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My love for Bangladesh makes me a Bengali, not necessarily a Muslim

Bangabari Tangon River at Bangabari-India border (Source: Wikimedia Commons) Photograph: (Others)

WION Delhi, India Jun 13, 2017, 07.29 AM (IST) Rahad Abir

This year I have fallen in love with Pakistani grapes. They are bigger, brighter and seem seductive than the other grapes found in the market. I follow the ‘when you want something you want the best’ policy. So I forget what Bangladeshis had with Pakistan once upon a time and am loving their grapes.

Back in 2013, one sunny day, my US professor expressed his concern about Bangladesh. He heard the news that Bangladesh was slowly drowning because of climate change.

I smiled. That’s what the image of Bangladesh is to foreigners. Nothing new. To them, our country is poor, overpopulated and prone to floods.

But those days are gone, gone with the wind. Now that, over the past years, Bangladesh made frequent headlines in the world media. Consecutive killings of bloggers, non-Muslim individuals, and the recent terrorist attack in Gulshan have given Bangladesh a fresh identity.

These days, in the eyes of western citizens, Bangladesh has earned the fame as about-to-be an Islamic fundamentalist nation.

On that sunny day in 2013, I did what any Bangladeshis would have done in my place. I tried to tell my professor about the positive things about Bangladesh. I told him about Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Muhammad Yunus, and also proudly added that Amartya Sen was born in Bangladesh.

Later that year I was overjoyed when I met an Australian who’d done his PhD on Yunus’ microcredit theory. Though, I wouldn’t reveal him that Bangladeshis have mixed feelings about Yunus. I remember one of my relatives, a devout Muslim, had whined about Yunus’ Nobel Prize. He said the Jews and non-Muslim westerners had no sense that was why they picked a usurer for this Prize.

In April this year, some Islamic groups in the country protested the Bengali New Year’s festivities, terming it un-Islamic and Hindu culture. In 1965, when Bangladesh was East Pakistan, the then government banned Tagore songs from Radio and Television. Two years after, Chayanat, a cultural organisation, started to celebrate Bengali New Year in the capital’s Ramna Park to stimulate the Bengali spirit to resist Pakistani rule. It helped. Eventually, the historic mass upsurge took place in 1969.

A few months back, at a park in Dhaka, a school was having its annual school sports function. I heard a Hindi song play at top volume. Chaar Bottle Vodka, which means four bottle vodkas, was the refrain in the song.

The invasion of Hindi movie songs in Bangladesh is overwhelming. So are Indian TV channels. A greater number of households spend their evenings watching Indian TV serials. For the Bangladeshi TV channels lack quality entertainment programs. Typically all they like to broadcast is Talk Shows and news.

Albeit the rising violence against the Hindus in the country, India seems to be the obvious choice for us. According to an Indian government report published recently, one in three foreign patients in India is from Bangladesh.

When it comes to traveling, for most Bangladeshis the taste of first foreign land is India. Last year, tourists from Bangladesh topped the Indian chart; much more Bangladeshis visited Indian than they did the US.

Being Bangladeshi is being surrounded by India, and that is the reality. Naming our culture Hindu culture is ridiculous. It is no less ridiculous to ignore Rabindranath Tagore just because he is a non-Muslim. Tagore, in fact, is not a mere name, he is a culture himself. To deny Tagore means denying our own Bengali culture.

Necessity has no religion. During my stay in Ohio, USA, the first Bengali I met was a man from Kolkata. There was a lot more of Muslim students from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and even from India. But coming across a Bengali guy made all the difference, to whom I could speak Bengali, discuss Bengali literature and culture and, of course, enjoy Bengali food.

That day was a revelation for me as I found the answer to a most plaguing question: Which is more important, language or religion? The answer that came naturally to me is language. Because it’s the necessity. I share an intimacy with language which I find lacking in religion. For me language is the present, religion is the future. We live in present, not in future.


Rahad Abir

Rahad Abir is a fiction writer from Bangladesh. He is the recipient of the Charles Pick Fellowship 2017-18.

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