Bibi Russell: The designer who put Bangladesh on the global fashion map

Bangladesh may not prominently feature in the global fashion scene. Although the scene has elevated significantly in recent years, the fashion industry is still in nascent stages. However, one of the trailblazers, name that many Bengalis associate with fashion is Bibi Russell. We know of her, but I am not sure we know the extent of her achievements.
I was so surprised when I first found out that Bibi Russell, “that Gamcha Lady” (as my mum refers to her in true Brown mom style), walked the Paris Fashion Week more than 20 years ago. She also worked with prestigious names as Vogue, Harper Baazar, Cosmopolitan, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Carl Lagarfield among many more.

Even the non fashion-conscious Bengali grew up hearing her name and fame. Be it because of her iconic love for gamcha print, or her rickshaw-painted frames, or her loud statement pieces and accessories. So, how did she turn Bibi Russell into a household name?

The little girl from Kamrunnisa High

Bibi had extensive exposure to culture during here upbringing- primarily because of the influence of her father, Mokhlessur Rahman. Mr Rahman got her a book from Chanel on French Haute Couture when she was 13-14. The book sparked her interest in high fashion. Also, she received her prospectus of the London College of Fashion- where she pursued a degree in Fashion Design later on.

Bibi oftentimes expresses how her early encounters with vendors wearing colourful gamchas and lungis invoked and engrained her love for the deshi, colourful manner of sustainable clothing. As early as 10 years of age, she was gifted with a sewing machine as she was never really satisfied with how her own clothes were made.

From her early teen years, Bibi knew she wanted to do something different despite receiving multiple awards for her arts.

So after she finished school from Kamrunnisa High and Home Economics College, she left for London, where she had to insist the authority for 6months consistently to finally get in.

Her big break

She was finishing her degree with a scholarship when for her last project she had to design 11 outfits and showcase them in a runway. At the insistence of one of her teachers, she sported the first and last one of her designs on the runway herself even though she wasn’t exactly warmed up to the idea of modelling, “my parents were already hearing a lot on how their daughter has gone off to become a tailor”.

After Bibi’s graduation show, she started to get a lot of offers from agencies and magazines. The first one she posed for was Harper Bazaar (so you probably shouldn’t procrastinate on your thesis/ projects so much). Her teachers encouraged her to take up this opportunity to learn about the fashion world as much as she can and that is precisely what she did. Her first show was with Valentino, and Vogue’s admiration for Bibi put her on the map pretty strongly “you could put two teacups on her cheekbones”, Vogue famously said.

Bibi Russell walked the ramp alongside the likes of Naomi Campbell and modelled in prestigious campaigns of Jaguar, BMW and Toyota among many others.

Her bottomless bucket of achievements

After she put her long and glorious modelling career to rest (from 1978- 94), she completely concentrated on putting Bangladeshi rural weavers out for the world to see. Her first collection was displayed in Paris, February ’96 in collaboration with UNESCO, her second one supported by the Queen of Spain in ’98- both of which of course showcased Gamcha, Khadi, Jamdani and other native Bangladeshi fabrics which were praised worldwide for their eco-friendly nature.

Bibi was awarded as Designer of Development in 1998 and Artist for Peace in 2001 from UNESCO. She also received “Cross of Officer of the Order of Queen Isabella” from the Spanish government for her influence on the Spanish Fashion industry and these only started her journey towards a lifetime of achievements and awards- all of which she always dedicated to the people who work for her and help her shape the dreams.

There were questions raised at one point about the child labourers Bibi employed in her production house, but during the making of a documentary she cleared the air up by showing how its more of a learning process of the craft for the children than it is about work. Her more recent work with acid attack survivors and rural Rajsthani weavers has also been the topic of international discussion.

The pull towards her root

Fluent in three (Bengali, English, Italian) and moderate in three more (Spanish, French, German) languages, with an already established career in modelling, Bibi could easily continue on the international platform as she was. She didn’t really have to come back to Bangladesh and try her hardest to revive our almost dying hand-woven textile industry. But she did anyway and after her Paris show, she got almost 30000 orders for the weavers who worked for her, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Now more than 35,000 weavers, excluding the people who work on other sectors of the house, from all over the country work for Bibi Production that produces and makes dresses out of all hand-woven, deshi material. Her production house has put Bangladesh’s best foot forward by exporting the products to Europe and the USA.

