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                   Volume 11 |Issue 07| February 17, 2012 |


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One Off

To Redeem the Sacrifices of the Language Martyrs

Aly Zaker

February is a month of special significance to us. I should think that time is now ripe to take a look at our achievements as a nation. Since my field is performing arts, I would keep my discussions within that confine. When a national day approaches I am confronted by the media with questions like what I thought was our achievements in drama on the Language Martyr's Day or the Victory Day or our Independence Day, etc.

I feel embarrassed at times to respond to such queries and frustrated at others that such questions are asked at all! If we look for plays on our language movement we will find that 'Kobor' by Shaheed Munier Chowdhury is the only play worth mentioning. A number of plays have been written on our glorious War of Liberation but not many could be designated as time tested work except for a couple by Syed Shamsul Haq.

Therefore, I usually refrain from answering such questions. Freedom, for a nation, is an ultimate achievement. One does not necessarily have to make that the subject of their creative endeavour. One should, on the contrary, be inspired and enthused by it. This is how such achievements, as we had wrested for ourselves, have worked with nations across the globe. And great people in the creative arena in most places have emerged from such achievements.

A famous Bangladeshi poet and playwright who says, “It is difficult for a colonised people to come up with great pieces of art”. The great creators of our subcontinent, who fought the onslaught of colonialism at various times of history, are exceptions that prove the rule. Rabindranath, Jibananda Das and Nazrul bear testimony to that. I cannot even imagine what height would they have reached had they been born in a free country.

That said, what made them great is the fact that, though very aware and expressive about the domination of our land by the British colonialists, they went beyond topicality and created great pieces of art that have lived well and shall continue to inspire us in the predictable future. Content emerging from contemporary history will, needless to say, influence a creative person but art has to transcend barrier of time and space. Therefore, it cannot be merely topical. The contemporary cataclysms, tragic or otherwise, do influence a creator and have often cast a shadow in their work. Such upheavals, however, should not be overbearingly present to make the latitude of their brilliance stunted.

Imagine Sophocles singing the glory of the Greek emperors and the Greek victories in various battles rather than penning his great tragedies (!) or Shakespeare eulogising the achievements of King Richard the lion heart rather than writing his unforgettable plays and poems! I would venture to submit that, despite what some might think, topicality is not the best forte for creativity.

The best that we can and, I dare say, should do is to try and create plays or poems, fiction or films that would have a universal appeal rather than limited connotation. As has been pointed out earlier, good work surpasses time, space and even linguistic barrier. Writers of Indian origin are now making big name in world literature. They are writing in a language other than their own. If a Bangladeshi can achieve such feat in any language or such a language that has universality, painting or cinema for instance, then we will have redeemed the sacrifices of the martyrs of our language movement. And a national day would be befittingly celebrated.

This, of course, does not preclude the fact that our grip over our own language, culture or any other medium of expression will have to be well founded. I have more than once been sad at the discovery that those who are constantly reminding us in almost a jingoistic overtone of our responsibility towards being inward looking are, in fact firstly, not adequately learned and secondly, naval gazing. In fact, we were far more learned when we were battling to rehabilitate our own culture in its own land and in the rightful place than we are today. Matters of intellect, tragically, have been subjected to mediocrity.

This will take us nowhere. And we will continue to languish in a self-imposed confinement in a 'free country'.

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