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Music, poetry, plays and art -- culture on the whole has always had a major impact throughout our national history. Politics may bring down tyranny, change policies but its culture that promulgates the message to the masses, generates awareness and takes a national movement to its peak. After 40 years of independence, where do we stand? What are our achievements? Some of the country's leading cultural personalities talked to The Daily Star on several issues.

Farooque, actor

I never fret over what my country has or hasn't given me. I'm more concerned about what I can do for my country. I want to give it my best. I gambled with my life in the battlefields during the Liberation War. Bangabandhu's rousing speech on March 7, 1971 inspired me to go to war. Death looming everywhere didn't dampen my intentions. Setting out to fight for one's motherland is a big test of patriotism and a sacred responsibility.

I believe we should concentrate more on what we can do for our country, rather than what it can offer us. That approach is powerful enough to change the whole country. My decision to work in films was triggered by my love for the country. Cinema earned me the love of the masses.

I want to do more for my country but I feel like my time is limited. Then I console myself with the hope that our young would resolve these crises. I know one day the wheels will turn. My biggest achievements are being a freedom fighter and an artiste.

Minu Haque, dancer and choreographer

During the Liberation War, the Pakistani Army wanted me to perform at the Governor House (now Bangabhaban), but I declined and went to India with freedom fighters.

We stopped at Bishramganj, Agartala, Tripura of India where Bangladesh Field Hospital (the first field hospital during the war) was providing medical treatments to the wounded freedom fighters and refugees. It was a 480-bed hospital with both surgical and medical units. It was run by Bangladeshi doctors, medical students and volunteers. I worked there as a nurse and assisted doctors. One of the trustees of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, Bangladesh, Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury, who joined the Liberation War leaving his FRCS examination to be held that year in England, along with Dr. Mobin Chowdhury and Dr. Capt. Akhtar, founded the hospital.

We got inspired when Commander in Chief of The Liberation Forces and of the Bangladesh Forces General M.A.G. Osmani and the first Indian Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw came to visit us. Wounded Freedom Fighters from Sector 2 came to the hospital for treatment.

The hospital was operational from July to December, 1971. The Bangladesh Government in exile, the Indian Government and several others nations helped the hospital with medicines, surgical equipments and more.

Later in December, when the war tightened its grip, we were shifted to Kolkata.

Liberation War was a demand of the time. I consider my participation in it as the greatest achievement of my life. After 40 years, when I look back, I regret that this is not what we fought for.

If we all unite to do something great for the country, positive changes are bound to happen. I run a dance school, Pallabi. I would like to enrich the practice of dance in the country. I believe dance should be included into the education system. I believe that the next generation of artistes will bring about that change.

Syed Shamsul Haq, writer and poet

I have received several awards from the country, which are more than what I deserve. I am humbled by the respect and admiration demonstrated by the people of my country where literacy rate is minimal. A few months ago, I, and a friend who was visiting from England, went to Barisal. My friend was bowled over by the hospitality accorded to us. Even the restaurants refused to take money from us. My friend wrote about this experience in The Guardian.

My country has given me countless things. My poems, novels, essays and plays -- all of my literary works are based on the country and its people. Bangladesh has, and will always be my muse. In my writings, I have tried to articulate my ties to my motherland.

Qayyum Chowdhury, artist

Light, air, water, earth, shade and more -- I'm indebted for all these elements to the country. I cannot stay abroad for too long. Whatever achievements I've had, have happened because I'm a citizen of a free country.

Painters should uphold the country's culture and traditions through art. Art is communicative and can effortlessly engage people from all corners of the world.

I usually try to highlight the nature and people of my country in my works. Now I'm working on the Nakshi Kantha motif.

Shameem Akhtar, independent filmmaker

One of the biggest achievements over the last four decades, to me, is the significant progress in women's empowerment. A great number of women are involved in the workforce now -- from corporate houses to labour market. Women in our country first stepped out of their homes through the “Kajer Binimoye Khaddo Karmoshuchi” (food for work project) in the 1970s. When I started working as a journalist, very few women were involved in this media. Now you will find a significant number of women working in the print and electronic media. If this trend continues, then the authorities would be forced to make more female-friendly policies.

I feel women should get involved more in the cultural sector, particularly in literature. However, despite achievements, discrimination against women continues in the society. I hope someday we will overcome such discrimination.

Rokeya Rafique Baby, theatre activist

In 40 years, Bangladesh has made achievements that are multi-faceted. One of the greatest achievements is that we have been able to ensure cultural practice and movement as significant parts of our daily life. Despite being a Muslim-majority nation, we have a more secular outlook than our neighbouring Islamic states.

This awareness and positive attitude are developing by the day. The current trend of using technology and internet for the greater good is admirable. Organisations working for different classes of people are generating awareness and they are creating opportunities for others. Achievements in theatre over the last four decades have also been remarkable. We have attained a solid position in Asian theatre. I want to see it go further. We have talented filmmakers and theatre directors who have been working wonders. The achievements in contemporary music are also noteworthy. Music is also being used as a tool for social change.

Shamin Ara Nipa, dancer

I have an innate love for my country. My country defines my existence. There is no word/phrase that can appropriately define patriotism. It is an inevitable feeling that hangs on to you since birth.

As artistes, we often travel aboard and represent our country and culture. That is when I realise how special our country is. The one attribute of Bangladeshis, which is praiseworthy, is that we have a whole lot of heart. We let our hearts rule over our minds.

During a performance at the opening of the last ICC World Cup in Dhaka, when I rose up with our flag, holding a larger than life replica of the national flower Shapla, the incredible cheers from the audience gave me goose bumps! These are the moments when I get the feeling that, yes, no matter what all Bangladeshis are connected.

I grew up in Kishoreganj. During the war, Kishoreganj was primarily a culturally oriented area. I knew a lot of artistes who could not survive the massacre in the Hindu areas. All that trauma has made us what we are today.

The people here are patriotic and hardworking; it is just the lack of proper guidance that stops us from excelling. Nevertheless, I believe with a strong will, we can make our dreams into reality.

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