With all these success and acclamation, Bibi had every chance to bury her head in the clouds and forget her root, but she seems to be more pulled towards it with time. In fact, when she first came back to Bangladesh she spent month after months travelling all throughout the remote villages, learning different dialects and cultures to get a better understanding of the trade and the people she’s going to be working with. She has always been admirably vocal about getting recognition for the people whose relentless effort makes the wonderful world of glamour more magical. In return, the people she works and stays with has always embraced her with open homes and open hearts.

To sum it up, Bibi Russell has been the epitome of that artistic yet successful cousin who our parents want us to stay away from while we dream to be them someday. If her life is any indication, we should definitely try at the very least.

Everything you need to know about the Amazon forest fire

The largest rainforest in the world, Amazon, is on fire, it has been for the past three and a half weeks. It only started to make news after it caused a blackout in the city of Sao Paulo in the middle of the afternoon. Here’s what has been happening so far:

Why are rainforests called rainforests?

Everything you need to know about the Amazon forest fires

The answer is in the name itself. It rains a lot; even more than 80 inches a year. To make a better understanding of the measurement- the highest rainfall in a year recorded in Bangladesh is 78.74 inches and it happened once.

The trees in a rainforest are so plump and full of water, that even during the dry seasons they never completely dry out, not even the dead leaves. The air is intently humid, the forest produces so much vapour that it causes its own rain. Most of the time, the rain goes on throughout the year and in those forests where the rain is seasonal, the gap between seasons is not very long too.

The Amazon forest

Everything you need to know about the Amazon forest fires

The Amazon has all these qualities. As an added bonus, the Amazon Basin, the largest natural basin consisting of 5 rivers, flows throughout the forest and works as the draining system for the entire forest.

In conclusion, it has all the necessary mechanism at place to prevent a large scale fire. Even during the dry spells, the wildfire does not have the capacity to burn more than some twigs and dried leaves.

How did the fire start? Was it deliberate?

Everything you need to know about the Amazon forest fires

While the increasing amount of drought can be a factor in rainforest fires, Brazil’s INPE (National Institute for Space Research) researchers have said there is nothing abnormal about the climate or rainfall amounts in the Amazon this year.

“The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident”

INPE research Alberto Setzer told Reuters.
Everything you need to know about the Amazon forest fires

Agribusiness is Brazil’s main source of income and the Amazon has been a cash cow for quite some time now. It’s only made worse by Brazil’s far-right president Bolsonaro who is an active supporter of deforestation for farming and agribusiness.

He promised his voters lands and access, he promised he would open up the Amazon for mining and farming, he promised not another centimetre of indigenous land would be protected under his leadership.

Everything you need to know about the Amazon forest fires

The largest chunk of indigenous tribes of Brazil lives in the Amazon- which makes the Amazon the indigenous land Bolsonaro is not keen on protecting.

”It’s a combination of natural phenomena with locals feeling comfortable enough to do it because the government has not made any effort to prevent it”

Brazilian journalist Boccanera says in an interview with BBC.

The guardians of the forest

Everything you need to know about the Amazon forest fires

Almost all of the 400 Amazonian tribes take the protection of the forest very seriously. The Guajajara tribe has formed an army of locals who are called “The Guardian of the Forest”- and they are patrolling the rivers and the borders 24/7 to make sure no illegal loggers or farmers can get in, and in doing so, they’ve paid a heavy price. In the past 45 years, 1400 members of the Guajajara tribe alone have been killed or assassinated. That did not stop them. But now with the government backing up the ranchers, loggers and the farmers, the effectiveness of them is in question.

Can we fight the fire? Is Amazon ruined forever?

