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     Volume 7 Issue 11 | March 14, 2008 |

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The canary in the coalmine vs. the Other on the ground

Mustafa Zaman

Rabindranath Tagore

The imposition of promito or standardised Bangla never seems so close to being a Quixotic project, when considered vis-à-vis the vast horizon that is Bangla literature. The very fact that the project of the babu culture of the 19th century Kolkata still comes back to haunt us and attempts at dumping the very oceanic sense that governs all languages is something of a mystery.

It is the academics and the people with an austere bend of mind (representing the authority) which continue to breed the illusion of homogeneity of language in a country which is not only teeming with dialects, but also has a history of multiple streams of thought and idioms existing in a single period.

Why then this futile attempt at standardisation? I can think of an explanation. With the advent of modernity, which reached Bengal through the erstwhile coloniser, we have been robbed of the cyncretic in our cultural milieu that used to be the signature of this delta. To gage that loss one can easily survey the vast literary output of modernist inclinations and then compare the result with that of the works of the poets of the pre-modern or pre-morbid era.

Lost ethos leads to all sorts of quirky behaviour, pseudo-actions and lastly words of mouth that strive to dictate the masses and attempt at taming the tumult that is the collective consciousness.

The recent fear that the Dejuice culture is spoiling the broth is unfounded. The Dejuice mode, or should one say attitude, is not here to stay, and is an effect not a cause. So, an assumption of this nature only reflects a Sancho Panza-like psyche beneath the veneer of dogmatism. Notice how an imagined Islamic revival, the return of communism, or even the lore of the laity taking over the culture of the moderate urbanites are issues that have the same signs of fear written all over it.

Behind this fear lies the edifice of the colonial inheritance dilapidated, but still has some years left to meet its final demise. This totalising structure the construct of the mind that constantly craves official approbation -- is undoubtedly linked with the hierarchy of power and state authority.

Though the phrase “freedom of expression” has been the mainstay in the ethos of this hierarchical lot who profess the necessity of promito language the very word freedom, interestingly is always presented in between quotation marks (though invisible), as it is too narrow a space to accommodate any thoughts related to the vast majority.

Since the introduction of modernism and the rise of the media, reductivism has acquired an aura of religiosity. It is going places courtesy of the contemporary poets and writers. In all probability, their singularity of mission behind that seemingly polyphonic linguistic device called modernism only helps create an illusion of democracy and syncretism.

However camouflaged it is in democratic hues, in reality, modernism is nothing short of a unifying force. In this part of the world, it is colonial in design and also a mechanism used by many to reject all other paradigms, especially of the indigenous origin. And it is not a mere fantasy to see it in the light of a Nazism of sorts. Please have a look at the writings of the Futurist movement of the early 20th century, and think twice of the Order ushered in by way of expressing hope and hubris centered on the technological advancements made at an extraordinary quick pace.

However, at present, when the Saussurian linguistics have already provided us with a solid ground to have dispensed with the unitary ideological space, by way of extrapolating that we constantly live in proximity with variables -- though we are unable to fully fathom its expanse through cognition. So, the dream of an idealised form of language itself is a Quixotic one.

The concept that the rest of the nation will abide by an order in which only the educated have located their safe heaven is a self-defeating one. It is futile and has always been so, since the day the babus of Kolkata gave birth to a standardised Bangla heavily peppered with Sanskrit with the moral support of the Raj.

Rabindranath was a man who stood at the opposite end of such social malaise and rejected outright the notion of a standardised Bangla. As one of the most potent minds of his time, he trashed the idea saying that Bnagla would always go back to its prakrito source (archaic origin) to strengthen itself and would always consider the verbal front as its closest kin in order to remain dynamic.

One who wrote the couplet below is often wrongly looked at as the guardian of standard language because of one specific foot-fault at the twilight of his life, by laying bare his intention to assign Sunity Kumar in charge of holding the fort of language.

Abhoy dao to bali amar wish ki
Enkti Chhatak sodar jole baki teen poa whisky

Notice the conspicuous 'wish' an English word. I am tempted to speculate: had Rabindranath lived in our era of Dejuice culture would he have had any qualms about revealing his lighter side in hybridised form, which the civil sociality personnel so fervently disapprove of? The answer to this we would never know, not until time travel is made possible courtesy of science.

However, looking back at the corpus of literature of one of the most prolific of all writers one easily realises how diverse his spectrum of interest was. The above lines, as in all the footprints he left behind, proofs are aplenty that he was a man who had no fixed notion of Bangla when it came to framing any idea in words.

Perhaps the critics of today's fun as well as pun-loving generation have lost this sunny side of the mind where that piquant sense of humour is located. In his time, Ranbindranath unflinchingly dubbed these witless literati carefully breeding a non-interactive attitude towards life as “dead”, though not clinically.

The ivory tower persona has always been notorious for lacking any sensitivity to how the majority speak and live their lives. The phrases like ajaira pechal and kathin bhab may not be here to stay, but they did not spread across the nation, as claimed by many, through the Djuice adverts. They were there -- in fact have been a mainstay for a decade or so in the popular dialect of the city dwellers, only the neo-babus never found any cause to acknowledge their presence.

The recent fear by a conscious or should I say cautious quarter of intellectuals, known for their unrestraint espousal of Western Modernism and Enlightenment, can be analogised with that indomitable desire of the Caliban to look at his own reflection and not see himself but an artificial image where all imperfections remain obscured.

Time has come for these glitterati to stop assuaging a muse that has been undisturbed by local knowledge and practices. It is not an unlikely phenomenon that some who walk on the same terrain, do so with full realisation of the reality they are a part of.

Fatema Tuz Zohra, being a Nazrul geeti singer, seems well aware of the working of that great vortex called language. She clearly states in an interview with the monthly Purple, that he (Nazrul) experimented in his songs with language in different ways. He applied Urdu and Persian words to various extend…

One must remember that when Rabindranath raised an issue with Nazrul with regards to his fusion, he rested his argument on the premise that if some words are not recognizable to the Bangalis then it should not find its way into their body of literature. But later, the elder poet revised his position, declaring that if the Muslims are habituated to using certain words, then foreign words have all the right to seep into the domain of puthis or books.

A canary inside a coalmine gives birth to a set of strange, but in most occasions, intentionally misleading binary opposites exposing its willingness to manipulate the presentation of reality and class relations. The civil (aviation) society of our clime with their lofty ideals has already travelled far, so far that they have lost the sense of the Other, like the canary. Therefore, they can afford to engage themselves in pseudo-actions and take pride in generating half-baked knowledge; both make them look like minions.

Governed as they are by colonial knowledge and a strong sense of chronological snobbery they think they have reinforced their social as well as political position by taking a strong position -- sanctimonious in shade -- against Bangla movies, uncensored Jatras, and even Lalon's spiritual discourses, (especially of Islamic origin), along with the vast topography of poetry of the past era -- especially of the Middle Ages, as they are easily given to a culture defined by finery, ultra-sophisticated dialect, and that formidable kinetic epicentre of the upper-class which we call discerning taste.

The culture of East Bengal (Bangladesh at present) had never been and fortunately will never be exclusionary. And in response to the fertility of the land below, the true exponents of literature and arts will always be maximalist in impulse, not to intimidate the minimalist, but to do justice to that wide and interactive horizon called literature.

So, one can easily say, without fear of retaliation from any quarter, that language is the ultimate vehicle of expression where the collective meets the personal. And as any advocate of literature would attest that the authoritarian interference, or in other word, academic, governmental as well as organisational restraints only leads to a downgrading of unprecedented nature.

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