Bangladesh 2001: The Myth of Bengalee Culture - Part 5
If we are to relate culture as being fountainheads of great possibilities in human understanding and interaction, the first priority for its appreciation, criticism and promotion rest's entirely with the media - specifically the print media - that has been around for centuries massaging the sore ego's of the Bengalee's. The Bengalee media has traditionally played a suspect role, as an accomplice to the crimes of the 'system' - or the establishment of the day. And the system ofcourse was then and as is today, in the hands of those small coterie and vested interest that have focused and promoted only our defeatist 'political cultures' complete with its communal overtones or undertones.
Every newspaper has a set of compliant columnist or writers, whose job it is to cater to commissioned writings. Pages after boring pages are filled up by institutionalized advice givers, which hardly have any takers. Some editors take on the dubious role of writing commentaries - other than lengthy editorials in sustained megalomaniac overkill. Filling up of pages is more important than content and consequently every newspaper has the same story line, indeed same photographs of event, good or evil. If you read one newspaper in Bangladesh, you have in all likelihood - read them all!
The culture of 'intellectual debates' revolve around personal insinuations, and is in very bad taste. It is a practice of people on the fringe of various shades of interest i.e. Indian RAW interest, Pakistani ISI interest, American CIA interest, Islamist Taliban interest, NGO interest - infact all interest less the interest of Bangladesh, to bray and taunt each other as agents for one or the other intelligence agencies, real or imagined. There is also the unwritten 'blacklist' of writers who are considered to have 'nuisance value' (including this author) a duo entendre, i.e. those that do not appropriate the 'official lines'.
It would seem that the political culture in Bangladesh is dominated by spooks and spies - and not known to many casual newspaper readers in Bangladesh is the existence of 'double agents' - who work for one or more of these agencies.- i.e. RAW agents pretending to be India haters, CIA agents posing as Commies, Islamist disguised as atheist etc.
19. The NGO Culture - Doomsday Doctrine Soothsayers
The worst category of intellectuals is ones that represent NGO interest. 'Ideas' authored by foreign donors spurt their adrenaline rush to write just about anything under the sun - to explain in pitiable circumstances the dire 'calamitous' state of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. These stories are necessary to generate funding. Positive 'development' stories will ofcourse eulogize the 'role of NGO' - and the 'impact' it has on 'national development'. Printing of such fictitious success stories also brings in wads of cash for newspapers and periodicals. 'Weekend specials' more or less are NGO reportings - for the donors, and finds international donor credibility when printed.
Patriotism is a partisan product preferably played when pensions are pending!
The opinions of NGO 'intellectuals' have never been received favorably, and all we have to witness in terms of their 'debates' are stage managed vexing verbosity - which for all practical purpose contributes to divert public opinions on any major issue of the day - by these hypocritical, self serving and 'unwilling' accomplice to the system.
No great 'solution' are ever unleashed which could be of service to the people of Bangladesh. Routine catechism of ideas and counter ideas are played about like a game of Ping-Pong. Solutions ofcourse has a price of its own and is kept in reserve and meant for personal monetary gains. Apparently, good ideas that leads to solution is translated to mean - CASH flowing in from the open water taps from donors overseas.
Together with this are the opinions of our 'national leaders' who are nothing more in attitude and pretensions, acquired or otherwise, any different from those ruthless 'morol's or village headman's vying for complete control on a forever desperate rural community, that has only recently overthrown and replaced the old feudal system encouraged by the English.
Their mentality while very much constituency orientated is narrow and parochial - with intrigue and conspiracies the backbone for their survival. Civility and the healthy culture of democracy - while lambasted with almost daily intensity - is absent, and intolerance together with the sins of corruption and nepotism is still raising havoc - thirty watershed years after Bangladesh's Independence. The print mill shamelessly rolls on.
To date we do not have any international political statesman among the Bengalee's.
While many dailies masquerade as 'national newspapers' - the whole purpose of a National Though Process that could have been championed by the media - has not been achieved, and tragically in a nation with a total population of 120 million people, the highest circulation newspaper is a paltry 100,000: and cumulatively far less than a million newspaper is sold daily in Bangladesh.
Newspapers have regrettably never served the purpose of cultural education - other than opinions of establishment sponsored 'cultural activist' that have only one clear mandate - divide, not unify the nation on petty partisan and personal grounds and 'dhandabaji' (quick buck) interest.
For all practical purposes, the press, pundits and politician nexus has perennially prostituted the system to pre-empt all peremptory possibilities of the public!
The print media has subverted culture of any chance to empower itself, and we still grope in the dark trying hard to figure out rationale definitions - a denouncery effort that will find history someday judging us unfairly.
20. Cut and Paste Culture - Incoherent Diamante
Back to the 'babu' culture, the media in Bangladesh has not looked beyond Kolkata in West Bengal as the inspirational role model to emulate in its philosophy or presentation. The focus of its telescope does not go beyond Kolkata - and if by any accident its does, certainly not beyond Bombay!