Everything you need to know about the Amazon forest fires

Bolsonaro, amid national and international pressure, has deployed the army and other national resources at last to fight the fire. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that the G7 will release funds for fire fighting planes. Israel has offered to help the Brazilian government to help stop the fire. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also pledged $5M for the forest.

Burnt lungs can not sustain life and the Amazon has been the lungs of the Earth since time immemorial.

It has been producing almost 10% of the world’s oxygen and right now it’s producing smokes that are visible from the space.

Luckily, there’s still time to save the forest. Experts say that despite deliberate deforestation and natural forest fires, 80% of Amazon is still intact. And if allowed to regenerate, Amazon will heal itself in about 20-40 years.

Facebook’s recognition of Chakma as our second language and Bangladesh’s road to inclusiveness

When I was growing up, I had a high amount of fascination towards the Indian people. I’ve seen them switching flawlessly between Hindi, some other types of Hindi (to my young, incomprehensive mind) and Bengali in television and films- and for a long time, I thought it was Bollywood requirement. My mum found out, laughed at me for a few seconds, then explained to me how unlike Bangladesh, India has a lot of languages (22 to be specific) running around. 

It took me 10 years after that incident to find out those other siblings of Bengali we don’t talk about. A few years more to know that we have around 18 more languages spoken around the country that most of us haven’t even heard of.

Baby steps on the way to progress

In the past few years, the situation seems to have elevated a little bit in the national level. We got pre-primary and primary books in Chakma, Marma and Mro language, we got Mro fables on print in the book fair just this year.

Facebook's recognition of Chakma as a second language and Bangladesh's road to inclusiveness

Read more: The story of Non-Bangalis in Bangladesh and the book that rescues them

Also not very long ago, two students took it upon themselves to contact Google and Microsoft so that they upgrade their system enough to use Chakma language for operating websites. They also developed an operation called ‘Easy Chakma Keyboard”, which helps the user write in Chakma alphabet (in Gboard) on iPhones, Android and Windows devices.

Another student has developed a Santali Wikipedia page which ended up being a collaborative project of Santals from Nepal, India along with Bangladesh.

The newest addition

The newest addition to our crown of progress has been added just a few days ago, as the same students who worked behind the “Easy Chakma Keyboard” started to contact Facebook for the past year and the authority finally included Chakma as the other language from Bangladesh.

“Facebook did not notify us about the latest update in which Chakma language has been added to its language and region option. We have noticed it ourselves recently,”

Jyoti Chakma also added.
Facebook's recognition of Chakma as a second language and Bangladesh's road to inclusiveness

Now, the entire Chakma population from around the world can express themselves in their own tongue- thanks to Facebook and the GBoard in Chakma. 

Jyoti also stated that their next step is to introduce Chakma language to Google translator.

Even though most of these initiatives are private-funded, personal projects, they seem to point at how we are growing to be a bit more inclusive of our own culture day by day. After all, since the movement to establish the reputation of our own mother tongue started Bangladesh’s journey, it’s only fair to include all Bangladeshi’s mother tongue to it.

Rethinking feminine hygiene with jute based sanitary pads

Compared to other females in their early mid-twenties, I have a fairly manageable period cycle. I was a tad early and started to bleed from the green age of 12. So far I have roughly used up 3000 pieces of disposable sanitary pads. All of which are made out of materials that include plastics, chemicals and not 100% biodegradable and environmentally friendly components. This is the solitary contribution of one sole person to the never-ending global pollution.

Now, as a person who’s concerned about the planet (because, duh! We only live here!), this calculation alarms me. A big chunk of the world’s population bleeding on any menstruation product every 6- 8 hours is creating this huge pile of junk that we don’t know how to permanently get rid of.

Menstruation Cups have been introduced as a solution to all this, but let’s face it- its basically the luxury like our government thinks menstruation products are. And it’s not accessible to the female population of a country where only 11% of the menstruating population uses safe hygienic products.

Jute to the rescue

After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi included it in one of his public speeches, jute based sanitary pads has become the talk of the town in our neighbouring country. People from all sides of India, as well as from this side of the border, are congratulating the IJIRA (Indian Jute Industries Research Association) on this breakthrough.

