Cultural conundrum

By Raphy Islam

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Recently, a 13 year old stunned me with a simple question: ’Why do we need to learn English?’ Unfortunately, I couldn’t answer satisfactorily. It’s not that I haven’t pondered on this, but I always accepted it to be a reality that cannot go away, not anytime soon.

Genuinely, English has been a means for me with which I can reach out to the world. For the last decade of my life, English has been such a big part I could never say that it was a separate thing from my culture. Like recent times has proven again and again, I could be in a bubble altogether where I am thinking something to be true which in reality, isn’t.

The biggest reality check comes when I visit my village and I try to speak and some obscure English words come out inevitably. My relatives think I’m showing off that I know the language. They are quite straight-forward. They said it to my face. But I regarded it to be a slip of mind.

I have noticed when I am thinking out loud my preferred language is not Bengali anymore. Moreover, my biggest companion, my phone has more than 500 handpicked songs in it. Less than a hundred of them are Bengali and most are English and Hindi.

I cannot think of a new Bangla pop song I’ve heard in recent times. I love Bengali folk, specifically Lalon or Shah Abdul Karim. I can’t say with certainty if there are new renditions of their tunes and lyrics.

A lot of my time is spent on movies. Bengali, English and Hindi are preferred because I understand them fully. But I’ve been through so many languages watching different movies. A month back, I saw a trilogy of an exceptional crime-thriller called Q-Series. The movies are shot in Denmark and made in the Danish language. I loved it. For the record, the most interesting work in movies are happening in South Korea, Iran and Indian Kerala state or the Malayalam movies.

The last three Bengali movies I watched were, BaisheSrabon, JalalerGolpo and Aynabaji, respectively. Although lately I saw a movie made in 1966, written and directed by Satyajit Ray, and starring Uttam Kumar and Sharmila Tagore. It was and still is a phenomenal piece of work.

We have had a cultural heritage that dabbles greatly with colour, with tunes and celebration. In the subcontinent which is greatly dominated by a Hindi subculture, there is an apparent connection that connects with people. You may disavow or repudiate the status quo of the cultural supremacy but one thing is for sure, that we the subcontinental people leaving the political dynamics aside, are on a larger scheme very much unified.

The Bengali culture that we are most accustomed to has Tagore, who is the greatest literature laureate the subcontinent could ever claim and that fact gets only truer as he is the man behind two national anthems of two neighbouring countries.

Or we could talk about the Islamic Sufi culture which has become retro when you take into consideration the infamous internet phenomenon of ‘Coke Studio Pakistan’. Do we need more evidence suggestive of the notion stated above?

Henceforth, we could also claim a completely foreign language to be as close to us as well. And that would be English, the mother tongue of the world. How? How about being two hundred years of imposition of this culture sound as a rebuttal? If we can’t claim English to be a part of our culture neither can we become as close to the food we cherish which came from the Mughals before the British came.

Some may argue that this argument is to justify being associated with the Westernised culture of the youth. For that, time has not yet passed to get an appropriate realization.Until then, we can keep on arguing.

Therefore, my inquiry is why and how have we become so detached and secluded with the culture that we are surrounded by? Is it our fault that we consume more from foreign cultures? Or is it the fact we don’t have enough outlets to bring good cultural phenomenon which will stand through time? Or we could let go of the idea of ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ altogether and say we are growing as a proper world citizen.

There is no denying the fact that people need a touch of culture in their life. Now, it can be a sound of music, or the TV dramas and serials or the movies for which we can go out to the theatre and watch with families. If there isn’t enough of it, people will find it elsewhere. I have found people to be fans of Japanese anime or South Korean TV Serials in the most incomprehensible of places. So how do you promote your culture or say it with a sense of pride claiming that there is indeed a heritage?

There was this girl I knew who tempted my patience by asking such questions. She was older than I and she had been on the last stretch to complete her graduation. We connected for our mutual love of the Korean storytelling. She asked me, ‘Do we have anything significant in our popular culture?’

I was taken aback. I realisedthat I don’t have a balanced answer. Maybe, it’s our fault which has made us so oblivious to claim and be delighted of our own material in literature, art, music,movies and so on.

Even when you want to have a sensible argument there are only two polar opposite sides. One becomes so enraged filled with nationalism they start speaking and listing incoherent things. On the other side, people are unaware and often times insensible to even search and go out there to know things that actually matter.

It is high time we take a look at ourselves. If we are not giving ourselves the proper treatment our demise and destruction is inevitable. Unfortunately, on a systemic level it has already begun maybe knowingly or unknowingly.