Monday, February 28, 2011

The Photo Meditation of the Month (February, 2011): HOUSEPLANTS

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Codiaeum or croton plants
Photo (Toronto: February 3, 2011) © Jerome D'Costa

These plants, scientifically called codiaeum, are ordinarily known as “croton.” They are simple plants that acquire more robust colours when exposed to brighter sun. Many people keep them as houseplants that serve as decorative items.

They are easy to grow and nurture. They serve as inmates of a house, too! They speak a silent language that is understandable if proper care and attention can be given to them.

We need to marvel at these simple leafy plants. They praise the glory and beauty of God. They touch our hearts and help us ponder beyond our physical world.


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It's Time to Replace the Anglicized Place Names in Bangladesh with Bangla (Bengali) Names

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Map of Bangladesh
Map courtesy: www.maps.com/

Every year in February we observe the Ekushey February (Bangla Language Martyrs’ Day) and the International Mother Language Day with much fanfare. The goal of these two observances is to give importance to our mother languages. Yet, on our own backyard, we have some issues that need to be tackled.

We need to think deeply about replacing Anglicized place names in Bangladesh with Bangla names they had before the British changed them. These Anglicized place names are used when speaking or writing in English. Although the British left India 64 years ago, we are still carrying on the double standard of using Anglicized place names when speaking or writing in English, but using Bangla place names of the same when speaking or writing in Bangla.

When the British conquered different regions of India, they began to pronounce and write local place names completely different from their original ones. These Anglicized names might have been easy for them to pronounce or write, but they were totally a disgrace to the original pronunciation.

President H. M. Ershad was bold enough to officially change the Anglicized name of the capital city of Bangladesh. He got it corrected to ‘Dhaka’ in place of ‘Dacca.’

It is interesting to see that later, the Indian government, too, changed the names of ‘Calcutta’ to ‘Kolkata,’ ‘Bombay’ to ‘Mumbai,’ ‘Bangalore’ to ‘Bengaluru’ and ‘Madras’ to ‘Chennai.’

Bangladesh still has got a good number of Anglicized names that need to be changed according to local Bangla pronunciations. These Anglicized names along with their Bangla names are:

Astagram (Oshtogram)

Bandarban (Bandorbon)

Baraigram (Boroigram)

Barguna (Borguna)

Barisal (Borishal)

Bhedarganj (Bhedorganj)

Biral (Birol)

Bogra (Bogura)

Chittagong (Chattagram)

Comilla (Kumilla)

Habiganj (Hobiganj)

Ishurdi (Isshordi or Iswardi)

Jessore (Joshohor)

Jhenaida (Jhenaidoho)

Kalaroa (Kolaroa)

Kalmakanda (Kolmakanda)

Khagrachari (Khagracchori)

Lakshmipur (Lokkhipur)

Madhupur (Modhupur)

Maheshkhali (Moheshkhali) Island

Manpura (Monpura)

Maulvibazar (Moulobibazar)

Mohanpur (Mohonpur)

Mymensingh (Moymonshingha)

Nandigram (Nondigram)

Narail (Norail)

Narsingdi (Norshingdi)

Palash (Polash)

Saidpur (Syedpur or Soidpur)

Sandwip (Shondip) Island

Sarisabari (Shorishabari)

Satkhira (Shatkhira)

Savar (Shavar)

Sirajganj (Shirajganj)

Sonargaon (Shonargaon)

Sreemangal (Sreemongol)

Sunamganj (Shunamganj)

Sylhet (Silet or Srihotto)

Tungipara (Tongipara)

The name ‘Cox’s Bazar’ should remain the same because it is the name given after the British Captain Hiram Cox (died in 1799), who was in-charge of this place and earned a good name with the local population, because of his compassionate rehabilitation work among the Arakan refugees who came there from Burma.

The Bangladesh Jatiyo Parishad (parliament) needs to come up with a bill that will make the Anglicized place name changes a reality.


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Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Quotation of the Week (February 27 - March 5, 2011)

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Layout & design (Toronto: Jan. 17, 2011) © Jerome D'Costa




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How A Canadian Soldier Endeared Himself to Afghans By Speaking Their Language

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Master Corporal Shawn Grove, a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan,
displays his Pashto dictionary and his self-written notebook
of Pashto words and phrases. He learned to speak fluent Pashto
on his three tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Photo courtesy: Rick MacWilliam of Edmonton Journal

On Ekushey February (21st February) every year, Bangladesh observes the Bhasha Shaheed Dibosh (Language Martyrs' Day) and the world observes the International Mother Langauge Day. The mother language is so dear to one's heart that one can even give his life for it. That's what happened in East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh) on February 21, 1952. Several students and non-students, on that day, gave their lives for defending the status of the their mother language Bangla (Bengali) against the onslaught from West Pakistani rulers who wanted to impose Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan.