Rethinking feminine hygiene: Jute based sanitary pads

It’s a breakthrough because, with this, the cost per pad is down to 1-2 Rs, whereas the cost of the regular pads is 8-12 Rs/piece.

It will also dissolve in the soil after dumping, which removes a huge concern for the environmentalists along the way. Not to mention the boost it will give to the dying jute industry of a country that used to have jute as one of its primary crops.

But is this the first time?

Here comes the interesting part. It’s not. 

In Kenya, JaniPad was introduced to keep girls from dropping out of school. It was made of Water Hyacinth which was chosen because of its high water absorbency rate. But the project got shut off due to lack of funding and proper management.

Bangladesh had its efforts too

Afterwards, JaniPad sparked the idea to use Water Hyacinth, along with Cotton, as raw material for pads into a student of BRAC University, Naziba Nayla Wafa.

It dissolved within two weeks of discarding and water hyacinth keeps the absorbency up to the much-needed scale. She had a team of 10 female workers who made these and distributed them among 2000 women in Mohammadpur Geneva Camp.

She used it herself, along with 2 other team members to test it. Naziba wanted to work on it more, but could not due to a number of reasons.

A late limelight

The IJIRA project, Saathi, started more than a year ago. But it only came to light as Modi mentioned it himself. Saathi is even getting fund from the Central Government because the then Minister of Textile, Smriti Irani pursued it herself to save the Jute Industry and promote female hygiene at the same time. So the chance of failure for this project is slimming down. And if it gets to zero, then this will prove a little involvement from the authorities is enough to ensure a safer and better tomorrow for all.

The planet we live in and the womb we come out of- both of them deserve the utmost care. But somehow these are the two things we treat in the most careless manner. We are polluting the Earth knowingly and unknowingly on a daily basis. We are not providing proper accessible hygiene and medical care for the female reproductive system. This is a step that shows it is possible to do both without even taking a dig at the economy. All it needs is the willingness to do so.

I wish the best of luck to Sathi and fingers crossed we learn something from this.

When Mandela came to Bangladesh

Nelson Mandela is a household name in our country. You might think it’s because of our natural inclination towards rebels and revolutionaries, but I beg to differ.

Birth of a Madiba

Mandela, or Madiba as his people call him, was not just a rebel, he was also a visionary. Born during the dark times of apartheid in 1918, on 18th July, he envisioned his world free of racism, poverty and discrimination- which he worked for till he couldn’t anymore.

Mandela in Bangladesh

Mandela visited Bangladesh in March 1997, on the 25th years anniversary of Bangladeshi independence.

Now, you might chalk it off as another diplomatic visit of some Prime Minister to a war-ridden country. Or you can try to understand why Madiba was closer to our cause than most.

Read more: The story of how Bengalis owe Pohela Boishakh to Mughal emperor Akbar

Nelson Mandela smiles during a meeting in Johannesburg in this file photo dated 2 June 2009. Picture: Nelson Mandela Foundation/SAPA

Nelson Mandela has been championed all around the world for his peaceful approach to remove apartheid from South African system. But when those were met with violence, he didn’t hesitate to return fire, so to speak.

He favoured peace till peace wasn’t an option anymore.

Mandela’s reflection in us

Much alike to the beginning of our journey to independence. We kept trying to resolve the national issues peacefully. Until West Pakistani government pushed us to the limit and we finally pushed back.

As Nelson Mandela has been such a powerful figure in history, it’s often of great value to go the length in understanding his contributions and not trust his portrait created by the same source that helped imprison him for 27 years.

For a country like ours was 20 years back during his visit, sympathetic words like “I have come to Bangladesh to pay homage to a nation that has fought for its sovereignty. Celebrating this blood-soaked independence, I am here to say today that escaping the clutches of oppression and the autocratic rule is never easy”, were of paramount importance.

It’s been 20 years since, and it’s only fair to say we need to revisit what he said instead of just tidbits of his life.

Happy 101st Birthday Madiba, we remember you.

Read more: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pursuing to learn Bengali

Touquir Ahmed is creating a Bangladeshi Feluda and here’s your first look!

