A large section of our children, our youths are missing out on the joy and pride of expressing themselves in a well versed mother tongue, Bangla. Most of these children are the students studying in the English medium schools. They have Bangla in their school curriculum but most of the schools keep the syllabus to a marginal level. That is more so because the other subjects in English come with lengthy syllabuses. Apart from school some guardians try to keep Bangla in practice at home through reading, writing or give them access to Bangla literature. Students coming from Bengali medium schools also seldom delve into the Bangla literature apart from the school curriculum. There are a counted few who read Bangla books to help them strengthen their hold of the language and neither do they keep up with their writing.

In English medium schools learning English as a second language takes up a large portion of the children's learning capacity. Coming from Bangla speaking families the children have a hard time learning the second language. At home parents try to supply them with English Language learning aids so the children can do well at schools. There are children who are involved with extracurricular activities that concern the use of Bangla but these are not large in number. Most parents would point out that the schools put much pressure on the children with a huge number of subjects and homework and that makes it quite impossible to engage them with extracurricular activities or to give them additional attention towards learning Bangla. The children's knowledge of Bangla could get enlightened if they could join Bangla programs that include singing, poetry recitation, drama and other cultural aspects. Reading Bangla books and magazines through a weekly visit to the library may teach the children to value reading Bangla literature. In course of time they may catch up with Rabindranath Tagore, Kabi Nazrul Islam, Sharat Chandra or Bankim Chandra Chattopadhay one day. And once a youth gets the beacon of those great works of Bangla literature he or she will be ready to soar to a much higher level of learning, the thirst for knowledge will drive the soul to unknown bounds. Why not guide our children to reach for the stars through their mother tongue?

It is not unusual to ignore one's mother tongue while learning a second or third language in other countries. All over the world, many languages are becoming extinct. And with language the history of the race too becomes extinct. Unfortunately the mother tongue is being conveniently forgotten by today's generation. The need to know one's mother tongue is no more felt by neither the children nor the parents. People living away from their native place are giving up their own language, preferring only English or other languages at home. One cause of this trend are the schools, which ask parents to speak in second or third language with the child at home, and not in any other language. Their opinion is that the child will otherwise become weak in the new language! This is a big myth. The mother tongue actually connects one to the roots and strengthens the imaginative powers.

Experts believe that preserving a child's cultural identity is the key to his or her success. And language is the first tool for a child to express himself or herself and is essential in preserving one's culture. In fact children find an emotional haven in their mother tongue. Mother Tongue is a common language that is freely and comfortably spoken by adult generation both at home and outside to their successors in a community and reflect one's culture and ethnic backgrounds. It is the means by which different groups within the society maintain their identities. A child who had learned the mother tongue as his first language is more likely to be able to express himself first in the mother tongue and then translate the thoughts in other languages. Michael Madhushudan Dutta , the father of Bangla sonnets and the pioneer of Bangla literature spoke of a void in his work for not emphasizing his mother tongue Bangla. He composed his early works--poetry and drama--almost entirely in English. From an early age, Madhusudan desired to be an Englishman and was lured by the works of English poet Byron. However, he was to regret his desire in later life when he talked ardently of his homeland as is seen in his poems and sonnets from this period. In his poem "Kopothakko Nod" he reflects in the loneliness of his soul while he is away from his homeland, away from his mother tongue. He thus says in the poem,

"bahu deshe dhekiachi, bahu nodo dole

kintu e sneher trishna mite kar jole

dughdo sroto rupee tumi jonmo bhumi stone...."

On the other hand, come to Rabindranath Tagore, writing in Bangla how he remains, even to this day the versifier of Bangla literature! Tagore's works touch the souls of people and fill the hearts with joy. The hearts are enlightened with the messages in his poems, songs, fictions and plays. A section of the songs of "Gitobitan" is dedicated to "shodesh" (motherland). He was deeply patriotic and like an artist painted the picture of Bangla throughout his literary life. His works reverberate his love for motherland and mother tongue. His following song dedicated to motherland lights up his patriotism,

"Banglar mati, Banglar jol, Banglar bayu, Banglar fol

Punno houk, punno houk , punno houk he bhagaban,

bangalir pon, bangalir asha, bangalir kaj, bangalir bhasa

punno houk, punno houk, punno houk he bhagaban...."

Other literary giants like Shakespeare, Keats, Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Byron and the others writing in English language won their fame through their mother tongue. Tolstoy wrote War and Peace in Russian. And there are many other literary master pieces that were fist written in the respective mother tongue and then translated into other languages.

We are to encourage our children to learn other languages, to strengthen their imagination and broaden their knowledge. However, it is our responsibility to guide the children so that they have a thorough knowledge of their mother tongue also. Why can we not dream of a day when other literary giants like Kabi Nazrul or Kobiguru Rabindranath will be born, of a day when the world will know more about the beauty and lucidity of our language? Recently the Bengali language syllabus has been given higher emphasis at some English medium schools, but the need of the hour calls for stronger moves to teach Bangla to our future generations, to let them radiate the light of knowledge through their mother tongue.

Standing at a remarkable time when the world has recognized 21 February as International Mother Language Day, can we not promise that our children be illuminated with the beacon of their mother tongue and spread it worldwide? The children are the nation builders of tomorrow. Let them have the touch of ecstasy that their mother tongue can bring for them. UNESCO's declaration of 21st February as International Mother Language has brought Bangladesh glory and prestige. After 1952 the people of Bangladesh have been observing 21st February every year as their Language Martyrs Day. It is our solemn duty to enlighten our children, our youths about the sanctity of the day and guide them on to the importance of learning their mother tongue.

Tulip Chowdhury, poet and novelist, writes from the USA

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