Whatever 'culture' is been aggressively promoted are of the Kolkata and Bombay variety - basically cut and paste piracy of features and articles from the Indian media. A staggering 98% of our media - whether that be in Bengalee or English languages - survive on the open piracy of ditto materials from the Indian press. There is no regulatory body to control this offence, and whilst there is ample brow and chest beating of 'Indian cultural imperialism' - the media has no creativity in projecting its 'local culture' - neither the capacity to thwart the aggression - if at all.
The Kolkata fever reaches a ejaculatory climax, when artist, poets, writers or 'littereteurs' reach Dhaka. The media goes on frenzy, reporting, interviewing, photographing, cajoling and sycophanting. Even obscure artist that the Indian High Commission in Dhaka showcases occasionally is given national coverage by our 'national newspapers'. Tragically any artist from Bangladesh visiting West Bengal receives no such coverage - and this has too often been a bone of contention, especially when 'important cultural personalities' are given a cold shoulder in Kolkata.
If cinema is any worthwhile indicator - while we strictly and 'patriotically' denounce any attempts to screen Indian movies in our cinema theatres - the truth is a resounding 100% of Bengalee thrillers are cheap imitations of Bombay blockbuster - and the local cable TV network is very much Indian property where Bangladesh or its culture, stands nowhere in the list of priorities.
The only significant difference that we have had in our culture over the last half a century is while the 'educated' Bengalee went ga ga over the English inspired 'babu' culture in the past - the 'educated and cultured' Bengalee today goes wild over Kolkata and Bombay - ONLY. '
World culture' per se is not understood or appreciated and is still remains a veritable culture shock.
So low is the level of intellect that less than 1% of Bangladesh citizen watch or understand the happenings on the BBC, CNN, even the educational Discovery and National Geographic channel. While Hindi is not a second language for the Bengalee in Bangladesh it has become an ex officio spoken 'national language' - understood by more than 80% of Bengalee's in Bangladesh, regardless of educational backgrounds.
21. The Twenty first point - The Hype and Hysteria of Bengalee Language
While Bengalee is arguably the fifth largest spoken language in the world, and while the importance is often polemically reiterated with pride every 21st of February (with reference to the students agitation in 1952), the truth is Bengalee in some round about way is a language condemned to extinction by its 'educated and cultured' citizens.
The Language Movement of 1952, which is considered by many as the pivotal Bengalee episode to the start of our Independence struggle is ofcourse another myth that needs to be demolished.
It surrounds the Bengalee claim of being 'the first people in the world to shed blood for their mother tongue'. How can we forget the Red Indians, who were killed in large numbers because they spoke the native language and not English that was forced on them. What about the African slaves who suffered the same fate in their 'new world'. And what about the Polish - just to name a few?
While it is true that Bengalee's resisted the Pakistan founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah's attempt to make Urdu the national language of the then Pakistan - mainly in what he perceived being more Muslim in character as opposed to the Hinduized Bengalee language. The reisistance basically was against the mindset and the communal aspersions of Bengalee's being 'lesser Muslims' - or Hindu converts and those that were 'martyred' in 1952, were actually killed by stray bullets of the Police and were in no way directly involved with the ongoing Language Movement.
The nincompoop Jinnah - instead of Urdu, had he only said that "Hindi and Hindi only will the national language of East Pakistan' - he would have been spared the subsequent insults history would heap on him. If he only had the foresight to appreciate that soon down the line, Bengalee's will adapt Hindi as an ex officio language understood by 80% of the population - we would have been privileged nation - and not at the cost of innocent lives. Frankly I see no difference between Urdu and Hindi - other than the written script, one a derivative from Arabic, the other from Sanskrit - period.
The country wide protest that exploded in 1952, more than the demands for Bengalee as a National Language, was because of the killing of students. Let me again remind readers, that the 'shadharon jonogon' had great respect for its student community that went to cities for an education. The first protest procession was against killing of students, initiated, led and marched by the Non Bengalee residents of old Dhaka - not by Bengalee's.
Overnight the Shaheed Minar (Martyrs Monument) was erected. Its present shape and design was however approved, and the construction completed on or about 1963 at the behest of the then Bengalee loving Governor of East Pakistan - Azam Khan, a Pathan of Pakistani descent - not a Bengalee.
The supposedly secular structure exuded an ambience of a religious, not cultural symbol, with restrictions placed on wearing shoes or sandals on anybody visiting the site on the 21st February. Other days of the years, then as is now, sees a brutal desecration with the assembly of gamblers, goons, drug addicts, pimps and prostitutes plying their trade: that traditionally is washed, cleaned, painted over and made 'holy' for just that one day of the year. An expensive ritual - all in the name of culture.
It now seems only endorsement by the international communities can ensure the fragile health of the 'mother tongue' and the Bengalee also had moments of 'great pride and glory'- when the UNESCO decided to give recognition to the 21st February as the 'International Mother Language Day' in 2000. Interesting as this may sound - non of the world media covered the 'auspicious announcement' even for a fleeting second - yet 'cultural activists' in Bangladesh took over the media for a whole month to gloat and 'feed the masses' about this great triumph.
First Published January 28th 2001