Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How many million make millions?

"Millions with flowers in their hands while (sic) toddlers holding their mothers' hands or riding their fathers' shoulders joined (sic) the Shaheed Minars that turned the monuments into the human sea.

Barefeet (sic), wearing black ribbons and clutching bouquets of flowers, thousands of people from all walks of life approached the Central Shaheed Minar in the capital to pay homage to the martyrs of the language movement, observing International Mother Language Day.

The entire Dhaka University campus and its surrounding areas turned into a human sea as youths, freedom fighters, politicians, foreigners and others walked towards the memorial with due reverence in queues, many of them singing in chorus 'Amar Bhaiyer Rokte Rangano Ekushey February Ami Ki Bhulite Pari.'"
http://thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=76967 )

This is a description of the yearly ritual held on 21st February in Bangladesh. It is a nationalist ritual.

How many people attended?

In the first paragraph, we read about "millions with flowers": if millions moved across Bangladesh, how is it that we haven't seen any signs of this?
And what the "millions of flowers" – where's the stench? Surely, such a large number of flowers must leave an awful pong behind, and, indeed, where did so many flowers come from?

And what kinds of flowers were they: roses, tulips, China roses....or water hyacinths? Only if the latter, could there have been "millions with flowers".

Then the number shrinks when we reach Dhaka: " thousands of people".

That's much better: but I personally don't know anyone who went.

And since I don't have a TV set, I couldn't analyze the pictures to see what the class composition of the "thousands" was: how many rickshaw pullers were there, garment-factory girls, street vendors, farmers....?

We are only told: " thousands of people from all walks of life ", and that's all. But the writer gives himself away in the next paragraph: " youths, freedom fighters, politicians, foreigners and others". Where were the sans-culottes? The "others'? These sound like a residue, a substratum, a scum, an afterthought...surely not the people? More like the 'cetera' after 'et'!

And this furtive nocturnal gathering is supposed to be a national festival: who is the nation, then? A couple of thousand insomniacs?

It has been estimated that 7% of the French participated in the French Revolution, and 11% Iranians in the Iranian one.

Suppose even 1% of our people came out at midnight on 21st February: that would be an impressive army – no, a veritable horde – of 1,500,000 (the size of roughly China's army). But the Daily Star article clearly said "millions with flowers". How many make "millions"? 5 million? 10 million? That would mean an astounding 3 to 6% of the population! Half a French revolution 56 years after the event! Surely every satellite would have picked out such a migration? Surely every newspaper and TV channel would have broadcast the mass of humanity? Not to mention all those flowers.

So it seems even the middle classes didn't come out – they were snoring.

Not only that, I haven't heard of any other country or people who celebrated a so-called International Day – it seems that neither the national, nor the international, turned up for the International Mother Language Day.

The chap who penned that piece should take up fiction – clearly his forte. Not reportage.

In a novel perhaps he can answer the question: who is the nation (and in a sequel, he can delineate the 'International")?

1 comment:

Brian Barker said...

Although International Mother Language Day is now over, you may be interested in the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO's campaign for the protection of endangered languages.

The following declaration was made in favour of Esperanto, by UNESCO at its Paris HQ in December 2008. http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=38420&URL_DO=DO_PRINTPAGE&URL_SECTION=201.html

The commitment to the campaign to save endangered languages was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations' Geneva HQ in September.
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7vD9kChBA&feature=related or http://www.lernu.net