Within class and beyond
Beyond symbols and sentiments
Adages and bachans in Bangla
Globalization, language and Ekushey
Ekushey - towards secular democracy
Making Ekushey meaningful to the young
Intimations of Ekushey
Our pride, our sorrow, our joy
The elitist Ekushey
Rediscovering Ekushey February
Bangabandhu and Language Movement
Incipient nationalism and freedom
My first Ekushey
Bangla and Muslim era in India
Dhirendranath Datta: Glimpses of a life
A generation united and untied
The unforgettable
A privilege and a responsibility
Remembering Ekushey
It's a different February
Reflections on 21st February
When memory sweeps across history


Reflections on 21st February

Tulip Chowdhury

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So begins A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Every year on 21st February I recall this line. I remember the line for the events that led to the 21st February were some of our worst days, days when our mother tongue was kept in a chain. And then the day of 21st February was the best of our time, the time that our mother tongue won its freedom. At this point the language movement of 1952 seems to become vivid and steps out of the pages of the history book. Martyrs Salam, Barkat and Rafq all stand before me, the red and green flag held high in their hands. I realize that it is for them that I can speak my mother tongue with my head held high in pride. I feel a strange euphoria as I open my heart and sing in my mother tongue, Bangla,

“ Banglar mati , Banglar jol
Banglar bayu, Banglar phol
Punno houk, punno houk…”

The Language Movement of 1952 marks one of the most important chapters of our history. I was not born at that time. Much later, it was in 1973, just after our return from Pakistan, my father took up the task of introducing the history of Bangladesh to my brother and me. To be honest, we have been out of the country for quite a long time and were little aware of our history or culture. My father decided that both of us should enter Bengali medium schools so as to learn Bengali thoroughly. It was my father's opinion that when a person becomes properly educated in his or her mother tongue then true learning takes place.

At school when the history of Bangladesh was held up to me I was amazed at how far we have come from the time of the British occupation. My eyes opened to how we have been deprived of our rights by West Pakistan after the partition of 1947. I used to feel my heart cry as I went through our history. I read voraciously, absorbing each and every fact about my country. Then to my tree of knowledge came the 1952 Language Movement. As I read through the details of the revolt, the courage of the Bengali people touched my heart and I felt as if I was just one of them. Surely, I thought, if I was there at that time, I would have joined all the people on the streets and cried out for my rights, fought for my mother tongue.

As I learned about the Language Movement I recalled one my own experience with language discrimination. Prior to coming back to Bangladesh my father had been working in the Pakistan Embassy in Belgrade, in then, Yugoslavia. There, Embassy programs included Urdu programs but we never had any Bengali entries. Even at school the West Pakistanis used to tell the teachers that Urdu was the official language of both the wings of Pakistan. Remembering this I used to feel anger rise and the heart grew in rebellion. I knew depriving a nation of its mother tongue was same as destroying the whole nation. It seemed as though in each nook and corner, even small children were out to ignore the rights of our language!

However, we were no longer the oppressed nation. I was glad to be back in Dhaka, glad to be back in my motherland. As I became more and more familiar with Bengali, I put myself into reading Bengali literature. The moment I got introduced to Rabindranath Tagore I felt as if I was reborn. I fervently poured into the works of Tagore. “Shonchoyeeta”, “Gitanjoli”, “Chitra”; whatever Tagore's work I found I simply kept myself glued to it. Through Tagore's works I found life opening up the most beautiful chapters of my life. Two of his poems “Rahur Prem” and “Jete nahi Dibo” were my favourite pieces and I would go on reciting them day in and day out. Then I went on to read Kazi Nazrul. I simply relished his poem “Bidrohi”. It seemed have me fall in step with the struggles of the Language Movement. Shorotchandra became one of my favourite writer as I read his book “Srikanto” and found the famous saying, “Boro prem shudhu kachei tanena, dureo theliya dey.” (Deep love not only brings two people together but brings separation too). I read other Bengali literary works and found myself absolutely in love with them. Upon reading these Bengali books I felt an inner peace, as if many lights were being lit inside me. This was, I suppose what learning one's own mother tongue does to one. It really fills the soul with wisdom that comes from learning. I also took to singing Bengali songs, especially Tagore's. I was practically in heavens on the day I took admission in the school of music, Chayanot to learn Tagore's songs. At the Chayanot I met people who were very much into the Bengali culture and I just blended into them.

I soaked up Bengali literature as a sponge would soak up water. And I let out my expressions in Bengali poetry. I used to feel strangely contented as I wrote in Bengali. I wrote in English too but writing in my mother's tongue was blissful, I felt as I could express my feelings best in Bengali, could say what my heart meant. The world had opened up to me in the most beautiful way just for learning my mother tongue. Just around this time my grandfather, the well known writer Syed Mujtaba Ali came to Dhaka. Spending time with him, hearing him talk about his experiences beautifully in Bengali opened my eyes. Aha, I thought, look at this great man, writing away in his mother tongue despite living in foreign countries for the greater part of his life.

Through the span of years as I went through college and university I continued to pursue the learning my mother tongue. Then, there came a time when I was married and became a mother. It was my solemn pledge to my country that I would teach my children their mother tongue to its deepest meanings. And I did. My children also grew up reading Bengali literature and knowing the history of their land. They learned about the impact of 21st February in our history. Today as I sit and write, I hope that each and every Bangladeshi mother promises to teach her child the value of mother's tongue, the history of our land. Through the mother tongue the best of one's insights come out to light, we learn to express the best of ourselves. This honour to our mother tongue will place us yet higher in the world. As we remember the language martyrs and pay our respects, how can we forget that it is for these martyrs that Bengali language today holds a place as the international world? It is for the blood they had shed that 21st February comes to be recognized as International Language Day. Let the seeds of this martyrdom be planted in each and every Bangladeshi man and woman. Let us help Bengali language open like thousand flowers, inspiring each heart that comes to its touch.

Tulip Chowdhury writes fiction and is a teacher

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