Many a great persons spoke of the importance of learning and speaking a different language from one's own. American businessman Lee Iacocca said: "Talk to people in their own language. If you do it well, they'll say, 'God, he said exactly what I was thinking.' And when they begin to respect you, they'll follow you to the death." Italian film director Federico Fellini said: "A different language is a different vision of life." If one learns a different language, he or she will come to know what that language speaker thinks and why he or she thinks so. A Czech proverb says: "Learn a new language and get a new soul." South African politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela said: "If you talk to a man in language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

On the occasion of the International Mother Language Day this year, we salute Master Corporal Shawn Grove of Alberta for his accomplishment of learning Pashto, a different and difficult language, and being able to communicate with its speakers, who felt closer to him than any non-Pashto speaking Canadian or other nationality soldiers.

We reproduce below Master Corporal Shawn Grove's story previously published in the Edmonton Journal of February 13, 2011:

Alberta soldier who speaks Pashto draws stares in Afghanistan

Speaking the language is a great icebreaker for Master Cpl. Shawn Grove

By Ryan Cormier

EDMONTON — It was a blistering, dusty July day and Master Cpl. Shawn Grove was stuck in a traffic jam on a narrow, crowded road in Kandahar City.

His upper body out the roof of a Light Armored Vehicle, at the gunner position, he turned to an Afghan family in an open-box cargo truck in the next lane. A farmer and his two young sons sat among sacks of grapes and raisins.

“How you guys doing?” Grove asked in Pashto, the dominant language in southern Afghanistan. “Is traffic always like this?”

The farmer’s jaw dropped. His sons scrambled over their grapes to gawk at the foreign soldier who spoke their language. Between the truck and the LAV, an Afghan boy skidded his bike to a clumsy stop and stared at Grove, wide-eyed.

Across the gap, the farm boy from Barrhead shook hands with the Afghans. He passed the boys Jolly Rancher candies mailed from Canada, and was rewarded with a bag of grapes in return. Traffic finally moved, and Grove told them to have a good day, again in Pashto.

Everyone within earshot stared.

That quick conversation leaped the language barrier between Canadian soldiers and those they protect.

Pashto is spoken by more than 50 million people worldwide, and is well-known as a difficult language to learn. For the past nine years, the Canadian Forces have relied heavily on local Afghan translators.

But halfway through his second tour in the country, Grove decided there was a better way.

Partly, it was boredom. Partly, he wanted to crack a joke to Afghan National Army members he saw every day.

“I just decided it would be interesting to hear what they were saying all the time. It started with me writing a couple sentences down and having them slowly translate them. I would write it the way I heard, making up my own punctuation. It rolled from there, it was learning by immersion.”

At nights, the soldier studied in his bunk. He spent his free time with Afghan army members and police officers, drinking chai tea and teaching them English in exchange for new Pashto phrases he carefully printed in a dog-eared notebook.

By the end of his 2008 tour, the member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 1st Battalion, could converse. But it wasn’t until he returned to Edmonton that his studies took off. Grove bought a computer program and sought out local Afghans to talk with. He watched Pashto videos on YouTube and covered the subtitles with his hands. He’d never learned a second language before, no classes in high school, and had no previous interest.

“I didn’t follow any learning pattern, and military-wise there is no language training. They give us an afternoon, here and there, but it’s for the basics, like greetings or ‘Stop or I’ll shoot.’ There was no real program in place, so I did my own thing.”

When he returned to Afghanistan in 2009, Grove was determined to hold full conversations with Afghan people. When Canadians arrived in a new village, approaching nervous families, it was often Grove who smoothed over those first crucial minutes.

“It’s such an icebreaker. If you can walk into a village and say hello, that’s one thing, but it’s another to say it’s nice to meet you and crack a few jokes. You get everybody smiling and you’re on a better foot already. It breaks down a lot of barriers. People are way more receptive and remember you the next time you arrive.”

Grove would show off pictures of his family and aerial shots of the farm where he grew up.