For any book-lover Bengali, from this side of the border or the other, the name Satyajit Ray is one that’s very close to the heart. His short stories, novels, horrors, thrillers- they’ve all been a huge part of all our childhood. And the largest of them all is the hero we all looked up to growing up, Pradosh Chandra Mitra, or who we know him more as, Feluda.

Soumitra Chatterjee was the very first portrayal of Feluda on the silver screens

Read more: Is Feluda coming to Hollywood?

A Bangladeshi Feluda?

Sharp wit, an even sharper tongue, piercing eyes, tall, mysterious- this enigmatic character has been attempted to be portrayed by generations after generations. The list of visionaries who had their own vision for Feluda includes Satyajit Ray himself, his son Sandeep Ray and also many other writers and directors.  The latest and most intriguing addition to this list is our very own Tauquir Ahmed, who’s shooting a web series on Feluda from 21st April, in various locations of Dhaka and Chittagong.

Sabyasachi has played the character for the longest period of time

Even after decades of Feluda’s arrival, there have never been any attempts at large to create and show his persona in our cultural sphere. All the dramas, plays that have been made, have been at a small scale, never adding much justice to this stellar character of Bengali literature.

The latest series about Feluda saw an Indian Feluda solving cases in Bangladesh’s context. It was still not our own Feluda.

The closest we came to presenting this iconic series was the Feluda series in bioscope- but even in that series, the titular characters of Feluda, Topshe and Laalmohan Babu were played by prominent actors from West Bengal, with Bangladesh providing with the background and Bangladeshi actors portraying only minor parts.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to rectify the situation a bit with a Bangladeshi actor playing the main part and the web series being produced solely in Bangladesh.

Stellar cast and crew

Considering the situation at hand, Tauquir Ahmed has enough awards and recognition under his belt to reassure the avid fans on the project’s success. His different outlook on Bangla cinema and TV has helped the industry gain a lot of the international acclamation it has today.

The entire cast has not been announced yet, only who’s going to portray Feluda and its Ahmed Rubel. We do see Abul Kalam Azad and Abul Hayat in some latest stills but details have not been divulged yet.

Ahmed Rubel, our own Feluda at last?

Given the performer and the character, so far it seems to be the most understandable match. For those of you who can’t place Ahmed Rubel, he is mainly a theatre and television actor, who also has proved his acting chops in films like “Bachelor: the circle”, “Guerilla”, “Chandrokoktha”, “The last Thakur” etc which are far from mainstream. Now the production house claims to have some sort of surprise in store for the two sidekicks- Topshe and Laalmohon Babu, and we hope its more Bangladeshi actor, with the originality of the character preserved.

In a country full of intense Bengali readers, it’s been a shame to not have our own version of Feluda, Topshe, Laalmohon and Maganlal Meghraj. About time we walk in the right direction.

The case of Nusrat and our “rape culture”

At first, when I was told to write about Nusrat, I was very keen on doing it. I was very eager to voice a wave of scream towards all the men and women who are defending the rapist. I was excited to talk about the girl who, with a body 80% covered in burns, wanted justice. She used what little breath she had left to demand justice.

Justice for all the time she’s been molested. Justice for all the time that pervert Siraj-Ud-Doula got away with it, not just with her, but with plenty other people before her as well. Justice against all those puny perverts who grew to power under his careful guidance. Justice for all the blatant abuse of power for personal gain and coverage.

How many of us can say the same for ourselves? How many of us stayed strong in the face of adversary, threats and in the end, literally death?

The culture of denial

Remember how I said, just a few moments ago, that I “was” keen on writing about Nusrat? I am not anymore.

Because even now, there are marches going on demanding the release of a man who’s been accused of sexual harassment multiple times (by multiple I mean countless times) throughout many years. Because there are still people everywhere, who are defending a system that’s producing generations after generations of repressed youth. Because even after this gruesome death, there are people who think she deserved it. Because she had to be burnt alive to have her allegations be taken seriously.

What exactly is wrong with us?

