“Are you a Bangali?”, the security guard asked me, trying to put up a conversation while I was waiting to meet a distinguished official in the Writers’ Building. I was very puzzled to hear the question. I just told him I was from Bangladesh, and now he is asking me if I was ‘Bangali’ or not! Wasn’t I speaking perfect ‘Bangla’ to him? What kind of a question was that?
For a moment, I thought he was implying if I was a ‘Bangal’ or a ‘Bangali’, but that seemed a bit too far-fetched. The fact that I am a citizen of Bangladesh rules out any possibilities of me not being a ‘Bangal’, as we know it so fantastically from the anecdotes of Bhanu Bandopaddhay.
I answered him yes quite nonchalantly but he asked me again, “Maney, Bangali Bagali tho?” Very strange. ‘Bangali’ itself is an adjective and a noun in itself. Why add a redundant adjective to an all-encompassing noun? I turned around at him and told him the fact that Bengali is my mother-tongue and I was born in a country where ‘Bangla’ is the national language, how can I be anything else except a Bangali? He seemed a bit impressed with my answer, still leaving me confused as to why my explanation was at all impressive anyway. I mean, wasn’t it pretty obvious?
“What’s your name?”, he asked me, trying to dig out every bit of information about me, as if my name was in his dossier! I began wondering if my accent was anything like Marwaris or not. I told my name and then there was this sudden glow on his face. He told me, “I am also ‘pucca’ Bangali. Brahmin.” Now I was alarmed. So, is this what he was implying? That I actually answered all his questions made me feel so fooled and ashamed of myself.
It is unfortunate that Bangali is used for referring Hindus who originate from Bengal. Isn’t that selling the word too short? This guard wanted to know if I was a Muslim or not, since majority of people in Bangladesh are followers of Islam. But does that take away their right to be Bangalis? Does that mean people of Bangladesh are not Bangalis? And what about all the Muslims who originate from Murshidabad or any place else in West Bengal, do they lose their right to be identified as Bangalis?
‘Bangali’ is a regional and a lingual classification. It has nothing to do with religion. In fact, the word ‘Bangali’ has no room for classification religion-wise, for there are no synonyms for ‘religion’ in the Bengali Language. The word we use mistakenly for religion is ‘Dharma’. But the word ‘dharma’ is derived from the Sanskrit ‘dhree+mann’, which literally means the vessel, which contains our mind. Or put simply, it means the way our mind is or our nature is. To be precise, the English word for dharma is ‘properties’ or ‘characteristics’ and not religion.
I feel helpless and unable to do anything to stop this mindless propaganda of a word, which is so dear to me. What will I answer to the insatiable souls of the martyrs, who died for this language refusing to accept Urdu as their national language?
For all we know, four names- Salam, Barkat, Rafiq and Jabbar- will be always engraved with gold, first and foremost, in the history of the Language Movement, among all the youth, who bartered their blood for ‘Bangla’ on 21st February, which eventually baptized my country as Bangladesh from the then East Pakistan.