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Ekushey Book Fair and the spirit of Language Movement: Frustrations overshadow achievements

  • Published at 01:50 am February 21st, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:55 am February 21st, 2017
Ekushey Book Fair and the spirit of Language Movement: Frustrations overshadow achievements
The fair attracts a large crowd of both readers and curious visitors every year, but experts believe that its aim to instil the Ekushey spirit has hardly been achieved because of the improper use of Bangla language, lack of awareness of its history and poor knowledge of the local culture. “The [Ekushey] book fair has achieved its goal in representing the spirit of the Language Movement, but it is mostly lost on the new generation who are still unaware of its significance in our history,” said Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University. He said the book fair had been successful in enriching Bangla literature by promoting and releasing new publications, but the usage of Bangla in those publications are still sub par. “Still in a sense, the book fair has managed to create a satisfactory number of readers,” he added. The DU vice-chancellor also suggested full use of Bangla in computer and all local websites so the new generation can learn Bangla. Dr Syed Manzoorul Islam, professor of English at Dhaka University and a Trustee Board member of Transparency International Bangladesh, said along with protecting Bangla, the ethnic languages and dialects of Bangladesh should also be nurtured in order to uphold the spirit of Language Movement. Both Prof Arefin and Prof Manzoorul expressed concern over the incorrect use of Bangla in books that are released in the fair “by some profit-making publishers and so-called writers” and blamed the use of foreign words in formal language as well as in the names of institutions around the country for the “usage disaster” of Bangla. “Bangla Academy has a dictionary which contains correct spelling rules. It should instruct the publishers and writers to follow those rules. Those who do not abide by them should not be allowed in the fair,” said Manzoorul. Poet Dr Mayukh Chowdhury, professor of Bangla at Chittagong University, blamed the “self-interested” book traders for the misuse of the language. He also said 65 years after the Language Movement, the state-run bodies had still failed to develop Bangla as a language. “The book fair has carried forward cultural values from one generation to another. It is also a good platform for both writers and readers to gain exposure to Bangla literature,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. Shamsuzzaman Khan, director general of Bangla Academy, said in terms of organisation, the book fair had been successful in spreading the spirit of the Language Movement. “Bangla Academy has increased publication of Bangla language research as well,” he added. How Ekushey Book Fair came to be The first Ekushey Book Fair was held in 1965, when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan. The fair was organised on the ground floor of Dhaka University Library and was initiated by Jatiya Grontho Kendra’s former director Sarder Jayenuddin when he was working in a Unesco project. Then, the fair was named Shishu Gronthomela, or Children’s Book Fair. In 1970, he introduced the book fair in Narayanganj. After the Liberation War, on the occasion of Unesco’s International Book Year 1972, Jayenuddin organised another book fair at Bangla Academy premises, but no book fair was held to observe Ekushey February. However, some publishers, including Muktodhara and Standard Publishers, started to sell books just outside the Bangla Academy. In February 1974, the academy organised a national literature conference where more book publishers participated, selling books at Bottola. This practice continued until 1978. In 1979, the book publishers, especially Muktodhara’s Chittaranjan Saha, Standard Publishers’ Ruhul Amin Nizami and Khan Brothers’ Feroz Khan, formally requested the then Bangla Academy director general Dr Ashraf Siddique to organise a book fair on the occasion of February 21. That year, Ekushey Book Fair was held from February 7 to February 28, organised by Jatiya Grontho Kendra in collaboration with Bangla Academy and the publishers. In 1980, when Jatiya Grontho Kendra failed to organise the fair, the Bangla Academy took over with the assistance of the publishers. In 1983, the fair was named Amar Ekushey Grontho Mela (Amar Ekushey Book Fair), but had to be postponed when police ran over two students and killed them during a procession of students protesting the autocratic regime of HM Ershad. From 1984, the book fair was officially instated and has become an annual event.