[Reader-list] Porous Borders

zainab at xtdnet.nl zainab at xtdnet.nl
Thu Jun 16 20:58:21 IST 2005


I am now on the other side of the border, in Bangladesh, thirty minutes
ahead of time. Yet, the differences are not that great. The landscape is
similar to that of Bengal. And the culture is essentially Bengali, not
Islamic. Bengali language rules here. You either speak the language or no
other option. During my first visit, I had learnt that the first revolt
which the Bangladeshis had launched against the tyranny of West Pakistan
was that of language. The Bangladeshis refused to submit to the authority
of Urdu. They blackened all Urdu signs and hoardings, the walls of cities
on which Urdu was written. Bangladeshis are proud of their language. From
my second visit onwards, I was beginning to perceive that English and
Hindi were slowly creeping into the everyday lives of the people there. I
started spotting advertising hoardings in English and came to know of the
popularity of Hindi television serials and movies. The famous song “Kaanta
Laga” had been translated in Bengali. Each day as I would walk the markets
of Khulna, I would hear more of Hindi music. One day, the Daily Star, a
popular English daily published from Dhaka, carried an article where the
author complained of the prevalence of Hindi film music and the decline of
Bengali music and poetry.

During each of my visit, my various hosts would ask me to speak Hindi,
“the way it is spoken in television serials”, they would insist each time.
I have always been dumbstruck on this request. I hardly watch the
television serials. So I don’t know what kind of Hindi is spoken.
Moreover, Hindi is not a homogenous language. It has its dialects, accents
and it is spoken differently in different places and regions in India.

Hindi TV serials of STAR PLUS, SONY and ZEE are heavily popular among the
womenfolk and children. “From Monday to Thursday, 1 PM to 5 PM, it is like
a film show for them – all the TV serials they watch,” tells me my host’s
brother-in-law in Chittagong. One evening, there was no electricity. In
the heat, amidst fanning ourselves, the elder daughter-in-law of the house
asked the children to sing and dance to Hindi film songs. Mithila, the
little girl, began to sing, as if reciting poetry, ‘if you want to be my
lober, lober (lover, lover), if you want to be my lober, lober 
dil mein aana re, aa ke phir na jana re 
” I was trying to understand
whether Mithila understood what she was singing. It strikes that may be
she is constantly exposed to the song and has picked it up subconsciously.
I think this is an interesting feature of cities – we are constantly
amidst sounds and noises. Often, we subconsciously pick up information and
often, we don’t filter everything – it’s just about the noise!

Hindi films are popular in Bangladesh. But the youngsters tell me that
while earlier films were remembered for popular dialogues, today’s films
are based on star power. Amitabh Bachan is heavily popular in Bangladesh.
Each day when I would pass by the Moila Putta Street in Khulna, I would
notice the huge Pepsi hoarding with Amitabh Bachan smiling out of it. The
hoarding promised, “Drink Pepsi. Get lucky, meet Amitabh in Kolkatta!” As
Amitabh smiled out of this hoarding, I began to realize that Amitabh is
not just an icon; he is representative of a nation. He symbolizes the
nation itself. He is the nation – he is one face of India to the
Bangladeshi people.

Pirated VCDs of Hindi films reach Bangladesh before they are released in
India. The route is apparently Pakistan where the films are pirated. I
remember Aymen Khan, the taxi driver in Amsterdam telling me of his visit
to Dubai. “I had been to one of your underworld don’s younger brother’s
house. There were suitcases, black ones, piled with film reels. That is
how they make their money. Films are released in Dubai by these people.”
The experience in Bangladesh and Aymen’s story make me feel that films and
Bollywood are an important aspect of the political economy of South Asia.
Films, TV, cinema, these in a way contribute to the porosity of borders
that exist within South Asia. In 1999, during my visit to Korea, a
Pakistani colleague had said to me, “ZEE TV, it is the unifier between
India and Pakistan. Else, there was always a distance!” I don’t know in
what ways films and television contribute towards the understanding of
other. I don’t know how television and cinema reduce distance (or whether
they do at all?)? I wonder whether cinema and television assist in making
‘the other’ appear more comprehensible? What????

While I can understand Bangla and if I speak, I wouldn’t be doing a bad
job, I feel conscious when I speak the language. Ladies of the houses I
would visit would tell me, “Speak Hindi, no problem. We can understand. We
watch the television serials.”

This time around, a new cellular phone service was being launched in
Bangladesh. It is called DJuice and is a service of the popular Grameen
Phone service. DJuice advertises in Hindi. Bengali on its advertising
pamphlets is written in English. For instance, ‘Khoroch Koto (what are the
expenses?)’ is written in English instead of Bengali. One of the boys in
the University said to me, “I refuse to patronize DJuice. They are
spoiling our language by writing Bengali in English. What impact will it
have on the coming generations? Already I see the decline in our language.
Given the TV serials and films, I am convinced that the next three or four
generations will be Hindi speakers.”

I wonder whether borders are porous 
 Are cultural borders in South Asia

Zainab Bawa

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