remembered how she used to walk to the campus (the present DMCH) every morning and the difficulties of being one of the first female students of DU. Prof Niaz Zaman regretted the fact that there was only one female author (i.e. Emile Bronte) in her syllabus. The first teacher to join the English Department at JU, Prof Nurul Islam, currently serving as a Dean at Eastern University, claimed that the brighter teachers of the present generation could outshine their predecessors. He based his observation on his exposure to the wide range of discursive practice applied by the new generation of teachers. The session was moderated by Prof. Shireen Huq of JU.
The academic sessions began after lunch. If anyone was planning a siesta at the back of the audience was brought back to the performance of Dr. Azfar Hussain. His theoretical re-reading of a poem by South African poet activist, Alexis Nyundai, “Speak Your Good English Up Your Ass” became a statement for the other englishes that take an oppositional stance against the mainstream English literature. The session was titled, “Theory: Passion or Fashion” was chaired by Dr. Shamsad Mortuza with Raihan Sharif and Hasan Al Zayed (East West) presenting papers on the fourth reader and Edward Said respectively.
The last session of Day 1 had two papers. While Dr Faheem Hasan Shahed (AIUB) and Dr. Sayeedur Rahman (JU) talked about email etiquettes, Mashrur Shahid Hossain (JU) demonstrated the hybridization of language through the fast development of SMS language.
Chairing the session, Prof Shaheen Kabir observed that the cultural hybridization was even more dangerous than that of the language one.
Day 2 had a climactic moment in the panel discussion that surveyed the presence and absence of overseas cultural and resource centres. The American Centre did not think it important enough, and so they left the session unattended. Dr. June Rollinson, the Director of British Council (BC), was showered with a wish-list based on its earlier involvement in the shape and growth of the English Departments. One panelist, Prof Fakrul Alam, had no inhibition in saying that BC had a significant role in his making by allowing him to access books, attend overseas seminars and scholarships. Nonetheless, he is perturbed by the excessive commercialization and lack of books on literature. It was becoming quite evident from the panelists that the Old BC, where students used to go for romantic moments, weekly film shows, British newspapers, and leafing through books, is gone. Dr. Rollinson also confirmed that their policy had changed, and the British government found it more important to empower the migrant workers and introduce them to English as a skill for living to the 80million people who were under the age of 22. Her comment that British Council cannot be a public library was a rude awakening to the fact, what the session moderator, the literary editor of the Daily Star, Khademul Islam has maintained all along, that the country needs to have its own English studies resource centre of which it can be really proud.
The second day of the seminar began with six papers on English Language Teaching with Dr. Arifa Rahman (IMLA) in the chair. Mahmudul Haque and Nazia Husain, both from BRAC University, talked about the implementation of Multiple Intelligences (MI) model as an effective approach of teaching English. The other papers were on the basic language skills and how they could be attained in a classroom setting.
After a sumptuous lunch at the university cafeteria, the mood once again swung from language to literature. Prof. Fakrul Alam highlighted the importance of South Asian writing as a regional category that will give local writers a global voice. Dr. Shamsad Mortuza's paper was on William Blake's use of the bardic symbol to hammer his prophetic zeal, and Milton Abdul Hye talked about apocalyptic elements in DH Lawrence. The session was followed by the one on Gender. Prof. Mohit ul Alam's paper on Shakespeare made it obvious that English Departments cannot do without Shakespeare. The last session of the day on translation/transcreation was presented by Sabbir Ahmed Chowdhury with Prof Shafi Ahmed in the chair. Chowdhury focused on the cultural transpositioning of Shakespeare's Macbeth by Vishal Bhardwaj in his Bollywood film, Maqbool.
There were four installations put on display. The first one involved the Not-(e)-volution. Here, the early cave print is shown as a form of note-taking which has transformed into a digital one. The last stage is shown in futuristic setting where an alien teacher is beaming notes into the heads of its students. Then there was one on pirated knowledge, presented by a ship full of pirated books heading towards the English departments. The third one is about the identity crisis of an English graduate caused by the simultaneous exposure to a variety of disciplines. The puppet with a cricket hat, gamchha on shoulder, rock T-shirt, half-dhoti-half-jeans, one-slipper-one-shoe featured the identity crisis, which was adjudged first by the panel of judges. The last one came close to winning through its scarecrow status that both objects and reflects on its abject state vis-à-vis notebooks. The crows of notebooks are sitting on the shoulders of our scarecrow students who try to locate themselves in the field of knowledge. However, their abject state is symbolised by their inability to scare away the crows.
