RE: A Gentleman Lost His Gentility

Mohammad Asghar’s response to Setara Hashem’s write up

By Mohammad Asghar

....Bengali Muslim parents are never known for naming their children after musical instruments. Had it not been the case, we would have had among us a lot of “doogdoogis, tablas, saranghis and harmoniums” to please our pleasure-deprived ears!... 

Late Shah Aziz-ur-Rahman, one of the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, appointed by Gen. Ershad during his long reign over the country, had once really taught us, the Bengalis, the use of real Bangla, while having a civil encounter with late Abdul Malek Ukil of Awami League. The encounter developed over a letter of invitation Gen. Ershad had sent to Mr. Ukil.

Mr. Ukil had objected on the use of the word “Dawatnama” in the letter of invitation. He had insisted that since the government was committed to the use of Bangla in all spheres of Bangladesh ’s national life, it was imperative for it to use Bangla on the letter of invitation as well. In keeping with his line of thinking, Mr. Ukil had suggested that instead of using the word Dawatnama, the Bengali word “nimontron-patra” should have been used to show respect to our language.

Mr. Rahman had responded: If we were to comply with Mr. Ukil’s request, in that event, we must start by converting his mostly Arabic-sounding name into Bangla first. And he did convert his name to Bengali, which read as follows:

Shri (in place of Janab, or Mr.) Bhagwan Das (in place of Abdul Malek) Ainjibi (in place of Ukil).

Since the conversion of his name into Bangla failed to come up to his satisfaction, Mr. Ukil dropped his lawyerly pursuit for good!

According to many Muslim thinkers, names carry very important implications, especially for the Muslims. For instance, one female Muslim physician of Bangladesh once declared that she prescribed medications to her patients on the basis of their names. She maintained that she prescribed one medication for a Muslim, and another for a non-Muslim for the same or identical ailment as, according to her, they  are naturally equipped with different healing capacities. This important opinion of hers was published in one of the prestigious English Newspapers of Bangladesh in 1997.

I wrote a letter to the Editor of the newspaper, seeking clarification on the above (un)scientific fact from its disseminator. In it, I wrote: A patient, with the name of A.R. Biswas, came to you and sought your medical help. Because his last name, Biswas, is generally supposed to be used only by the Hindus of the Indian-sub-continent, you assumed that he was a Hindu and, accordingly, you prescribed a medicine, you believed, was suitable for his treatment.

But the medicine failed to help him out of his problem, because the patient was a Muslim, and not a Hindu. In fact, the initials, A and R, he used along with Biswas, were actually the abbreviation of “Abdur Rahman,” a so-called Muslim name. Conversely, if you had thought that the patient was a Muslim, and prescribed a medication that was suitable for a Muslim’s body, here again, you made another mistake, as the alphabets “A. R” could very well be the short form of the name “Ajit Ranjan,” a name the patient’s Hindu parents might have given him after his birth.

The lady physician never responded to my letter.

I narrated the above two anecdotes with a specific purpose in my mind, and it is this: Neither it is practical nor possible for the Bengali parents to give their children purely Bangla names, as the meanings of the Bengali names are very likely to change the perceived Islamic characteristics of their children.

Though I am well aware that the name “Setara” is deemed by we all Bengalis to be the name of a Muslim female, yet I dared analyze its meaning, with due deference to the bearer of this name, not to belittle or degrade the name itself or the bearer’s persona, but to draw the readers attention to a fact that all humans, including our parents, were/are susceptible to making mistakes. To make my point clear, I used the names Setara and Shamsuddin, the latter being my former last name, as two examples of our parental mistakes, and then asked: Can we call our parents ignorant or illiterate for their innocent mistakes? (To learn more about my thread of discussion, readers are requested to read “Re: Gender Sense of A Gentleman” published in Vinnomot and Mukto-Mona).

My opponent missed my above point, and claimed that the word “Setara” is the “famine {sic} gender of the word {sitar}.

Before I proceed to refute the above claim on the feminine gender of Sitar, it might be useful to state here that our Bangla language is not gender oriented. From a spoken or written Bangla sentence, it would never be possible for a listener or a reader to determine the gender of the subject the speaker might be speaking of, or the writer wrote about. For elucidation, let us consider the following Bangla sentence:

“Shea gaan gaicchea.” (… singing a song). In this Bangla sentence, the word “shea” used for the subject does not indicate whether it is a male or a female.

In contrast to our Bangla, Urdu is heavily gender oriented. Almost all Urdu sentences are constructed on the basis of the subjects’ genders. Here is an example:

“O gaana ga rahi hai, or ga  raha hai.” (She is singing/He is singing). The word “rahi” indicates the subject’s feminine gender. The use of the word “raha” reverses the subject’s gender, as it is used only in case of male subjects.

Now, here is the rebuttal to the gender claim of the word “sitar.” For the information of the learned debater, I must point out that the word “sitar” is not a Bangla word. It owes its origin to Hindi, which borrowed it from Persian.

Sitar became a part of English vocabulary during the period 1835-45 (ref. Random House Webster’s College Dictionary). In its original form, the word sitar did not have a feminine gender. Neither does it have even today. It is evident from the fact that no Hindi speaking person is ever heard saying “Sitar Acchi lagti hai.” (“The Sitar looks beautiful”-the word “acchi” being the feminine form of the masculine word “accha). Rather, they say: “Sitar Accha lagta hai.”

However, in our Bengali culture, the word “sitar,” and not “Setara,” is always taken to denote a feminine object, due, probably, to a sound, called “jhankar” in Urdu, its strings, upon striking, produce. Jhankar is a sound that resembles the one that is created by the collision of glass-bangles worn by females, hence the phrase “Churiun ki jhanker,” i.e. the sound of the bangles. On the other hand, surood is always taken in a masculine sense, probably, because of the heavy sound it originates.

And since Bangla is not a gender oriented language, it does not have a feminine word for “sitar.” Therefore, to claim that the word “Setara” is the feminine form of the masculine word “sitar” is absolutely false.

Moreover, Bengali Muslim parents are never known for naming their children after musical instruments. Had it not been the case, we would have had among us a lot of “doogdoogis, tablas, saranghis and harmoniums” to please our pleasure-deprived ears!

The word “Awaami” or “Awaam” is not a Bangla word, nor is its usage common in Bangla literature, or among the Bangla speaking people. We have the Bangla words “jonogon” or “jonota” to denote the same meaning both the above Persian words carry. The word “Awami” is used only in conjunction with the Awami League, and not for any other purposes whatsoever.

If I am mistaken in my foregoing assertion, in that event, I shall feel obliged for being corrected by anyone with proper references.

Rest of the points/assertions made by the debater are of no consequence, hence I am not commenting on them intentionally.

June 28, 2004

  
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Mohammad Asghar writes from USA. 

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