He discovered that a Captain Black cigar from Canada bought him 20 minutes of conversation while the smoke drifted.

Lifelong Afghan soldiers had never met a foreign uniform they could discuss their personal lives with. Even the Afghans who made it obvious that Canadians were unwanted surrendered to their curiosity about Grove.

He didn’t learn to read and write the language, as many of the Afghans he spoke to were illiterate.

Grove, 28, smiles when he recalls the missteps and confusion that accompanied his learning — such as the time a translator tricked him into calling his commanding officer an asshole. He learned the hard way that Afghans have little concept of sarcasm. Often, he was encouraged to convert to Islam, which he politely declined.

Grove once translated between a Canadian medic and an Afghan boy with a gash on his head. When they were done, Grove stood, and in his rough accent, said: “It’s sad when children are hurt. I don’t like to see this.”

The assembled locals put their hands over their hearts in reply.

Over his three tours, Grove has seen his language skills grow in importance as the mission has progressed from firefights with the Taliban to a more structured counter-insurgency.

“In 2006, on my first tour, I didn’t even give it a thought. Now, a counter-insurgency is basically a popularity contest, you want to be more popular than the adversary. You’re a lot more popular if you can tell a joke.”

Capt. Cole Peterson, also from 1PPCLI, met Grove before and during their 2009 tours of the country. He applauded Grove’s efforts, both for the dedication they require and the benefits they bring.

“Over there, it’s completely obvious how foreign we are. We look different, walking around in all our gear. For one of us to speak like them, it immediately gets us in the door.”

Most soldiers “bash a few phrases” into their heads to make their jobs easier, but few have the natural aptitude for the language Grove has, Peterson said.

“It is a completely different language than anything we’re used to. There’s a lot of distinct noises you have to make with your throat.”

Grove plans to leave the military soon for a more “normal life,” having experienced everything he imagined when he joined at age 19 in 2002. The military was his dream since childhood and it led to 20 months in Afghanistan. Now, his battered, torn Pashto-English dictionary is the prize souvenir of his three tours.

“In hindsight, it’s a simple thing,” he said. “It’s a sign of respect to learn someone else’s language.”



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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Poem of the Month (February, 2011): EKUSHEY FEBRUARY (21st February)

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The Central Shaheed Minar (Language Martyrs' Memorial) in Dhaka
Doodle (Toronto: February 26, 2011) © Jerome D'Costa

Ekushey February (21st February)


The Ekushey February would never be there,

If the rulers of Pakistan were real rulers.

The Ekushey February would never come to pass,

If there was no notion of domination and usurpation.

The Ekushey February would never be there,

If there were virtues of brotherhood, equality and sharing.

The Ekushey February would never be there,

If there was no hypocrisy between profession and practice of Islam.


The Ekushey February is there,

To assert the rights of the deprived people.

The Ekushey February is there,

To give give equality to all.

The Ekushey February is there,

To think and act freely according to one’s conscience.

The Ekushey February is there,

To give freedom to one’s word.



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Bangla (Bengali) Calligraphy: BANGLA (BENGALI) LANGUAGE

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Bangla (Bengali) calligraphy that says
"Bangla Bhasha" (Bangla or Bengali language)

Calligraphy (Dhaka: September 29, 1990) © Jerome D'Costa


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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ekushey February: Bangla (Bengali) versus Urdu

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Amar shonar Bangla, ami tomai bhalobashi
(My Bengal of gold, I love you), the national anthem
of Bangladesh, written in Bangla (Bengali) by
Nobel laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore
Image layout & design (Toronto: Feb. 10, 2011) © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Pak sar zamin shad bad (Blessed be sacred land),
the national anthem of Pakistan,
written in Urdu, by Abu-al-Asar Hafeez Jullandhuri
Image courtesy: www.pakmission.ca/

The English translations of the national anthems of
(left) Bangladesh -- translated by Syed Ali Ahsan
and (right) Pakistan -- translator unknown.

Double-click the above image to read the translations clearly.

Layout and design (Toronto: February 18, 2011) © Joachim Romeo D'Costa


In August, 1947, India and Pakistan emerged as two independent nations from the British-run undivided India. Pakistan consisted of East Pakistan (after 1971, Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (the present Pakistan).

Differences Between East and West Pakistan

These two regions of Pakistan had wide differences in race, food habits, dress, language and religion as well as outlook and attitude to life. Only a thin and shaky line of religion (Islam) kept the two regions together for a while.

