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From the tip of my tongue

  • Published at 12:39 pm February 27th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:30 pm February 27th, 2017
From the tip of my tongue

My affinity for my mother tongue, unless I am speaking, is minimal. And even when I’m speaking, I find my sentences, sentences which should be made up of Bangla, littered by the intrusion of the language of our once-colonial rulers: English.

This is not something I mind.

I have, after all, constructed an entire career out of the remnants of the sufferings of my forefathers, in the same way I continue to construct these sentences: I take a sentence, chop it up, mix it around, tone it down, break apart its class, add borrowed words, and by the time I have expunged thought into words, it is a hodgepodge, nay, a joga khichuri, of all my linguistic and cultural influences.

There is maybe a sadness that can be derived from such an outcome.

People wax poetic on the struggles of our language and freedom martyrs, who took up arms, gave up their lives, so that we -- I -- could have the freedom to speak in Bangla.

What was the point, as I sit here writing in English, trying to recall books or texts or stories I’ve read in my mother tongue and failing, if my vocabulary shrinks in shame at the altar of the English language?

One could interpret it thus, and see a tragedy unfold from the mouths of new generations, of bursts of people who have failed to inherit a language blood was spilled for.

One could choose to see the death of a belief system that is struggling to hold on for dear life through the pseudo-cultural, pseudo-historical narrative spun by so-called art groups and culture police maestros, who do little more than keep a tradition of the tradition alive, instead of contributing much to growth of the purity of the language.

One could hear in the words on the streets, through the voices of their children, the losing remnants of a poetic tongue.

But one needn’t.

If history is open for interpretation, why not this? Why choose to see the wars and battles we’ve fought as a war to speak a language, not for freedom itself? And that freedom, the freedom which allows you to “choose” the language you speak, to not be forced to take on words which are unfamiliar to your tongue, isn’t that the tradition that is being kept alive through the coming generations?

My mother’s tongue, after all, is not my tongue. My mother may have spoken Bangla but I, and this includes a lot of us, speak a language of my own.

The language that spews forth from the tip of my tongue is not a language that has been passed on or created. It has been moulded by the circumstances which we find ourselves in.

We found ourselves being friends with multilingual dynasties. We were bombarded by the increasingly evolving miasma of netspeak and l33tspeak.

My mother’s tongue has spoken into the ears of men and beasts, women and maidens, children and gods, and told them of the power we as a nation might hold. But that is not to say it has died, just because I, like many, do not speak it. We haven’t forgotten; we have merely changed

We were, much like the language we spoke, constructed in bits and pieces, in staccatos and hums and noises and sounds, from lands foreign and familiar.

We were, in essence, no longer a people of a nation boasting a national language, but a people of a world, boasting not a singularity, both in language and in personality, but a multitudinous multiplicity, that broke barriers and let language become as fluid as the connections we made.

My mother’s tongue, as much as I admire it, as much as I loved to hear her speak, is not one I have, to the chagrin of many, inherited in its full capacity.

From the sibilant whisperings of my mother’s tongue, a revolution was put into motion, bullets were fired, men were killed, and a country was born.

My mother’s tongue has spoken into the ears of men and beasts, women and maidens, children and gods, and told them of the power we as a nation might hold.

But that is not to say it has died, just because I, like many, do not speak it. We haven’t forgotten; we have merely changed, adapted. And that is not a tragedy. Bittersweet as it is, it is as much in spirit with Ekushey, or any other language movement, as anything else.

My mother’s tongue, Shonar Bangla, ruined by English, reconstructed by reminiscing poets, utilised by nostalgic generations of ages past, has allowed me the freedom to be someone who can barely speak his mother’s tongue.

It has allowed me to take all of the world, instead of a mere part of it, and rebuild it as we choose to see it.

My mother’s tongue, a memory, is the footstep I have climbed on the way to whatever linguistic prowess I can boast. It is through those words that I have rebuilt the language I speak and made it my own.

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.

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