Sunday, March 6, 2011

On love for the country

Published in The Independent, March 5th , 2011
M. Serajul Islam

We begin each year by celebrating the return of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from his captivity in Pakistan to an independent Bangladesh that his vision and leadership created. Then in February, we devote the entire month to Bangla.

Our glorious war of liberation started with declaration of independence on March 25th, 1971. We now devote March every year to celebrate our independence and continue for the rest of the year remembering the great events of the 9 months long war. In April, we devote the month to the Bangla New Year. In August, we have the month of national mourning. We end the year as the month of liberation. In fact, there is hardly a month when we do not see the nation involved in demonstrating some event or other showing our love for our motherland, its history and culture and individuals whom we hold in esteem.

Other nations also acknowledge their history; celebrate their independence and if they have a leader like our Father of the Nation, they show him respect. They do these things but their enthusiasm comes nowhere to what we show. Where other nations spend a day for a national event, we end up devoting up to an entire month with some of these events and with our war of liberation, the observance just never ends. Does it then mean we love our country more than others love theirs?

If we look beyond the national events and leaders to our literature and songs devoted to our love for our country, we would surely stand head and shoulder above any nation on earth. In our poems, we depict Bangladesh as the most beautiful nation and express sentiments that no doubt reflect that our poets and those who read such poetry have their hearts in the right place but not their heads. The exaggeration is obvious.

What is really a wonder is the fact that in a country where we show such love for our motherland in so many ways, a significant part of the people accuses another significant part of utter lack of patriotism! For those of us who have lived through 1971, we know it to be true without any argument that except for a handful of people who collaborated with the genocidal Pakistani army as Razakars, the overwhelming majority of our people gave unequivocal and unwavering support to the cause of our freedom. It is therefore unacceptable that there can be such a large number of people opposed to Bangladesh today.

It is time therefore for us to look dispassionately whether we need to play our emotions and exposure in national life a little less so we can concentrate better at nation building efforts. There are many new issues cropping up in our national life on which we are unfortunately not focusing. A Few days ago, we wanted to watch World Cup Cricket on a big TV screen at a city’s elite club. We were not allowed because quite a large number of members were watching Indian superstar Mr. Salman Khan’s performance at Bangabandhu National Stadium where Hindi and Indian culture were on display and aired by a local TV channel for rest of the country to watch. We took the World Cup Trophy to the Shahid Minar that the nation cheered but the same nation also enjoyed Mr. Khan’s programme where Bangladeshi performers also joined with songs and dances alien to our culture. The fact that this was February meant little to the organizers and did not also draw any protest from those who are so passionate in our public life with such issues.

In Fact, in between our public passion with patriotism, we are being engulfed with invasion of Indian and foreign cultures , thanks to the easy availability of Indian TV channels and indulgence of our own private TV channels depicting copy cat programmes from Indian TV channels. In the midst of our indulgence with Bangla, we are blissfully overlooking how it is being sidelined from educational institutions to which not just the rich and the powerful but also people with lesser resources are sending their children. Bangla has in fact lost out in importance in educational institutions since our independence. Former US Ambassador Harry Thomas once said in a private discussion that he was amazed that in Bangladesh the upper section preferred the English schools for their children; those in the middle the Bangla schools and the vast section of poor of the country the Arabic schools while in public the whole country was overboard with their love for Bangla!

We take pride for the International Mother Language Day unaware of the fact that the Day is for committing ourselves to languages that are dying. We are pledge bound to save the languages of our indigenous peoples and our hill tribes but we are so busy with Bangla at the public level that we have just no time to bother about the languages of these peoples that our dying.

Have we served Bangla to the extent of the love we show for it? Speakers in this year’s “Boi Mela” have lamented that good books on serious subjects in Bangla are hardly coming to the market. Unless we are able to produce research and text books in Bangla, our language will never reach the heights for which it has the potential. The other sad aspect of books in Bangla is the cost factor. The ordinary folks are only capable of buying a token number of books in Bangla; nowhere to make such books an inevitable part of our lives. The rich and the powerful generally keep away from events as the Boi Mela because they have little use of these books.

We should feel proud of our love for our country; it language, history and leaders. However, sadly a lot of that love is not translated to nation building. We must consider restraining our emotions and spend more time and energy for nation building. Perhaps less emotion could lead us to do better things for the country. For instance it could help us find out that families of many we admire so emotionally in public are languishing in private in deep financial crisis and encourage us to care for them.

The bottom line is everyone loves his country for that is the natural thing to do. In his famous poem “Patriot” Sir Walter Scott had written those immortal lines: “Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who hath never said to himself, ‘this is my own, my native land.” The love of an individual for his country is natural as is one’s love for mother; anything to the contrary is not. Hence, patriotism is taken for granted everywhere without the need to boast about it or exaggerate it.

The way we demonstrated our love for the motherland in 1971 places us in a class of our own on patriotism. In fact, our sacrifices in 1971 should encourage us to be humble and use that patriotism to translate to reality the causes for which so many had made the ultimate sacrifice.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt and a former Secretary to the Gover

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