We are straight-up denying the rape culture that’s been nurtured within our society for as long as I can remember, or for as long as my mother can remember, or even for as long as my grandmother can remember. We think marriage is a ceremony where the father hands over his autonomy upon his daughter to another man. We believe women owe men their body whenever, however, wherever they ask for it.

So we end up getting triggered over something as basic as a t-shirt that says “don’t stand too close”– because who’s a woman to tell a man where he can or can’t stand? Isn’t a molester’s freedom to let their body parts roam far greater than the discomfort and molestation of a woman?

The blame game

Then comes the part where we are blaming “no-orna” for rape, then we are blaming not wearing hijab for rape, afterwards, we are blaming not wearing burqa, and then lastly, we are blaming Bollywood for rape.

Seems like we are blaming everyone and everything but the rapist for the rape.

This is rape culture.

When we are victimizing the criminal and criminalizing the victim, that’s rape culture.

When we are presenting reasons behind a rapist’s intention, we are stating the rapist’s action as reasonable- and that’s rape culture.

When we try to demean a man for stepping up to his peers against their sexism by calling him gay, impotent, trans. pussy, not a man– that’s rape culture.

Well, think about owning an alpha male cat. He will litter on your bed, or on your study place (wherever you spend the most time in) to prove he’s the number one of the house, not the other way around. Not because he couldn’t find any other place to litter, not because he had sudden diarrhoea- because he needed to assert dominance.

It’s the same with rape, or as we educated people like to call it “non-consensual sex”.

A toxic society

When someone has to force themselves onto someone else (usually vulnerable individuals of the society- females, or young boys), it means they’ve been denied their dominance over their prey at first. And in a patriarchal society, where dominance equals to power and strength, being denied means being weak, being defected (ladies, that’s why all the men you said no to think there must be something wrong with you or them to be rejected, not because you have free will).

Sometimes when I’m talking about this (who am I kidding, most times) I feel so tired as if I’ve been battling the Hydra for centuries, like two heads are sprouting from where I slayed one a moment ago. That’s not even completely metaphorical- you’ll know what I’m talking about if you just give the comment sections of these news a go. Or if you talk to any stranger on the road. The number of people saying “not all men” is far greater than the number of those actual men.

But then again, we think non-consensual sex and rape is different. Maybe we deserve this toxic, dying out society after all.

A story of fire and crowd

Should you be called stupid for taking pictures in front of a burning building?

In a general sense, yes, you should be called stupid for taking pictures in front of a burning building.

Let me explain.

You’re not Clark Kent, Tintin, Anderson Cooper, or even Munni Saha- you don’t have the expectation of the world to report on it. However, your family do expect you to return home to them and you wont be able to if you stand under a fuming building, with debris (and people) falling from over your head and killing you or paralyzing you on the process.

What can you do if you find yourself around a blazing 22 storied edifice?

Firstly, if the fire seems recent, call 199. If you can’t remember it, you can still call 999. They’ll do the rest.

Read more: Fire Safety 101, What to do if you’re ever in a fire

Secondly, unless you have some sort of first aid training (which is frequently provided by the Red Crescent Society FYI), or the basic idea of how to help  during a fire fight, you clear out of the area. Like right at the moment.

There have been multiple arguments going around about how it’s the people who’s been of the most help during the calamities Dhaka has been facing since the beginning of civilization, Rana Plaza disaster being the most prominent example. What these arguments fail to realize is the differences of the situations.

The Rana Plaza disaster was of such a huge caliber, that professional help was outnumbered by the casualties. So the people helped. They helped with instruments, they lent hands for digging- carrying, they helped by providing with food,water and medicine, they donated blood, they did everything in their power to help the affected- dead or alive.

Of what use were those who held their cameras high and blocked 3/4th of the entire road to a building engulfed in fire?

The road was much more needed for the fire-fighters, the first-aiders and the medical teams to function effectively.

Before you start bringing up the people who actually helped, those who helped with carrying the waterline, or that kid who stayed on top of the pipe to stop it from leaking the entire time, or those who tried to keep the 1/4th of the road clear of the “curious people” so the ambulances or the fire trucks could come through, try to think of the number of them (around 200) against of those who just stood there and did nothing (nearly a thousand).

