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.

5 Bangla books that you must read

It is that time of the year again. The Ekushey Book-fair is going in full swing. Commemorating the mother language movement of 1952, the month-long Boi Mela is ubiquitously the biggest celebratory hub for Bangla literature. Both seasoned wordsmiths and emerging authors publish their books throughout the extent the fair.

Watch: The history of Ekushey Boi Mela

We have handpicked 5 newly published Bangla books from Boi Mela. These 5 titles will surely keep you glued to the pages!

Read more: 7 bookstores in Dhaka worth visiting

#1 Floyedian (ফ্লয়েডিয়ান)

Publisher: Pearl publications

Price: 150 TK

How often do you see books about legendary bands like Pink Floyd, that too in Bangla? Not much. But this book titled ‘Floyedian’ particularly caught my attention. Writer Milu Aman blended the history of psychedelic rock giant Pink Floyd with his remembrance of growing up in the cassette era. Being only 95 pages in size, this book is not a definitive biography of Pink Floyd. Nevertheless, it is an interesting page-turner and can be read in an hour.

Get the book here.

#2 Mamlar shakkhi moyna pakhi (মামলার সাক্ষী ময়না পাখি)

Publisher: Prothoma

Price: 180

Doctor/writer Shahaduz Zaman is an esteemed personality in contemporary Bangla literature. His much-anticipated compilation title ‘Mamlar shakkhi moyna pakhi’ has finally been released on the second week of February. It is a compilation of 10 short stories. Zaman casts a spell of wordplay on his readers; this book upheaves his standard much farther. Shoutout to Sabyasachi Hazra as well for his incredible cover illustration. Definitely, a must read.

Get the book here.

#3 64 jelay ki dekhechi (৬৪ জেলায় কি দেখেছি)

Publisher: Agami prokashoni

Price: 300 tk

You can’t be sad while riding a bicycle. Imagine cycling through the 64 districts of Bangladesh, staying over at strangers’ place and writing about your cross country solo trip. Exciting, right? Well, Mohammad Shariful Islam did so in 2010. During his journey, he wrote daily journals about paddling hundreds of kilometres and meeting a diverse array of strangers. “64 jelay ki dekhechi” is the compilation of Shariful’s journal. Once you start reading, you will catch yourself musing about quitting your job and going on a backpacking adventure.

Get the book here.

#4 David Lynch er notebook (ডেভিড লিঞ্চের নোটবুক)

Publisher: Oitijjhyo

Price: 190 tk

I am quite picky about translated books. They don’t usually meet my expectations. But Rudra Arif did a tremendous job translating “Catching the big fish”, the personal account of filmmaking extraordinaire David Lynch. One of the most important directors of our time, his filmography includes Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead. “David Lynch er notebook”, the Bangla version of journals kept by Lynch, is a great way to peek into the inner world of the director admired by many. As a dedicated Twin Peaks fan (which David Lynch co-created), I was excited to read this book.

Get the book here.

#5 Baniyalulu (বানিয়ালুলু)

Publisher: Baatighar

Price: 180 tk

I am a patsy for Bangla sci-fi. Shibabrata Bormon’s sci-fi short story compilation ‘Baniyalulu’ is a genre-bending book that manoeuvres interplay between originality and literary excellence. Bormon is a very underrated writer and deserves a wider fanbase. I liked all of the stories, but I have to highlight the title story. It captivated me and I will definitely give it another read in future. 

Get the book here.

Books are and have always been our best friend, and will remain to be so in the future. So take some time away from your Netflix binges and harken back to the days where you had a longer attention span and a wider scope for imagination. I hope these 5 books will make it to your list.

Happy reading!