1. Language puzzles: International Mother Language Day for 2019, came to Amherst with an event celebration at the Jones Library on March 28. The students of UMASS in Amherst and members of the Bengali community had the event sail with music, poetry, dance, and a presentation of the history. An American family present on occasion started looking into books on Bangladesh, inspired by our excellent historical introduction. Their school-going daughters followed up with searching for information on Bengali. The evening was a sweet success, small or big we cannot yet say: by striking some people’s heartstrings, we may have set the cornerstone for more significant events in the coming years. After all, the journey of a lifetime begins with a single step.
In the smaller stage of thoughts, the day led on to conversational languages and how they could add spice to our daily life. In that respect, Bengali speaking Lily, a newly arrived in America, it was a challenge to pronounce ‘desert’ and ‘dessert’ with the correct stress on the syllables. So, in a party, when she asked the waiter to lead to the ‘desert’ table, the waiter stared at her in confusion. Then she said, she wanted to eat some sweets, and that finally led her to her desired food.Among friends in Amherst I hear them mention, “I have it on the top of my head” when they mean that they remember something well. However, in Bengali, we usually say, “Amar mone ache.” The Bengali word, ‘mon’ means ‘heart,’ so we talk about the heart in terms of memory it seems.
And there is the story of the Sylheti new bride, married to a man from London.
The husband says to his newly married wife, “Let’s eat some beet for salad.
The wife says, “Help me, God! You people from London eat ‘beet’? Syhotis don’t eat beet. In the wife’s part of Sylhet ‘beet’ means chicken poop.
Delving into local dialects from my village home in Sylhet, I remember people using figurative languages. To describe a mild pain in the body, they would say, “My back hurts like a chicken pecking on it.” And then would come, “My shoulder is painful as if someone is hammering away on it.” Those words would be to speak of extreme pain. Oh well, how can I blame the villagers? They had no doctors to put on the ranges of 1, 2, 3 or 10. And they found a way that worked for them. The people were smart. I would say, life is a lot about living the best in one‘s situations.
Here in Amherst, four-year-old Noboni has few puzzling moments when I tell her that cows make the ‘hamba.’ Of course, I refer to the Bengali version of animal sounds.“But cows moo, not hamba.” Nobo says pointing to the book that shows a picture of a cow with the words “Moo” where it’s sound is explained.
“Maybe they speak differently in America,” I say, how can I make things clear for her when I am confused myself?
And then there is the dog’s sound, ‘Gheu, gheu..’ in Bangla, but in English, it’s “Bow-wow..” Oh well, I wonder what language the animals use among them.
Language dilemmas are a part of life when we connect with the bigger world, locally and internationally. In life we connect like the web of a spider through our communicating with each other, and puzzling or apparent, we all share one planet.
As Patrick Rothfuss says in The Name of the Wind “Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
With the present day’s globalization, languages are shared more than ever. Whenever people from different nations meet, there has to be a common language to communicate. It can be English, German, French or any other word in that respect. However, the expression of humanity is the most rewarding one, and that can be just an act of kindness, or just a “Thank you.”
2. Beyond languages: There are also times when our languages fail, and it happened in the last week of March 2019 when big fires took away many lives in Dhaka. Who is to be blamed for the deaths when the metropolitan city goes on expanding without any plans, without safety check, and thrives on corruptions? One has to walk many miles in another shoe to understand how life is, and my grief goes beyond words for the innocent lives lost in the fire of F R Tower in Banani, and the other fires. We ask each other, “How could this be?” and no one answers. Authorities who could prevent repetitions of such tragedies have answers, but one wonders when will their conscious wake-up and come together for a safer Dhaka, for a safer Bangladesh.
The fire that took place in old Dhaka couple of weeks back is said to been originated from a car’s gas cylinder. Well, those gas cylinders need to be in safe conditions to be used, to keep people alive when using the vehicles. Again, how can the users of gas cylinders be compelled to follow the rules for safer roads?
To the onlooker, it seems there is chaos in Bangladesh where traffic is concerned, and “No rules” have become the norm of the day for the ordinary people going about everyday lives.
It is a miracle that in the midst of it all, Bangladesh still makes milestones in the international fields every once in a while. Googling will reveal that Bangladeshis can achieve amazing feats as well. But we all know that all is well, that ends well. At the moment though, the people of Bangladesh, the common masses are not sure that the future holds promises of all being well at all.
May God have mercy on the nation and its people.
Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA.