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Bangladesh and the Bengali Language

I am a Bengali and the Bengali Language is my mother tongue. Only since 1971 after Bangladesh gained independence the language changed.....

En route to Bangladesh ...On the Jessore road.

En route to Bangladesh ...On the Jessore road.


It was in 2017 when I was coming back from Jeddah. It was a Hajj flight and we were taking the pilgrims back to India. While waiting at the departure hall I saw that one of the Haj officials was distributing the Quran to the pilgrims. I, on some instinct, went to the official and asked for a Quran for myself. He looked at me first from head to toe and then asked me if I was a Muslim. I said, “No I am not “ . There was complete silence for maybe ten seconds and then,I don’t know what he thought, he went inside his office and came back with an English, abridged version f Quran and gave it to me. I will not forget that day.

To date that Quran is a prized possession for me. As soon as I came home I started reading it and trying to grasp the content of the holy book. The book was a little differently formatted. It had some selected Surahs and some selected Ayahs in Arabic written in English scripts in the first part and then a prose form with chapters in the second part. Quran has 114 Surahs and 6327 Ayahs.

I was reading that English version of the Quran and I came upon something that needs to mentioned vis a vis that which I read in Shiva Sahasranamah, a Vedic treatise. At the same time, I have been watching a lot of Bangladeshi dramas particularly that of Mr. Mosharaf Karim and Imroz Tisha and others and I was overwhelmed by their sense of theatrics and acting. Mr Karim is an excellent actor with a fantastic sense of timing and comedy, his dialogue delivery and his nuances are so very perfect and it touches your heart. He is one of my idols now I must confess. So is Tisha, an actress her full name being Nusrat Imroz Tisha. She is a perfect actress for all roles from being a seductress to a village girl busy with household chores.

Now my readers must be little perplexed as to why I wrote two different, seemingly unrelated, paragraphs. I do have my reasons.

First let me talk about the observations about Bangladesh through my journey into Bangladesh through Youtube, Facebook, and my few friends there. I have never been to Bangladesh in my lifetime though my ancestors were from a place called Faridpur. A picturesque place of flat land and miles and miles of paddy cultivation with an occasional Peepal tree or Bodhi tree as is known quite famously in India. The Mud track meandering through the endless fields and the occasional streaks of coconut trees striking out in the otherwise flat green landscape is a view to keep it for posterity. Bangladesh Itself is a beautiful country with environmental challenges galore.

Therefore I watched many Television series and dramas and was really hooked on to Mr. Mosharraf Karim and Imroz Tisha”s most famous television drama named “Carrom”. While watching I was little taken aback by certain words that are predominant in the Bengali language of Bangladesh and that’s where both my opening paragraphs will come into play while explaining this dichotomy.

Let me first start with the word “Paani”. There is a lot of preconceived notion about the origin of the word Paani. Paani finds its etymological origin in Sanskrit. Now there are a lot of scholars who think that paani is an Arabic word as they have mentioned that the word is in the Quran . The word “ ma’an” pronounced as mya-an is the word for water in Arabic and Quran was written in Arabic so my first objection to the scholars who propounds that paani is mentioned in Quran is somewhat not agreeable. Paani has its origin in Sanskrit language. Now Sanskrit language is the oldest language in the world and is the only language till date which is absolutely usable as the software language with the competency of the binary language, which is the basis of any competent computer language and is older than the Tamil language which is 5000 years Bc old. Therefore the Quran or the Arabic language even if they accommodate the word paani, antiquity belongs to Sanskrit. The Bengali word for water is “jol”. So my question is why Bangladeshi people say paani for Jol. Another aspect which meanders in my mind is that during the independence war of Bangladesh, whereby East Pakistan became Bangladesh. The very reason for that historic uprising was the forceful implementation of Urdu as the national language for the East Pakistan where the entire population was Bengali speaking. The resistance to this dictum of West Pakistan was spearheaded by Sheih Mujibur Rehman. India assisted the resistance to bring forth the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. Who can forget that proud moment when General A.A.K. Niazi surrendered to Indian army GOC in C Eastern Command head, Lieutenant General J.S.Arora. So the aspect that meandered in my head is when a war was fought in order to maintain the sanctity of the language then why “Paani” is said for water rather than “ Jol”.

The Next word is “GOSOL” . Gosol means having a bath and gosol khana is bathroom. Actually the word has its etymological reference to the hindi word “Gusl” ( Gusla) meaning washing one’s entire body which itself is an Arabic derivation. Hamam is an Arabic word for washroom but I still fail to understand why Gosol is used in the Bangladeshi colloquial Bengali. . In the history of the Indian subcontinent, the Arabs invaded India and were there for a long period of time so it is but natural that there would be some influence of their language in the vast diversity of languages of the then Indian subcontinent. Therefore there was a concerted effort during the 10th century AD onwards to get the language to its purer form and this happened n the Bengal region. Mind you Bengal region then was a huge region with Orissa, Assam, and undivided Bengal.

The next word is “Dawat”. We all do know the meaning of this word. Dawat means invitation. In Bengali Nimontron is the word for Dawat, and also means the same. Dawat is an Urdu word which has its origin in Arabic. The Arabic word is “Daewa” . my question then is why the Bengalis of Bangladesh say dawat instead of nimontron. These deliberate effort to say some words that are not in the repertoire of the Bengali language is a question that haunts me. More so, when the very premise of the development of Mukti Bahini is against the acceptance of language and words which are not Bengali in its origin.

The next word is “dosto”

Dosto, the word is an aberration of the word dost which means friend and is a Persian word. Later it was used in Urdu and Hindi. This word is also used very commonly by the populace of Bangladesh. The Bengali word for “Dost” is “Bondhu”. I at times at loss to understand as to why such anomalies exist in Bangladesh where the repertoire of the Bengali Language is humongous and before independence and Partition of India the language of undivided Bengal was same except for the parochial differences which is visible and notable in every language in our country. Like the Marathi of Pune and the Marathi of Khandesh are two bipolar differences in the same language.

Having said about the various words that are not Bengali in origin and their usage in the Bangladeshi dialect being diametrically opposed to the very ethos with which the Mukti Bahini Movement stated, I do have a logical question thereby. Why does the Bangla language of Bangladesh have words that are not Bengali in origin and in spite of the fact that west Pakistan’s force to use Urdu as the official language of East Pakistan triggered the Mukti Bahini movement which finally got east Pakistan their freedom as Bangladesh?

There are more than fifty Islamic countries in the world and each and every country has its dialect which they very proudly adhere to. Like for example, The Saudis say “Ma’an” for water, The word for friend is “Rafeq” the word for the invitation is “Risalat Daewa” In the Turkish Language water is “Su” Friend is “Arkadas” invitation is “Davetiye” bathing is “Yuzme” . In the Malaysian language water is “ air” , Friend is ,”rakan” and Invitition is ,”jemputan” and so on... So no other Islamic country has borrowed any word from anywhere and they have maintained their independent ideology about dialect even if they are Islamic state, except for Pakistan. Pakistan of today has dialects of Punjab, Sindh, Afgan, and Baloch. Just like India where there are more than twenty-three major languages, there came a need to choose a common language and Hindi became the national language, similarly, Pakistan could have chosen a common language from its repertoire of existing language but they chose Urdu which incidentally was an Indian language through history.

One of my Bangladeshi friends told me that they use these words in their Bengali dialect so that they can identify themselves with the Islamic umma. I thought of telling him that such an idea is detrimental to the vast repertoire of literature and history and composition of Bangladesh because a population should not change their rich heritage only to identify themselves with a particular religion and that other Islamic countries have not done so and they have clenched on to their history and literature in spite of all odds and have proliferated much progressively. This is also one of the primary reasons why I chose to write this article. Frankly, I do not subscribe to the idea of the usage of words only to showcase that one is more religious and more Islamic. There could be other reasons.

Prior to the partition of India into East Pakistan and West Pakistan Bengal was undivided and was also the seat of literature, awareness, insights, and accomplishments. Undivided Bengal did play a very important role in disseminating the vast and humongous intellectual properties throughout the country. Notably, the chunk of such literary prowess came from the eastern side of Bengal, the East Bengal which later became Bangladesh. Professor Dr.Meghnad Saha was born in 1893 in Shaoratoli, a village near Dhaka, in the former Bengal Presidency of British India (in present-day Bangladesh).Dr. Meghnath Saha was a renowned scientist for those who are unaware of him. Surya sen was another stalwart, a name that the British government was scared of. He was a Bengali revolutionary who was influential in the Indian independence movement against British rule in India and is best known for leading the 1930 Chittagong armory raid. Sen was born on 22 March 1894 in a Baidya-Brahmin family at Noapara, under Raozan Upazila in Chittagong.

Sen was a school teacher by profession and was popularly known as Master Da ("da" is an honorific suffix in the Bengali language). He was influenced by the nationalist ideals in 1916 while he was a student of B.A. in Behrampore College. In 1918, he was selected as president of the Indian National Congress's Chittagong branch.

Sen was known for recruiting a group of young and passionate revolutionaries known as the Chittagong group including Anant Singh, Ganesh Ghosh, and Lokenath Baul, who fought against the British stationed in Chittagong.

There are many such personalities who were born in Bangladesh, erstwhile East Bengal of the Bengal presidency. Therefore the history of Bangladesh is no less than that of India. The freedom struggles and the aftermath of the two-nation theory have had a tremendous impact to the psychology of the population on either side So I still feel that there is no reason what so ever for a nation to adopt words in their repertoire of the Bengali language only to proclaim their oneness to Islam.

The current scenario is a little different now. There is a huge chasm between the Islam religion of Bangladesh and the other minority religions. This is mainly due to the selective appreciation and interpretation of the Quran. This is where the starting paragraph of this article will have some bearing. I read the Quran that was given to me by the immigration officer at Jeddah. In that what I found was so profound that I was awestruck.

In one of Ayahs there is written , “Wal awal,Wal aakhir, Wal zahir,Wal baatin,wahuwa wakullai shaheen aleem” Means “That which is ONE that which is the ENDLESS, that which is infinite, That which is beyond perception. That which knows everything.... HE IS ALLAH”

In Vedas , in Shiva Sahasranaam it is said that Lord Shiva has thousand names, “Anaatyantah vyaktah avyaktah bahushrutah” Anaatyanta…which has no beginning and no end. Vyakta avyakta…The one which is said and the one which is unsaid is also HIM..Bahushrutah . The one who knows all, the source of consciousness. HE is the One The Ishwar, The parwardigaar, The Allah.

In the bible, it is said “I am the alpha and the Omega, The first and the last”

Having highlighted the similarities in the very holy books of the religions I do wonder why we all are trying to pull each other down, why we all are fighting with each other?

In the backdrop of the History, In the backdrop of the Religion, there seems to be no pertinent reason for the deliberate usage of the non-Bengali words in the repertoire of the Language of Bangladesh unless I am not conversant with any reason thereof. I would really like to know if there are any reasons.

If the reason is a deliberate attempt to differentiate between West Bengal and Bangladesh then I would like to narrate a small story. Ramakrishna Paramhansa was once asked by a disciple, “ Gurudev why are there so many religions in the world when you say GOD is one?” Ramkrishna Paramhansa smiled at him and replied. “ It is like a mountain and you have to reach the pinnacle of the mountain. You have to start at the base of the mountain and follow a track. Halfway through the route, you decide that the path is very hard and painstaking so you decide to climb down and take another path. You keep on doing this you will never be able to reach the top of the mountain. So the path is the religion and every religion will lead you to the same Top of the mountain. What would you discover at the top of the mountain? You would discover Yourself.”