A Tragic Blow
Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
“Ai, what're you doing?”
I peered over the hardbound collection in my hand and looked at my friend. It was obvious he was least bit interested in what I was actually doing. I replied indignantly, “Ummm…. reading a book?”
“What're you reading?” His next question was coupled with a frown.
“It's this book called Tukun.…”
“WHAT? A Bangla book?!” He cut me off before I could finish. With a snort, he rolled his eyes and walked away, leaving an air of condescension.
“Who reads a Bangla book? You're so khat, dude!”
Many who read the aforementioned episode may not believe it is borrowed from a real life incident. Back in fourth grade when Harry Potter was the new synonym for “cool”, I remember being picked on for visiting Ekushey Boi Mela and coming to school with a Bangla book in my backpack. Things have changed since then, question remains whether Bangla books have evolved to become fashionable and “cool”.
As a culture, we have a tendency to blame others for our own shortcomings. The past years, I have pondered on whom we can shoulder the responsibility of popularising (or the lack, thereof) Bangla books amongst children and young adults. Coming from an English medium background and therefore, representing a very small and guilty-on-popular-target section of the population, it is often disadvantageous for me to point fingers at the masses. Is something wrong with our schools, our teachers? Is something wrong at home? Is it our government? Is there a lack of children's book authors who can address different tastes? Is it us, as individuals? Who could have possibly done enough wrong to make reading in our mother tongue “uncool”?
It's almost exhausting how intricately complicated this blame game is. Sometimes, it's easier to blame our parents. I never cease to be surprised on meeting the numbers of parents who think reading books beyond textbooks is a colossal waste of time. Our grading system generous as it is often paranoids parents into thinking their kids won't survive the competition. More often than not, I met parents who want their children to have a strong foundation in English and therefore consider books in any other language rather distracting. After all, a strong hold of this globalised language is a massive investment of their wallets.
But then, I come across schools that do greater damage. Literature, especially one that is contextual is rarely a classroom component. Our way of teaching and learning is so exam-centric or curriculum-centric that anything beyond the given formula is considered heresy in the name of education. Few would introduce a decent Bangla classic in class the way Newton is. Why can't we discuss what we felt after reading Amar Bondhu Rashed (Muhammad Zafar Iqbal) or Sukumar Roy's poetry? Why should it be something we memorise before an exam and forget once it's over? The glory of our language isn't limited to black panjabis and white sarees on 21st February, or a cultural show and a half-hearted publication. At least, I hope it isn't.
Yet, when I spoke to parents and teachers about introducing more Bangla books in their children's lives, it all bottoms down to one complain we just don't have enough good local writers. In their unanimous opinion, there seems a genuine lack of imaginative and appealing authors who write for children and caters to different sensibilities. In recent times, the problem seems even more prevalent. The plot crawls around a hackneyed pattern and often, in an urge to keep up with upcoming trends, fails at being as creative and unique as it had the potential to be.
What shocked me the most is the number of young students I've come across recently who are actually frightened to pick up a good Bangla (or English) book because their medium of education prescribed otherwise. They are so worried they won't understand the content that they simply avoid reading altogether. What a shocker in an era of prolific globalisation and new media domination!
Unfortunately, all this sums up to one ugly truth. Bangla books are more “uncool” than ever, and would rather be left ignored. If we don't act soon, we might lose the few shreds of history and language we still have, and our children grow up to become more unaware of their roots. Let us not invite another tragedy into our system.
(The writer is the founder and adviser of the nonprofit youth organization 1° Initiative. She is currently enrolled at Independent University of Bangladesh.)