East Pakistan was mostly inhabited by Bangalis (Bengalees) who were mostly rice and fish eaters. East Pakistani Muslim males wore mainly lungis (sarongs) and dhutis (long white cloth) and all females wore sarees. These clothes were free-flowing and easy to wear or take off. Since the East Pakistan summer was damp and sweaty, males in the villages did not wear anything above their waist. Although most of the East Pakistanis were Muslims, their Islam was Sufi-influenced moderate and tolerant Islam.

West Pakistan was inhabited by different ethnic groups, completely different from the Bangalis. They were mainly wheat roti and meat eaters. In West Pakistan, males wore mainly pyjamas and punjabis and females salwar-kameez. These clothes were not that much free-flowing and not that easy to wear or take off. West Pakistani Islam was conservative and stricter type.

In spite of all these differences, Pakistan started its debut as a new nation, but that soon came under stress regarding the language and people’s rights. The ruling class of Pakistan came from West Pakistan, where a good number of Muslims from north India moved after the partition of India. These north Indian Muslims were Urdu and Persian speakers. Many of the top politicians were from these North Indians who, in spite of having less than 7.6% Urdu speakers in West Pakistan, wanted to impose Urdu as the State Language of entire Pakistan. The West Pakistanis, in general, did not object to this because their languages had common words in Urdu and their languages also are written in Arabic-Farsi scripts like that of Urdu. The East Pakistanis, being about 56% of population of whole of Pakistan, felt deprived of their legitimate right of having Bangla (Bengali) as the state language. Naturally, they resisted this unjust effort of the rulers and some of them (students and non-students) got killed by bullets on February 21, 1952.

Differences Between Bangla (Bengali) and Urdu

Bangla (Bengali) is an eastern Indo-Aryan language which is predominant in Bangladesh and the states of West Bengali, Assam and Tripura of India. About 230 million people speak in this language, making it the sixth most spoken language in the world.

Bangla evolved around 1000-1200 A.D. from the Maghadi Prakrit – a declined vernacular of the ancient Sanskrit language. The history of the Bangla (Bengali) language is quite long and colourful.

Urdu, on the other hand, is an Indo-European language which is predominant in Pakistan and several northern states of India. About 65 million people speak in this language.

Between 1000 and 1700 A.D., Farsi (Persian) language was the language of the Muslim rulers of Central and Southern Asia. These rulers used this language in government, literature and education. Later when the Muslims conquered South Asia, they began to promote a new language for communication among administrators and soldiers, who came from Turkey, Arabian countries, Iran, southern Russia, Afghanistan, South Asia and some other countries. This new language is the Urdu, which name comes from the Turkic word of ordugah, meaning “army camp.” That’s why Urdu is called ‘the language of the army camps.’ In the late 1800’s, when the British began to patronize the Hindus as well as the English and Hindi languages, instead of the Muslims, the importance and influence of the Urdu language began to decline.

Bangla (Bengali) (see the national anthem of Bangladesh above), like English, is written from the left to the right. On the other hand, Urdu (see the national anthem of Pakistan above), like those of Arabic and Farsi languages, is written from the right to the left. How can the mind that moves from the left to the right meet with the one moving from the right to the left? There’s the possibility of a clash, no doubt. Moreover, Bangla was the language of the population that was mostly ruled by foreigners (Buddhist and Hindu rulers were from other parts of India and Muslim rulers were from west Asia) and Urdu was the language of the rulers (Muslim government officials and armymen). For these reasons, the Pakistani ruling elite could not see the population of East Pakistan as equals to them. They could not empathize with them either. That’s why they wanted to impose Urdu on the Bangla-speakers.

If we read both the anthems, what do we see? The Bangladesh anthem speaks of pure Nature, it gives the impression of a carefree attitude and open mind. The Pakistan anthem speaks of determination and religious faith and gives the impression of rigidity (Speaking of religious faith in the anthem is one thing and observing it in real life is another thing. The Pakistani ruling elite never practised the tenets of Islam -- brotherhood, equality of all, sharing and others -- while dealing with the East Pakistanis). Can these two types of minds see eye to eye? Of course, not. That's why these two wings of Pakistan could not live together for long. The seed of independence was planted on the very day of February 21, 1952, when the ruling elite killed some East Pakistanis who wanted to defend their language from dire attack. Ultimately, in 1971, their independence came to reality with the Bangladesh War of Independence.



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