The event came to a full circle when the participants were asked to join for a closing dinner at Bengal Café in Dhaka. The highlight of the session was the recitation of poetry by poet Mohammad Rafiq. Prof Shaheen Kabir read out the translations that have been recently anthologized by none other than Norton.
The seminar was probably just the tip of the iceberg. What lay beneath was the relentless effort, meticulous planning, panicking and clock-beating of a workforce that was led by the event manager Mashrur Shahid Hossain. There are so many names that we should take. We are naming those who have weathered the mosquito bites, sleepless nights, and stage frights: Mashfique Habib, Shahriar kabir, Sharmin Afroz Shantu, Ashfia Taleb, Md. Mizanur Rashid, Armin Sanjida Khan, Fatema Asfara and many others.
(Students of English Department, Jahangirnagar University)
A two-day conference was held at the Central Auditorium Seminar Hall Room of Jahangirnagar University on 20 and 21 June, 2008.The theme was “english4today”, more elaborately; English now and then. This conference programme was arranged by the Department of English, JU. The students of the department showed their creative talent in depicting different posters in the function.
The UGC Chair-Professor Nazrul Islam inaugurated the function as the Chief Guest. National Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Professor Niaz Zaman, and Professor Hosne Ara of the Department of English, DU spoke on the occasion.
Professor Niaz Zaman and Professor Hosne Ara appreciated the special study course programme of the Department of English, JU. They also appreciated that many Indian words have been introduced in English Language like “Guru” (Master) by some famous writers. In fact, there are some Asian and Post-colonial writers who have changed the tradition of English Language internationally. The Convenor of the Conference Programme, Dr. Shireen Huq, the Chair of the Department Dr. Shamsad Mortuza, The Vice Chancellor Professor M. Muniruzzaman and all the guests attending the conference spoke highly about the initiative.
The most interesting statement was given by the UGC Chair. He said that, as Bangla speaking citizens, we should stress importance on pure Bangla pronunciation as well as on English.
I felt that the theme of the conference is very relevant in recent times. The “new” English language, used in different spheres like in e-mails, online chats or in sms world, has proved to be different from the traditional English Language. Today, modern English has undergone many changes.
The conference also included ELT (English Language Teaching). This is used in national and international job markets nowadays. The conference addressed useful and beneficial details of ELT.
The speakers addressed many other relevant issues which enriched the knowledge of the students. They also appreciated the efforts taken by the Department of English, which were unique in the history of the department. A follow up conference or similar efforts elsewhere in Bangladesh can help students in general, not only those of English literature.
(Writer is a 3rd year under grad student, Department of English, JU)
Two days at JU English Department
Mosaddek Ahmad Boshir
The Department of English, Jahangirnagar University organized a seminar on the theme of “ENGLISH 4 TWODAY” on June 20 and 21 at the University seminar room. It was unique in many ways.
Distinguished speakers and professionals took part in a critical dialogue in order to understand the state and scope of English as an academic discipline in the country. The seminar explored the evolution of the English departments vis-a-vis the growth in the service sector as well as the emergence of the private universities. Indeed, a seminar like this one promises to act as a platform where experiences are shared and fresh ideas generated for the overall growth of the English departments in Bangladesh.
The chairman of the University Grants Commission Professor Nazrul Islam was present as the chief guest and Vice-Chancellor of Jahangirnagar University Prof. M. Muniruzzaman was the special guest. Chairman of the English Department Dr. Shamsad Mortuza presided over the inaugural session. In the inaugural ceremony, the Department of English bestowed honour on two of its former members: Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqui and Professor Abu Rushd Matinuddin.
The keynote paper was presented by professor Shireen Huq, convener of the conference. A total 21 papers were presented in 8 sessions during the two-day seminar. It also included two panel discussions. The first panel discussion, English Departments in Bangladesh: 'Then and Now', which was participated by National Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqui, Professor Nurul Islam, Ms. Husni Ara Huq, and Professor Niaz Zaman. Professor Shireen Huq moderated the session. The other panel discussion on 'Overseas Cultural and Resource Center' was participated by Dr. Syed Monzoorul Islam, Dr. Fakrul Alam, Prfessor Arifa Rahman, Professor Shafi Ahmad, Dr. Azfar Hussain, Dr. June Rollison and Ahmad Raza. Khademul Islam, the literary editor of The Daily Star, was the moderator.
(Writer is a student of English Department, Jahangirnagar University)
(R) thedailystar.net 2008