Let 21st February be a

Government Holiday in Canada


Akhtar Hossain


Can anyone nowadays think of accessing entry into a public transport, theatre or stadium without a ticket? A ticket is a deed granting the right of admission. To be able to enter into this magnanimous modern world a ticket was necessary for us.

Perhaps one could have lived in this world without such a ticket but an environment known as the civilized world would not have come into being. This precious ticket to be able to enter into the modern civilized world was not difficult to obtain. It existed profusely scattered in every region around the world. Residuals of it are still available. This we say ‘language’. Those who do not have a language how can they enter into the rights and wrongs of this world? They see the civilized world through glass windows like window-shopping. It is not that one’s language is the only necessary warrant. The language probably is the highest treasure of human civilization.

I wouldn’t go into the philosophy of language. For this there are social scientists and language specialists. Generally we know that the journey of the two-legged creature, the human race, began with making arms from stones for self-protection, the use of fire, covering one’s modesty with creepers and leaves. And that journey forward has been advanced with the help of the human being’s spoken language.

If there was no spoken language, people’s education, meditation, perception, unification, communication, distribution, etc., would not have developed. Imagine if Martin Luther King would have delivered his ‘speech’ simply by waving his hands before the public and gone! If he didn’t have a language in his tongue, would we have understood that he also had a dream? Because a spoken language came into his tongue, the human being started dreaming.

It may be said that language has various forms, and a multifaceted exposition, that is, the language of the dumb, language of the poor, the language of affliction-deception-love, and many more. There are many among us who write letters to their beloved with heart conceived as a pen filled with the aromatic colour of a flower. Or, having written a letter on the wall of the sky and placing it in an envelope made of the cloud, mail it to an unknown destination. Would it have been possible to decipher such a piece of letter on reaching its destination if there was no proficiency in the language? If we had no spoken language we would have still eaten raw meats standing under a tree-shade, would have roamed about forests on elephants or horses. Would the great achievements, greatest men, sublime creations have been possible? Gradually constructing upon the days gone by past we have achieved modern civilization. It is not that we have earned civilization from our primitive stage so easily. Likewise it will not reach the posterity at a leap. Civilization has to be passed over hand to hand. And the man’s language shall play a pivotal role in its transportation. A human being is born without the power of speech. He is also speechless when he dies. In other words, the way he came into the world speechless, he also leaves the world speechless. It is one of the extreme truth of the cycle of life. Nothing has so far been discovered to change this cycle. Like this transparent truth there are some more established facts intertwined in our life. Amongst these, one other known fact is that despite being blessed with the Creator’s boundless zeal and love, a human being is born naked. The anatomical dexterity stupefies even the modern science. There remains no deficiency in necessities within or outside the body for the existence of one’s life. The only thing missing is a piece of cloth. He who has filled the oceans with water, covered the earth with abundant trees and grains, wrapped the sky with cloud and air, couldn’t He send the man’s body covered with a swathing cloth? Why He is not doing so is beyond our compre-hension. But the piece of cloth worn by mankind is the man’s creation. That particular piece of cloth has a name. It is called civilization. Without the stamp of this civilization one can step into this world but no one gets the passport to leave the world.

Another part of our life cycle standing on the pillar of truth is that no child comes into this world boarded on a chariot. Or flying in an aeroplane. At the will of the Creator when a life reaches the boundary between the heaven and the earth, a woman zealously picks it up in earnest care. Then she absorbs it as a part of her body. Although we do not know how the new life crosses the distance from heaven to earth we know roughly the time it takes for a child to touch the earth. The duration is not short, the nine to ten-month period this little life utilizes amazingly beautifully. It creates an extraordinary friendship with the woman who holds it in her womb. The human-being all over the world has also bestowed this friendship with a name. It is called Mother. There is none other magical tie in this world which can surpass the bondage of the mother. The name of this unbreakable shelter is mother. As flow of tears is to incessant rain, the glow-worm to the star, the mother is also infinite. The mother does not forbear simply carrying the child in her womb. First she feeds him from her own body, then she empties her breast for him. Borrowing from the mother his life grows bit by bit. The life at one time keeps walking. Observes the world with wide eyes. The mother comes forward to satisfy all his inquisitiveness. Revolving from North to South to East and West the mother shows him trees rivers moon sun and the stars. The mother teaches the newborn in her own language to the best of her ability. Highly captivated with his mother’s voice the newly born child tells her mother: “mother, your vocal word reaches my ears like a sweetened nectar.” Thereafter the child keeps on growing, and at one stage leaving his mother enters into his own world. The name of this world is “a bustling life.” His busyness overtakes him so much that he gets no time to spare for his mother. He repays his debt by sending her letters or cards. I am well, hope you’re well. Take care of your health. Pervasion of this letter reels around the same place. Whereas his mother wants to know whether her child remembers the days of his childhood. The days when he slept clinging onto his mother’s neck. Her memories of ‘kajla-didi’ and ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ rhymes evoke an under toned spell of sobbing. No one else can hear that sob. The mother says my rhymes my songs are getting vanquished, my son. The language in which I taught you about the trees, the rivers, the moon that language is going into oblivion. I am a woman from Brazil, so why no one will recognize the value of my language? The other mother would say I am an Inuit. I sang lullaby for my child in the womb. Has my child forgotten his mother-tongue? All mothers began speaking in unison: I am Italian, I am Greek, Korean, Punjabi, Vietnamese, French, Portuguese, Bengali, and many more!

