Bangla Language and Literature: A Review
-Shah Abdul Hannan||
This year (2002) our Language Movement has had its fiftieth anniversary. It is time to evaluate our achievement in language and literature. My study shows that Bangla has turned into a very powerful language. But it has not become so without any efforts. The Bangla language has taken a powerful form by dint of the efforts and endeavours of Rabindranath Thakur (1861 – 1941), Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899 – 1976), Farrukh Ahmad (1918 – 1974) and the other poets and litterateurs. A great advantage of this language is that it accepts words from foreign languages without any reservations. Previously it widely took many loanwords from Sanskrit on the one hand and from Arabic and Persian on the other. Later, as the English ruled this country for two hundred years, a large number of English words entered the Bangla language. As a result, Bangla has turned into one of those languages of the world that are very rich in vocabulary. This issue demands extensive research to establish the richness of the language.
If the vocabulary of a language is very extensive, it can express human feelings and experiences more succinctly. And because of the extensiveness of the vocabulary now it is possible to express any subject or any idea through the Bangla language. On the other hand, if the vocabulary of a language is very poor, it cannot carry wide-ranging thoughts and ideas. Currently, it is possible to express any philosophy, economy, politics, sociology, science or other subjects through the Bangla language. However, while discussing scientific issues in Bangla, established scientific words from other languages should be accepted. As no problem has arisen because of the words taken so far, perhaps none will arise if more words are taken when necessary.
So it can be said that we have got a very strong language which has made an incredible development during the last few hundred years. Specifically, during the past fifty years the language has become more enriched. During this period more English words have entered the language extensively. Thus this language has made immense progress, keeping pace with the forward-looking movement of the world.
It is worth mentioning here that we have made Bangla the state language as well as the medium of instruction. Though opinions may vary regarding the making of Bangla the medium of instruction, I personally think that it was a right decision. There is no harm in learning English, the language of the world. We also admit that international communication should be carried out through English. However, while we have such a strong language, English should not be our official language.
Anyway, as Bangla has become the language of instruction up to university level, we have borrowed a large number of English words in the areas of science and technology. This development has occurred mostly during the last twenty to thirty years.
Language is the vehicle to express our innermost feelings and experiences. However, despite the fact that we have such a wonderful language, I cannot confidently say that our achievement in the field of literature is commensurate. We have to ask ourselves, when it comes to subjects like political science or economics, how much we have written in Bangla. How much have we written in Bangla when discussing philosophy or sociology? The reality is that we have written very little. With the exception of translating some text books, we have not done much work in Bangla.
As for novels or short stories, our achievement could be better. It is true that many popular novels have been written in Bangla. For example, when a writer writes short novels, or which can otherwise be termed novellas, thousands of copies are sold off. However, placed against the richness of the language, our achievement in the field of literature needs to be greater. As for poetry, it is true that we have got a good number of poets. Among them, some have gained wide recognition. However, in spite the fact that Bangla has turned into a strong language, as I said before, Bangla literature could be richer. We have the right language to produce a stronger literature – novels, short stories, poems, dramas, etc. – that carries the fundamental thoughts required for representing a nation. What we need for this is to know the world literature (the philosophy of the world – be it political, economic, social or civilisational), to read extensively about it.
Literary translation has played a significant role in the progress of Bangla language and literature. Among the works done so far in the field of translation are a good number of world renowned tafseers. For example, Tafseer-e-Ibne Kathir, Maulana Maududi’s tafseer Tafheemul Qur’an, Sayyid Qutb’s Fi Zilalil Qur’an, and Mufti Shafi’sMa’areful Qur’an and some other mentionable tafseers have been translated into Bangla. Besides, some original works have also been done by this time, such as, Maulana Akram Khan’s tafseer and Giris Chandra Sen’s translation of the Qur’an into Bangla.
Next to tafseer, we can mention the translation of some famous books on Hadiths including Sihah Sittah. In addition to that, a good many Islamic books have also been translated. However, even though the books of Hadiths have been translated, the commentaries annotated in those books have not been fully translated. Till now the books containing the commentaries of Bukhari or Muslim have not been translated. It should be mentioned here that if we want to translate those commentaries today, we will have to add new annotations. The reason is that, the annotations given and the opinions expressed in those days were based on a different context, a different background. So if we want to translate those, we have to add new annotations, include new notes. With the exception of some books written by Imam Ghazali, those by other Islamic thinkers like Ibn Khaldun, Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Al-Arabi have hardly ever been translated. A few books by Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi, among the modern writers, have been translated. Books written by Maulana Maududi, Dr Maurice Bucaille, Muhammad Asad, Sayyid Qutb and Mohammad Qutb have been translated. Dr Taha Hussein’s, Dr Najeeb Al-Kilani’s and Naseem Hijazi’s works are also included in the list of translation materials.
On the other hand, several thousand books have been written in Bangla on Islamic issues. Most of them – with the exception of the write-ups by thinkers like Maulana Akram Khan, Golam Mostafa, and Maulana Abdur Rahim – are of average merit. Many can be treated as nothing more than note books. This is the condition of writing and translating of Islamic literature in Bangladesh which was once the second and now the third largest Muslim country in the world in consideration of the number of population, with Indonesia and Pakistan
being first and second respectively (granted that Muslims in India are the largest minority). Our position will be easily discernible if our write-ups are placed against those by Dr Qaradawi, Dr AbdulHamid Ahmad AbuSulayman, Dr Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, Mohammad Al Ghazzali, Dr Khurshid Ahmad and Dr Omer Chapra. It is only then that we will be able to play our part in spreading our literature through Bangla, making it internationally acceptable.
There are two ways of making a language internationally known. First, if it naturally becomes the language of another country. Second, if a language is made the state language of a country. For example, in the case of Arabic, the language of the Qureysh has become the language of the whole region of the Middle East – this is one way. Or, as we see, English has become the language of a large number of countries of the world. It is the official language of many countries, such as, India and Pakistan. We have been able to make Bangla our official language. But in this case, there is little possibility that Bangla will become the language of another region in today’s world. So, there is only one way to make Bangla internationally known, and that is trough translation. All the good works, particularly, short stories, poems and novels, written so far in our country should be translated into other languages. Short stories, novels and poems stir people’s hearts as well as their emotions.
Besides short stories, Bangla novel and poetry should also be translated. And if we have done any original works in the field of knowledge, which do not come to my notice though, should also be translated. In this respect the government has big responsibilities. The litterateurs also have their role to play. An organisation is needed for this.Bangla Academy, Islamic Foundation and also the Ministry of Cultural Affairs can play their part in this respect. In this case there is no alternative to marketing, translating and campaigning. The translation should be done into other languages in addition to English. The benefit of translating into English is that it makes it easier to translate to other languages. There are many English knowing people in our country. But the number of Persian, German or French knowing people is not satisfactory. There are very few people who know other languages. So if the translational work is done into English and then properly marketed, that will lead to translation into other languages.
There may be yet another way of making our language internationally known. We can get our works translated in some particular languages in which a major part of the population of the world speaks, such as Chinese or Russian. We have some people who know Chinese and also people who have studied in Russia and thus know Russian; we can take their help to do the translational work. Likewise, we may also have people conversant with the French language; they can translate our works directly into that language. Currently, a good many number of languages of the world are taught in our country. However, if translation into English is done, there is the possibility that the works will again be translated into other languages from English.
It would be the best thing if the government can open one translation bureau in the Bangla Academy and another in the Islamic Foundation. As there may arise many problems in establishing a new organisation, it would be easier to open a wing in each of these organisations we already have.