As February ends, it closes with it the remembrance of Bangladesh’s historic language movement that culminated in the sacrifice of our language martyrs on that fateful day in 1952. While Ekushey will be marked and remembered (and celebrated) year in, year out, there are scores of people out there who lament the blatant disregard for this beautiful language that is shown by certain crowds within the youth of the nation. There IS some truth to that – the Bengali language is changing with lack of use and a steady influx of colloquial vocabulary, and most young people are staving off reading Bengali books. Since we could all use the practice, here’s a list of the books that can hopefully get you hooked on reading books in one of the sweetest sounding languages ever (Google it!).
Any and all children’s book by Md. Zafar Iqbal
Reader level: Novice
Are you even a Bangladeshi millennial if you haven’t spent your school days devouring books by Md. Zafar Iqbal under the kombol, fully prepared to sacrifice next day’s exam for it? These books are the perfect khichuri of action, adventure, emotions, and sometimes even romance, and they treat young people as intelligent beings who, with a little dose of courage, are capable of impacting the world around them. Written in easy-to-digest Bangla, Md. Zafar Iqbal should be the first author whose books you pick up if it’s your first try at reading Bangla books.
Recommended books: Dipu Number 2, Amar Bondhu Rashed, Doshshi Kojon, Ami Topu, Brishtir Thikana.
Books by Humayun Ahmed
Reader level: Novice
Usually set in typical Bangladeshi middle-class families, Humayun Ahmed books are like a splash of cold water to the face in its depiction of the simplicity of middle-class living. Beautifully written, usually slow paced and with mature content, these books will make you wonder how such effortless expression of everyday life in plain Bangla can be so emotionally stimulating. Deceptively simple with powerful plotlines, living in Dhaka explored through these books is almost mystically ordinary.
Recommended books: Nondito Noroke, Shongkhonil Karagar, Pryiotomeshu.
Tin Goyenda series by Rakib Hasan
Reader level: Novice
Set around the lives of Bangladeshi-American Kishore Pasha and his friends, Rakib Hasan’s Tin Goyenda series is a must-read teen thriller and action/adventure series. With the perfect balance of intense atmosphere, shocking plot twists and a very relatable teenage humour, these three detectives will become your best friends as you solve cases of girls mysteriously dying while visiting their friends’ house, or as you follow the detectives through a jungle as they try to escape from an island within an hour as part of a game (The Maze Runner vibes, anyone?). Each story is fairly short and the language is relatively easy, so Tin Goyenda would be a great collection to start off your Bangla reading journey.
Short Stories collection by Satyajit Ray
Reader level: Advanced
From the mystical tale of how one man purchases a dragon’s egg from a stranger he met on a park bench, to the heartbreaking story of an artist who realizes he’s colourblind – short stories by Satyajit Ray are classics that everyone needs a copy of in their bookshelf. Heartfelt, warm and hilarious, these stories are only a few pages long and, for the most part, easy enough to understand on your own – the few words that you don’t know can be drawn from context, or maybe by asking your parents what they mean. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll break your heart a little, but most importantly, they’re short enough to read as bedtime stories, and if you can commit to reading at least one story every night, it’ll be the easiest challenge you will have ever taken on.
Short stories by Rabindranath Tagore
Reader level: Proficient
Starting your Bangla reading habits with Tagore is daunting, no doubt, but considering Tagore is basically the Shakespeare of Bengal, one cannot be Bengali without some basic Tagore reading. That being said, Tagore should definitely be on the list of your to-reads as a must. Don’t be too scared to turn to google translate or your parents when you stumble across difficult words, and the rest will fall in place. Stories by Tagore will not only transport you to how people in our culture lived back then, but it will also expose you to such emotional depths that it will certainly change your perception of things for good. If you find yourself groaning at the thought of reading classics, remind yourself that they’re classics for a reason, and when you get through bawling your eyes out at the end of each story, you’ll know why.
Recommended stories: Hoimonti, Chhuti, Postmaster.
Books don’t only help develop linguistic knowledge and skills, but also enchant you into the lives and minds of people from time periods, cultures, locations, and experiences vastly different from your own. There’s a certain familiar sweetness in reading your own mother tongue, but more than that, there’s a certain familiar sweetness in reading about the people who live such different lives from you in the same culture. It is the only way to know and live the millions of lives you will never live in your shared intimacy of culture and language, and that is the kind of precious sentiment that will always remain absent in any other language, because it is a part of your very fundamental identity.