Saturday, December 23, 2006

Which Language to Write

I was reading writer Mahmud Rahman's blog, where he discusses the language one chooses to write in, and its relationship to one's mother tongue. He approaches the issue from a writer's point of view - that is, the special problems that the writer faces when his or her mother tongue is different from the language that he or she chooses to write in. A fascinating topic.

That's a writer's dilemma, of course, but every time I write something in English - that, say, gets published in the Daily Star - something else bugs me: that the vast majority of educated Bangladeshis will not be able to read what I have written because they are educated in Bangla.

So for me, the big question is: who is the audience I write for? That is the basic question that I think many creative people must grapple with. In the subcontinent, Mulk Raj Anand and R. K. Narayan were the two early successful novelists in English - but look at what happened to Michael Madhusudan Dutta.

If you are a creative person, perhaps you have some thoughts? I have heard arguments that Satyajit Ray's Pather Pachali was really meant for a Western audience. But I have also read about Ray vehemently denying it. More importantly, can one argue that there ought to be a moral bias towards a particular type of audience the work of art is created for?

I have no confusion about who I write on this blog for. It is meant for our friends in the US, as well as anyone else, who is interested in the experiences of a returning NRB. As such, English is the way to go. But I also feel some loss at not being able to write as fluently in Bangla as I once did. My Bangla, as they say, "aRoshTo hoye gechhey." Something I want to fix in the future, definitely.


Seth said...

I read in the introduction to my copy of Tagore's The Home and the World that, though the translation is credit to his son, it is believed that he himself had much to do with crafting the official translation. This, to me, is amazingly foresighted.

As a bideshi who is desparate to read Humayun Ahmed and other Bangladeshi authors, but currently has only an elementary grasp of the language, I can appreciate your dilemma from, perhaps, another point of view.

I have a dream that someday I will master Bangla such that I can work with Bangladeshi authors to develop translations of their books for Western audiences. Until then, I will rely on The Daily Star and other English language publications.

Rehan said...

You are not alone - I think the majority of the diaspora, especially the educated class have the same issue that you mentioned here. I just got a dictionary myself to work on rebuilding my Bangla vocabulary all over again and I am determined to succeed just like I did as a kid!

ulysses said...

Hi Seth,

Many thanks for your comments. I imagine that Bangla must be a hard language to learn if it is not your mother tongue. Immersion might be the way to go (easier said than done :-)

Hi Rehan,

Many thanks for your comments. If one is living in an English-speaking country, it is very easy for one to fall into speaking English. Then the English words creep into our speech even when we don't want them. Good luck with the dictionary.

Sonnet said...

I dont mind what language a Bangladeshi uses to express oneself, as long as it's not mixed or turned into "Benglish". It really annoys me when one starts a sentence in Bangla and finishes it off in English. It happens...even to the best of us who have living abroad for decades. But it's something i try my best not to do.

Either ways...excellent article & thoughts for your mind to ponder upon.

Thank you.