Before you start defending those who stood there and prayed, they could’ve prayed at home. They could’ve prayed at the mosque.

They could’ve not make it harder for the people who actually had family and friends stuck in the building. They could’ve not make the police come down to clear the entire Kamal Ataturk Road and they could’ve not make the ambulances and the fire trucks late.

They could’ve reduced the number of deaths and injured, if they weren’t some, in lack of better words, attention-hungry jerks.

Before you start defending those who stood there to watch and record people burning, breaking down, dying, jumping off the building to save themselves from the fire- remember what happened less than a month ago in Chawkbazar. Remember how the crowd, in collaboration with the unplanned roads and streets, hindered the help from getting there on time.

Remember how curiosity killed someone’s family, someone’s friends, someone’s loved one. Literally.

The story of Non-Bangalis in Bangladesh and the book that rescues them

Imagine having to speak in Bengali only with your parents, very close friends and sometimes with your significant other, if you’re lucky enough to find one who knows your words. Imagine no one understanding when you’re speaking in Bengali. Imagine people whispering behind, and sometimes in front of you, when you’re telling your mother over the phone that you’re going to be late for dinner, or asking your brother which comic he wants. Imagine living in a place where the words you grew up with are alien.

Would you be able to call that place home?

A place called home

If you’re still not getting the direction I’m trying to push you towards, then imagine speaking one of the 18 languages (more or less) as your mother tongue, in a country where people condemn you for speaking anything other than the majority’s language (even your typical English medium accented Bengali).

Imagine living in Bangladesh as anyone other than a Bangali.

If you can’t, here’s a step-by-step rundown of how your life would be:

  • You would barely know how your letters look like- because there’s barely any literature published in it. You’d grow up reading and writing the ever glorifying Bangla letters before you even know how your name looks like in your language (If you’re lucky enough to have a school in your vicinity that is)
  • The stories and fables your mom told you to make you sleep at night would be swamped under the weight of “Thakumar Jhuli” and “Gopal Bhar er Golpo”
  • You’d start high school and on the first day when you introduce yourself in front of the class, you’d hear a lot of sniggering, whispering and even a little loud laughter
  • College is going to be tough (If you have the audacity to attend one) – there’s no sugarcoating here
  • Afterwards, your life is going to be a series of “Hey do you really eat frogs?” “How hard is it to sleep on a machang?” “Are you Chakma?” “Are your eyes open or closed right now?” and a few (!) more FAQs till death does you part

Does that scare you? It should. Because that’s what most indigenous people in Bangladesh go through every day. In this country, it is not particularly a delightful experience to be a minority. We have not made it easy for them.

A ray of hope

But, the scenario might just change the slightest bit in the upcoming years as textbooks in three native languages (Chakma, Marma and Tripura) has been published and distributed among the pre-primary schoolers. They are already complaining about the lack of sufficiently qualified teachers, but hey at least they have the books for a start, right?

The tale of the first book in “Mro” language

Speaking of books, during the Ekushey Book Fair 2019 Biddyanondo Publication has already made headlines twice. One of these times is for a book they published called “Mro Rupkotha” or “Mro Fables”.

What’s special about this book is, it’s the first book ever printed in Mro/ Murong alphabet.

Imagine holding in your hand the first ever printed book in Bengali alphabet. Now imagine doing that in 2019. You’d look like this Mro man holding this book up from his impatient son, getting a closer look with an immense concentration in his eyes. Biddyanondo not only published it, but they also made sure the book reached the Mro households free of costs. According to them, it’s their version of the International Mother Language Day celebration.

All the 35 stories of this book are written in Mro, as well as translated in Bengali. So you and I can enjoy their stories, as old as time, for a change.

Rethinking our pride

For a country that takes such intense pride in their dedication respecting mother languages, we sure have been very negligible towards our very own. And even though this book is one small step for Biddyanondo, it’s a giant leap for all Bangladeshi people.