Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 4, Issue 7, Tuesday February 20, 2007




Book bites

Did you know the corky kid named Pagla Dashu? He used to scare his teachers with silly pranks and do all the crazy things at school. Or inquisitive Opu and his elder sister Durga, who wandered far away from their village just to see the train pass by, the ridiculously daring teenager named Ram who messed around with the entire neighbourhood.

So whatever happened to these kids who inspired us to create our very own world? It has been a while that they have had anything to do with our lives. Dashu left school, Ram is in exile, and Durga and Opu are in oblivion because children are more into Pokemon, video games and nachos these days.

There was a time when books were the finest form of entertainment. They attracted the most famous of minds. “My first book was a book of rhymes named Hashi Khushi and Kanamachhi. It was fun to read and at the same time I learned my first words from this book”, said literary guru Professor Shirajul Islam Chowdhury. He remembers reading Ramer Shumoti by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhay when he was a teenager. He was touched by the bond between Ram and his Boudee, and her affectionate ways of scolding the spoilt teenager for his mischief.

Like every teenager, he loved to read detective books. “We loved Doshyu Mohon who was a private detective and more like a blend of Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes”, Chowdhury added. For Chowdhury, the supply of books was never a problem. “We used to exchange books with friends”, he says

Writer Mohammad Zafar Iqbal on the other hand, loved Thakurmaar Jhuli when he learned to read. As a teenager he also loved the Doshyoo Mohon series. “My family always encouraged me to read. We used to read together. My father used to read to the entire family and we all listened eagerly”, he said. Iqbal remembers listening to his father reading Borjatri by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhay. To him reading book is like spending time with a friend, the writer and an inquisitive mind that makes people think about the world unknown.

Thakurmaar Jhuli, books by Upendra Kishor Roy and Shukumar Roy, fables of Aesop were the favourites of painter, cartoonist Shishir Bhottacharya. “These books helped me in my early life with directions”, said Bhottacharya.

Chowdhury tries to find the reason behind the recent trend. “The problem these days is that we don't have too many writers who write for children and create something astonishing. Furthermore, children's books don't sell the way romantic books do”, says Professor Chowdhury. He believes that TV displays so many evil items that eventually it demonises children. “Today's children are losing their inquisitive minds. They are doing what they are told”, he mentioned.

Iqbal agrees with Professor Chowdhury. TV squeezes out all the questions and imagination out of our brains because they show everything on screen. “When we watch TV, our minds do not need to inquire. Everything is well-answered on the screen”, he added.

Bhottacharya thinks that children do not have proper directions in life. Life is hard for them these days. “Young minds grow up very soon. They begin all the battles of life fast. Before they skip to that part, children should get a taste of innocence and the wonderful world of books that will help them in the future”, he mentions, “In our times the senior brothers of the neighbourhood were the best persons to encourage. They established libraries and used to organise reading sessions. Today's children are not aware of this culture”, he says.

These three enlightened people and many others are already on the move to help construct a spirit for the next generation. Professor Chowdhury's 13-year-old grandson Anondo received Satyajit Ray's collection as his first book. Mohammad Zafar Iqbal's popular writing is inspiring many young minds. Shishir Bhottacharya loves the fact that his 10-year-old daughter Srabonti reads the books that he used to love.

Meanwhile the one eyed monster, the honest farmer and his axe, and characters like Dashu, Ram, Opu and Durga still await the attention of today's children… while they nibble on fast food and toy with remote control buttons.

By Shahnaz Parveen
Photo: Munem Wasif



The other day I was helping my daughter with her Bangla grammar home task, when my uncle, who was visiting from America, dropped by. What greeted him was a very mundane homely scene, yet he was totally perplexed.

I, who went to an English medium school, was teaching Bangla to my child, who goes to an English medium school, a matter of novelty to him; he was thoroughly taken aback.

I was once again baffled; I have been asked this question time and again, since my Grade II days, I think. Do I know Bangla? Can I read, write and understand Bangla? What a queer thought!

What irks me is their thought process. What is there not to understand? I live in Bangladesh, don't I? Bangla is my first language, isn't it? So why should my daughter or I not know it? I have no answer to such insane questions.

I don't know whether they think that English medium going children change their nationalities while enrolling to become British. But my ever-curious compatriots, never actually satisfied with my proficiency (comprehensive, spoken, and written, thank you very much) in this language, kept trying to stigmatise me without any grounds to do so. One person in fact took time to make me understand that I speak Bangla with a 'foreign' accent and hence his summation. How uncanny can this be?

I love my motherland. I am a Bangladeshi by birth and I speak my mother tongue, which is also my birthright. What is there to prove on my part or to talk about on their part?

Just out of mere curiosity (on my part now) I want to know that if I wear a sari or fatua or kameez that is block printed with different images of Bangladesh, will I be more acceptable? For instance if my clothes displayed motifs like a sparrow pecking on grains, a shapla blooming on a pond, boats sailing on Padma and hilsha popping up here and there, farmers reaping a harvest, or on a green canvas the red sun setting with Bangla alphabets running riot all over, or Bangla poems and songs, would I become a patriot?

Am I any less a Bangladeshi patriot because I don't speak the language like the television newscasters with their pathetic pronunciations? Or because I don't have an accent like that of the new breed of musicians, or because I don't mix and match 'Benglish' with local dialects like our respected bureaucrats do? Do I fall short of the mark even though my spelling isn't as inaccurate as what we see on official letters or textbooks, on the street walls or on banners?

Putting these petty and very tacky issues aside I just want to point out that, if I or any Bangladeshi for that matter, don't know our own language properly or aren't fluent and competent in Bangla first and foremost, then believe me, no one's going very far. Coming from an English-medium background isn't necessarily an obstacle to being proficient in our mother language, just as hailing from a Bengali-medium school isn't necessarily a guarantee that I will learn the language well. Cribbing over where one comes from takes us nowhere, and we just shroud our incompetence under such pseudo-patriotism.

I don't wear saris with Bangla alphabets, and I don't apply green or red eye shadow. However, I don't misspell or mispronounce my Bangla pronunciations, and neither do I feel the need to layer it with a 'phoren' accent. Now personally I think I am a better Bangladeshi and it's time I was accepted as one and not faced with silly questions.

On a completely different note I want to remind my critics that come February and we rage a war against English. Interesting how the British ruled us for two hundred years and never for once demeaned our language or asked us to speak theirs. The Pakistanis, however who ruled us for two decades or so and made it a point to dominate us by trying to impose Urdu as the national tongue totally ignoring Bangla.

English is a universal language and any civilised person should know it, in order to maintain liaisons with other nations and learn more about their cultures for the benefit of their own self first and then the country. Even if you speak in broken English with poor grammar, the world outside would know it is not your first language. But if you speak your first language, Bangla like the 'Sahibs' and say “I cannot write and read Bangla, or that I don't need Bangla because I will not live here” then I am sorry to point out that you are indeed a sorry person.

By Raffat Binte Rashid


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