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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