Matrubhasha to Mitrabhasha | Daily News

Matrubhasha to Mitrabhasha

Ekushphebruyari, as they say in Bengali, and pebharavari visieka, as we say in Sinhala, is the International Day of Mother Languages: antarjatika matr?bha?a dibasa in Bengali; and antarjatika matrubhasha davasa in Sinhala.

Today, on the cusp of the second decade in the 21st century, when we de-Anglicize the International Mother Language Day, it is clear that the theme of 2021, “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society,” is relevant achievable; and, we can hope for a vishvabhasha in a vishvagrama.

We owe the International Mother Language Day to the Bhasa sahida dibasa, Language Martyr’s Day. In 1952 the Bengali people sacrificed their lives to save their mother language, a unique struggle in the entire history of mankind. The Shaheed Minar, next to the Dhaka Medical College, is in memory of a ‘rebel with a cause’. We need to take this victory of a people, beyond one language towards a Mother Language of all the children of Mother Earth.

Bengal had her own great poet around 9th - 12th centuries, Khana, who gave the country Khana Bachana. There is a legend that Khana (‘Ksana’ – moment) was the daughter of a Sinhala king who married Mihira, son of astrologer Varaha. ( We continue to remember Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay as Vidyasagar, who made a significant contribution, by developing the new Bangla language, and his book Barna Parichay (an introduction to the Bengali alphabet). It is the new and simpler Bangla language that would have made it so popular. Popular enough to have 98% of the people of Bangladesh to having Bangla as their mother tongue. I believe, it paved the way for the great Bangla literature and its writers to flourish, including the great names Jibananda Das, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Mahasveta Devi, Satyajit Ray and the modern writers like Selina Hossain, Syed Shamsul Haq, Shamsu Rahman, Nirmalendu Goon, Akhtaruzzaman Ilyas and many other bilingual writers like K Anis Ahmed, Nuru Huda and Kaiser Haq.

We created the Tower of Babel, which has become overcrowded with over 6,000 languages. Yet, the South Asian Tower of Babel is not as complicated as the global Babel. We have managed to communicate with each other to some extent, within our Babel, because most of our languages have grown from the same origins; and we share so much in common.

This gives us the opportunity to communicate with each other across borders in languages which can be understood by many. Thus, the initiative taken by the High Commission of Bangladesh in Sri Lanka, to celebrate the International Mother Language Day in the recent years, to foster multilingualism through education and culture can easily be developed further to bring all the countries within South Asia together, as one family.

Multilingualism, as Nicholas Ostler wrote in ‘Empires of the World’, “As well as being the banners and ensigns of human groups, languages guard our memories too. Even when they are unwritten, languages are the most powerful tools we have to conserve our past knowledge, transmitting it, ever and anon, to the next generation. Any human language binds together a human community, by giving it a network of communication; but it also dramatizes it, providing the means to tell, and to remember, its stories.”

It is our mother language that will help us embrace multilingualism. Mother Language is dear to our hearts, here in South Asia. To us, Motherhood is sacred. We consider Motherhood as a higher state than the masculine and the feminine. A Mother rises beyond the mere female or the male. She becomes one with the universe. Her love is pure and unselfish, like the love of a true god. She can feel love, empathy, kindness through sharpened senses. When we respect our mother language, we can respect all mother languages, as we respect all mothers in our society.

When we respect and honour our mother language, we accept the use of well-spoken words, subha vachana, which would help us not just tolerate, but also accept and respect others, whatever their beliefs, or traditions. It is always the evil words, abusing the wonderful gift received by mankind to communicate with each other, that cause suspicion, hatred, violence and destruction.

We, in Sri Lanka, have so much in common with Bengal, Bangla language and Sinhala. One such link is through Buddha Dhamma and perhaps king Ashoka, based on the 3rd century BCE Mahasthan inscription discovered in Bogra district nothern Bangladesh. In the editorial of the ‘Buddhist Heritage of Bangladesh (2015) Bulbul Ahmed, Department of Archaeology, Jahangirnagar University, wrote -

‘Buddhism emerged in Bangladesh as the dominant religion of the masses and exercised a profound influence on the social, cultural and intellectual lives of the people. Bangla language owes its origin to the works of Buddhist bhikkhus mainly poetry in lyrical verses in a language spoken by the common folk known as Bauddha Gan O Doha. A number of Buddhist scholars of Bangladesh including Silabhadra, Chandragomin, Santaraksita, Kamalasila and Atisa Dipankara Srijnana exercised their influence far beyond the frontiers of Bangladesh.’

In the same publication, we find that Pali and Prakrit were the languages used by the Pala kings (950 – 1200 CE) who were Buddhists. Charyapada or Charyagiti written in Prakrit or vernacular Bangla, and interestingly also links with Apabhramsa, Oriya, and Assamese. A manuscript of Charayapada was found in the library of the royal court of Nepal, reminding us that poetry can always cross barriers.

Through poetry, drama and folk traditions, we can also find the evolution of our South Asian languages from a Mother Language, making us all one family, with close cultural relations. In our Sinhala folk songs, we have ‘Olinda tibenne Bangali dese’, and again reference to ‘Bangali valalu’.

Mahakabi Rabindranath has always been, and still is, a highly admired sahitya and sanskrti ambassador for Bengal, specially to Sri Lanka. He needs no introduction. About the Bangla poems of Jibananda Das, Rabindranath had used the term Chitraroopmoy ‘images through words’. We can see the Chitraroopmoy, and appreciate how close his Bangla poems are for us in Sri Lanka, even if we do not read the English translations. In his most famous poem, Banalata Sen, Jibanananda takes us from the Sinhal samudra in nishither andhokare to Malay shagore to the times of Bimbishar Ashoker, and to Vidarbha and Bidishar nagare,a nabik sailing atidur samudrer feeling klanta, at last meeting Banalata Sen, mukho mukhi.

As evident from the Bengali and Sinhala words in the poem Banalata Sen and the first paragraph of this article, of the similarities between Bengali bachana and Sinhala vachana, we can enjoy Bengali literature even though we do not know the language. The way forward is to search for similarities between our communities instead of the divergences.

Since we also believe that we are the only animal beings on earth who can use speech, who can use language for communication, we should be able to use such communication skills to form more sensitive and responsible relations with all other human beings on earth. If man is so intelligent, ingenious and can reach out to the stars, then his failure to develop a universal language, could just be due to his chauvinistic arrogance. We must be able to use our tongue, instead of our hands and weapons, to settle any conflict or dispute that may arise among us, anywhere.

For man to achieve true independence in communication, he has to develop a Universal Language, a language common to all human beings worldwide. A means of communication not limited to symbols, but one that transcends boundaries and narrow literal interpretations. It is not just a distant dream, but a vision we can accomplish in reality in the near future, by making use of all the digital technology that is now increasingly accessible. It could be a computer-generated language, a digital Esperanto, that can be read and understood by people all over the world and someday, around the universe.

It is a concept beyond ‘literacy’. Surely, by this time, man would be in his tertiary orality, where he would not, and need not be able to read and write to communicate, ideate.

This is the message we have to take across the world, that language is for friendship, trust and unity. Every language is just like a mighty river, sacred to each one of us, and when they all flow into the mightier ocean, they all become one. Time is opportune for accepting all Matrubhasha as Mitrabhasha.