In honor of International Mother Language Day a play was held in the School 5 auditorium depicting the struggle for language that took place in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), where a large student movement formed to protest the Pakistani government’s oppressive imposition of Urdu on unsuspecting Bengalis.
A grandmother tells her granddaughter of a time when she was enrolled in Dhaka University, a large college in Bangladesh, amidst West Pakistan’s (now Pakistan) bid to consolidate power between the two wings by instituting an universal language across the newly formed Islamic Republic. The grandmother and a band of her college friends, after learning of the news, begin to protest against the dicta; eventually the Pakistani army cracks down on the group, and all are killed except the woman telling the story and her future husband. And the rest of the story flows like that of many history books of the incident– fully accurate and precisely.
The organizers of the play, Bangladeshi-American Youth Association (Baya), a non-profit organization, hoped for a hundred people to show for the event but instead 300 showed making the play a fantastic success with some difficulty. During the first half of the play it was impossible to hear the voices of the actors, but some quick thinking resulted in a fast remedy of the situation by placing microphones on the floor which allowed the large audience to finally comprehend what the characters were saying on stage.
Majority of the actors came from Paterson Public Schools save few from elsewhere; most of them from John F. Kennedy High School. The play sends a message to the audience and the performers – some of whom continued to speak in broken Bangla even in the play according to our translator — that: the language you take for granted was preserved with much blood, and it ought not be taken for granted.
Gilman Choudhury, one of the organizers of the play, told us afterwards that, “There were no mics because we thought it would only be the first few rows,” but instead Mr Choudhury managed to fill the auditorium; the entire time our reporter spoke to him he could barely hide his excitement.
The play was staged to give the youths of the burgeoning Bangladeshi community a lesson in their own history, one attendant of the play told us, “You know…everyday they tell us about Black history and American history and stuff like that…so it was a change to see some of my people’s history.”