We in Bangladesh are undergoing some fundamental changes in the way we employ language in our everyday conversation. Here is a pointer: at home we ask for bhaat and maachh and murgi and shobji. That is only natural, seeing that it is the Bengali language we speak. But take your family out to dinner at a local restaurant specializing in Chinese food. Once there, as you examine the menu, you are quite liable to ask the waiter for some rice, not bhaat. You are, of course, addressing him in Bengali, but you are not ordering a plate of bhaat but one of rice. Outside the home, it is so-called modernity or faux elitism which takes over. In that restaurant, you tell that polite waiter, "Rice-er shathe fish ar vegetable deben."
The attitude shows up an important aspect of the way you carry yourself in your surroundings, which is that the English language has taken possession of you in a way that you have begun to love its constricting influence on you. And it is not just the English language which is there, in near-omnipresent form. There are also those other foreign phrases or words, in their ubiquity, insinuating their way into our use of Bengali. Terms like 'masha'Allah' and 'alhamdolillah' are stock phrases you hear in the ambience around you these days. Yours truly once went through a rather intriguing experience trying to strike up a conversation with a not-so-honest individual who had been to Saudi Arabia and was back home here in Bangladesh. 'How are you?' That was the first question put to him. 'Alhamdolillah', he responded. 'Will you be here for some time?' Again the answer was that single term 'alhamdolillah'. To the last question, 'How is the family?' Your guess is as good as mine. It was 'alhamdolillah'.
It is perfectly all right for one to use or experiment with foreign words, but when that experimentation pushes one's own language aside from a false sense of religiosity or plain vanity, one would be properly concerned about the egregious manner in which the native language is slowly being put out to pasture. There used to be a time when, in appreciation of anything good, we in Bengali would say 'bah', as is 'bah, khuub shundor ghraan to ei phooler'. That lovable 'bah' has been sacrificed at the altar of a yet surviving colonial-era psychology on our part. Almost everyone you see around you is more likely than not to exclaim 'Wow!' at seeing or hearing or feeling anything which takes their fancy. 'Wow' is part of Urdu and Arabic vocabulary as we have known it. But now native speakers of English, especially in America, have given it a new twist, to a point where non-English language speakers across the globe use it without end. Speaking of our growing penchant for adopting foreign words at the expense of our own Bengali vocabulary, have you noticed that the electronic media will refer to 'Rashtrapati Abdul Hamid' but will speak of 'President Emmanuel Macron' once the news bulletins move out of the local canvas? We have never been able to understand this dichotomy and neither will our relevant media authorities explain the matter to us.
At the airport, do not be surprised if you hear some incoming Bengali passengers informing their families, in a distinctly hubristic manner, that they have just 'landed'. The phrase is 'ei matro land korlam'. We agree that 'obotoron korlam' may sound quite officious, but what is wrong with 'ei matro naamlam'? In conversations on public issues, you can count the few who will reflect on the country's 'rajniti', with most others determined, even as they converse in Bengali, to feel comfortable with 'politics'. That looming shadow of English persists when we meet an ambassador or a high commissioner but hardly ever a 'rashtrodoot'. A common failing in our use of our own language is not employing the term 'shomoy' but going for 'time'. How many people do you know who will make you happy through using the word 'bilombo'? They will go for 'delay'. We are always ready to visit the library but that 'gronthagar' remains unknown to us. The person I happen to be speaking to at any given moment in my village is my MP, not my 'shangshod'. Chances are that I shall meet the editor of a newspaper, not its 'shompadok'. You let your hostess know that her food has been tasty. Where did 'shushwadhu' go? That artiste is noted for her remarkable acting. Not many will remember that 'acting' in Bengali is 'obhinoy'.
Language ought not to be trifled with. There is always something of purity, of the unadulterated, which underscores the beauty of a language that has not been deliberately abused or misused. When an artiste on a live programme on television is complimented on her performance, she eschews the term 'apnake onek dhonnobad' and deliberately goes for 'thank you so much'.
And, by the way, where have the soothing terms 'abba' and 'amma' and 'baba' and 'maa' vanished in our social landscape? Almost everyone is yet a baby, which is perhaps why they go for those baby-like terms 'abbu' and 'ammu' even as they pass into their fifties. Some among us prefer, despite being Bengalis, to seek the company of our 'dads' and 'moms', which is rather distressing. There was once the wonderful 'aapa' we looked up to in our villages and towns. Our 'aapa' has disappeared; and today we have full grown men and full grown women cheerfully take recourse to such inanities as 'aapi' and 'aapu'.
Let's call it a day.
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