Questioning The Obituary

Apathy for Bangla Bhasa

Sudip Bhattacharyya & Susmita Bhattacharya

—   ‘War of the words—Bangla Withers Hindi gains’. on 19/6/2013
—   ‘Giving Banglabhasa its rightful place in West Bengal and India’ : The Statesman, on 30th June, 2014
- ‘Banglabhasa in the Context of National Language’. Frontier, on 3/9/2014

These hardly evoked any response particularly from Bengalis. Nor did the local press consider it a worthwhile issue. However, a Face Book friend Milton Paul summarized the problem in Bengali psyche in his beautiful words as follows:
"Our failing lies in our enfeebled mindset. There was a time when the Bengali lived in comfort, with the two feet firmly planted on the two pedestals of English and Bengali. While he was adept in using English for education, business, commerce and communication, he savoured his life dipping his sensuality in Bengali culture. And, he was able to maintain an invisible membrane between the two, which precluded the ingress of English culture into Bengali culture, except for desirable cross pollination. Sadly, for a couple cf generations the Bengali has become obsessed with being, and 'being seen', as 'successful' (or, being on the highway, or at least capable, of success). He has been imitating the ways and mannerism of those who are 'seen' as successful. Hence, the slow corruption of the Bengali culture that we see in the daily dosage of the soap in the TV channels and films and 'cultural1 stage-shows."

It is entirely true and the fact of decadence in the character of Bengalis can't be wished away. But, there is much more to it. Bengalis adopted English and Bangla for education, English for business and commerce and Bangla for cultural pursuits. But, now, Hindi is encroaching largely into business and commerce and gradually and steadily into cultural activities. In other words the space for Bangla Bhasa, as it was expected after independence, is not only not expanding, but it is actually shrinking, that too, rather rapidly.

But why are Bengalis allowing this to happen? They are allowing this because of their deep-rooted inferiority complex that has grown since the Partition. It is to be noticed that Bengal's decline started then only. Uprooting of a large mass of people, most of which settled in West Bengal, created havoc in its economy and consequently told on the Bengali psyche. Drudgery and struggle for existence led to loss of self-confidence and inferiority complex. Consequently, they have become incapable of standing against the Hindi onslaught on its language and culture.

The inferiority complex was there even in the pre-independent days, albeit, to a limited extent and particularly vis a vis the state language of those days. In a collection of articles written by Buddhadeb Bose in his mother tongue Bangla and published by Paschimbanga Bangla Academy, (Kolkata 2005, 2009), he wrote in this vein that in those clays there was a wide gulf between Bengali Language and the then Rashtra Bhasa in the Intermediate collegiate school that he used to study. More classes were assigned to English than to Bangla. English classes were held in the first and fresh hours oi morning while that of Vernacular in the dull hour of evening that always came in weary steps after much rigours of lesson-learning in other subjects. And, Sanskrit class came last in the-last drooping hour of the worn-out day when the learners lacked in the spirit of taking any more lessons.. The Bengali text books had a dull look, not much worthwhile lessons were included in them. There were no interesting books in Bangla in the otherwise well provided college library, no creative essay -writing exercises used to be assigned in Bangla although it was the norm in the English classes. That the English was the major, the chief, the most important language in all areas, everybody—the teachers, the learners—used to accept unquestionably. That was what seemed natural to everyone, nobody thought otherwise. Alas! The irony is that the situation is still the same in the state of Bengal in present-day independent India, as was in the time of Buddhadeb.

The other reason is that the business and commerce scenario in Bengal is overwhelmingly dominated by Hindibhasis. And the Central Govt policies are supportive of Hindi in preference to Bangla Bhasa and other regional languages. The latter is losing form and ceding ground to Hindi because the govt. has pushed hard for Hindi's usage and acceptability in Bengal and other non-Hindi speaking regions.

The dominance is so much in Kolkata that now cabbies, auto drivers and bus conductors speak in Hindi. In better hotels, restaurants and shops Hindi is preferred. New nameplates, posters, commercials and advertisements are in Hindi rather than in Bangla. Proficiency in Hindi and English is sine qua non for jobs.

Further, students are encouraged to prefer Hindi over Bangla. Liberal grants are given for Hindi teaching in schools and colleges. Hindi movies and Hindi songs predominate. Even in State Govt run TV Channel, Tara TV where the principal objective is propagation of Bengali culture and songs, more and more Hindi songs are being sung and encouraged. Moreover, it is Bollywood movies that set the trend in fashion and influences the culture and it is s pity that majority of young people in Bengal are hardly aware of the rich oeuvre of Bengali literature and of its celebrated litterateur.

Tabish Khair in The Hindu dated 14/9 in 'Questioning the Liberal Left' wrote the following : "I recall talking to a cab driver outside London a few weeks before Brexit. The driver, a grizzled white man in his sixties, wanted me to understand why he was going to vote for Brexit. He said, I am not a racist, but I am worried about losing my culture. I want my children to speak and hear English in my own country...." Alas, there is no such feeling in Bengal!

In the absence of public pressure, even the state govt. is not initiating any measure for increasing the use of Bangla Bhasa for Official and commercial purposes. So today, there is hardly any space and hope left for propagation of Bangla Bhasa and progress of Bahglabhasi.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that the day may not be far off when Bangla, the sweetest language in the world as reportedly declared by UNESCO, may be lost in oblivion in the state of Bengal itself.

Vol. 49, No.20, Nov 20 - 26, 2016