Ekushey is a Bengali spirit essentially integrated with the identity of the nation that germinated in 1952 and emerged in 1971 with a distinct green-red flag in the world map. It symbolizes love for language and motherland. It is this spirit for which we got a sense of unity within the geographical boundary that we call Bangladesh. It is closely mingled with the emotion and sentiment of the Bengali speaking people living in this deltaic land. Ekushey is our pride. Whenever we think of it, we become nostalgic. We remember the supreme sacrifice of the valiant sons of the soil for the sheer love of mother tongue. Ekushey is a bunch of flowers painted scarlet with the blood of Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar and many other unknown language martyrs. Ekushey is the epicenter of our existence.
Ekushey is celebrated every year with due solemnity. A host of programs talk of the significance of the day, of its being and making. With a patriotic note, discussions run up to the urge of using Bangla in every sphere of Bengali life. The whole day passes through the rendition of songs and recitation of poetry. The same phenomena are observed in urban as well as rural areas. The heart glows with the radiance of Bengali alphabet, the petals of Palash and Shimul flowers, posters and paintings on walls. People of all strata of life enjoy the warmth of the red letter day, emanating from the breath of the martyrs. One or two Bengali vowels or consonants could be found drawn on the cheeks of little kids who have come out with their parents to attend festivities. These are the little beautiful faces of Ekushey!
The morning starts with what is called 'Probhat phery'. People rise early in the morning and walk, often barefoot, to the Shahid Minar, the symbol of sacrifice for language. They hum 'Amar bhaiyer rokte rangano ekushey February, ami ki bhulite pari?' (Twenty-first February is reddened with the blood of my brothers, can I forget it?) A creation of Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, its next line is soaked with tears: 'Chhelehara shoto mayer osru bhora e February, ami ki bhulite pari?' (This February is made up of tears shed by hundreds of mothers losing their sons, can I forget it?) In black and white robes, the crowds make a queue and wait for individual turn to reach the venue. They place floral wreaths at the foot of the three erect figures and soothe their internal burning. It is not simply the spectacle of the Central Shahid Minar, it would be observed in all local shahid minars, in front of all educational institutions, across the country.
Music flows in numerous streams, through air and water, through leaves and flowers, from mind to mind, awakening Bengali consciousness. The music masters of rich Bengali tradition stimulate the atmosphere. The melody of 'Moder gorob moder asha, a mori Bangla bhasha' (Our pride our hope, Bangla language until the last breath). The heart finds peace in the lap of mother, in the pronunciation of mother's words. How magical Bengali music is-boatmen row their boats while they are singing, bauls sing and dance, and farmers harvest singing! Atulprasad Sen acknowledges indebtedness to the great literary maestros including Bidyapoti, Chandidas, Madhusudan and Bankim for their tremendous contribution to Bengali language and literature. We utter 'ma' at our first attempt to acquire mother tongue and we will breathe our last with the words of this language.
Another song is sung by the people aglow with linguistic spirit is that of Pratul Mukhopaddhay. 'Ami banglai gan gai, ami banglar gan gai, ami amar amike chirodin ei banglai khuje pai (I sing in Bangla, I sing for Bangla, I find myself forever in this Bangla). The lyric goes on sprinkling nectar of melody on ears. I dream in Bangla, I compose in Bangla, I have walked long along the captivating paths of this Bengal. I speak in Bangla, I speak for Bangla, I float, smile and wake in Bangla. I revel in Bangla, I wail in Bangla, I shout in Bangla getting angry at things. Bangla is my intense slogan, the fierce shot of arrow, I witness the face of Bangla once and again. I love Bangla, I love in Bangla, I come to the people of the whole world holding its hand. Bangla is my water of thirst, the last sip of satisfaction. Nothing else like it. What a formidable piece of music!
Now talk of the poetry of Ekushey. First and foremost, the poem of Shamsur Rahman. 'Barbar Phire Ashe' (It Comes Back Repeatedly) is a unique delineation of the historical truth from 1952 through 1971 up to the present. A blood-stained shirt recurs in our vision, in meadows and streets, through our deepest feelings. The shirt, being a flag, moves from hand to hand, in turbulent processions. The owner of the shirt appears in slogans over and over again. The tears of a mother, wife and father are produced in a never-ending cycle. Ekushey makes us somber with the dark memories of history. Another superb poem on the same theme is his 'Asader Shirt' (The Shirt of Asad). The first image strikes our mind: The shirt of Asad is fluttering in air in the sky like a cluster of Roktokorobi or the burning cloud of sunset. The shirt has got the touch of family affection; its star-like buttons were stitched by sister and it was dried in the yard with care by mother. Now this shirt could be seen in the urban thoroughfares and factory chimneys. The shirt of Asad is our flag of soul.
One more poem of Shamsur Rahman which adds special hue to the Ekushey celebration is 'Bornomala, Amar Dukhini Bornomala' (Alphabet, My Sad Alphabet). It highlights the glory of language and land just as a regret of broken dream reverberates through the poem. Bengali alphabet, as the symbol of Ekushey and motherland, burns bright in the inner entity; the verdure of affection surrounds the alphabet all the times. The alphabet descends on the garden of sleep, leaping from tree like a squirrel, jumping from clouds in the shape of an elephant. The alphabet is the iris inside eye; it exists eternally in the fire of war and disease, in drought and downpour, in destruction and creation. The alphabet shows gloriously with the red flower-offering of 1952. If this alphabet is taken away, nothing remains; even the loss of one petal causes a violent pain. But what do we see now? The alphabet is desecrated by the dirty show of words. The alphabet is not attractive anymore! A fog of frustration hangs in air.
Poet Al Mahmud has also glorified the spirit of Ekushey with his sublime verse. His 'Ekusher Kobita' (The Poem of Ekushey), particularly suitable for adolescents, recalls what happened in the 21st February of 1952. Witness the blood of Barkat in the form of rain at noon! The boughs of Krishnachura have turned red with the burning of sun for thousands of years. The morning procession brings back the older memories of Titumir and Khudiram, who laid down their lives for the cause of motherland. Sisters have worn the attires of condolence when the procession marches on. We feel proud because we were born in this holy land.
Ekushey is now recognized as the International Mother Language Day, which upholds the dignity of not only of Bangla but of all languages spoken as mother tongues by different communities. Mother tongue is dear to anybody, as Ramnidhi Gupta said: 'Nanan desher nanan bhasha, bina swodeshi bhasha mite ki asha?' (Different countries have different languages, but is our aspiration fulfilled without the indigenous language?) No language is better than the other. All languages are important and beautiful. Therefore we must cherish a respect for others' languages. We would not expect that one language will dominate the other; one language will be imposed upon another community against their will, which happened in fifty-two and which ignited the fire of protest in the streets of Dhaka. The International Mother Language Day is the outcome of that protest. The spirit of Ekushey is now universal; it now belongs to all!
The writer is Director, Daffodil Institute of Languages, and Associate Professor, Department of English, Daffodil International University.