Though unbelievable maybe, it’s true that of more than six thousand languages only a few mother-tongues have survived. Don’t we owe our existence to our mother-tongue? The language in which a human being first speaks, the language in which one becomes familiar with the world holding mother’s hands, those languages are becoming oblivious right in front of our eyes, yet we remain silent. We had so much to do but when there was time we did not do anything. It’s heartening, however, that though belated the UNESCO has designated a special day of the year as “International Language Day.” It’s initiator was one of the organizations in Canada. The ‘Lovers of International Mother Language Club’ in British Columbia submitted a proposal to the Secretary-General of the U.N.O. suggesting 21st February be declared as the International Language Day. This proposal received the applause and support of the delegates of all the nations. In the Plenary Session of the UNESCO’s General Conference held in Paris in November 1999, this proposal was ratified by unanimous votes from 188 countries. From then on the mothers’ language has been drawing international inspiration. Fresh blood sacrificed by the students on the roads of Dhaka city received its due respect. The martyrs’ souls received an heavenly honour. Although each language and culture has its own characteristics and ways, it does constitute the grandeur of neighbouring or far-off languages and cultures. The languages get their new dimension in the course of trans-formation in this way. Towards comple-menting each other all the languages should be kept alive. Just as a poet does not belong to himself only, a language is also not for oneself only. The subject is like a spinning top. It revolves itself, yet to attain momentum it frisks around the immediate surroundings instead of spinning at a fixed place. Within howsoever conservative environment the arts, music and literature may grow up, others’ partnership in it remains inevitable. Either it borrows or it lends. In the give and take market it has invaluable worth. Perhaps because of it, specifically the 21st February is being observed around the world with special honour. Especially in those countries which have the sacrificial legacy through blood-bath. We should not forget that still inestimable numbers of children are yet to come into this world. In what language the mother will teach her children is the mother’s inherited prerogative. Let us not put an obstacle on its way. Let us not deprive the future children the rights to their mother-tongue.

Canada ranks the highest amongst the countries tolerant towards others’ languages and cultures. It has been mentioned in the last census report that in Toronto alone immigrants from 169 countries are living. Amongst the countries from where highest numbers of immigrants have come are China, India, Philippines, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, North Korea, Russia, etc. Naturally, each of them have their different mother-tongue. Those of us who live in Canada are aware that almost every month of the year there is one or more public holidays. Only February does not have any. Many have spoken about having a public holiday in February to maintain equilibrium between work and leisure. In a statistical report published in March (2002) it has been said that Canadians are becoming workaholic day by day. That is, like alcohol we are getting intoxicated with work, work and more work. In this situation many have suggested that let us declare a holiday in February as ‘Prime Minister Day’ paying tributes to distinguished Prime Ministers of the past. Many have said ‘what about having a Flag Day?’ I say, why not the United Nations-designated ‘Mother’s Language Day?’ Although in a familial way many remain committed to take steps towards preserving one’s own language, yet the urge for a particular solemnization day still prevails. Days like ‘Labour Day, Women’s Day, AIDS Day’ have their own characteristic beneficence. Special days have distinguished dignity. All days are happy days but why are then Christmas Day, Eid Day?

To the best of our abilities we have made our submissions to the Prime Minister of Canada, its Heritage Minister and various Members of the House of Commons including the Leaders of the Opposition Parties. We have also received quite a few acknowledge-ments. If you think it would be prudent to continue with our efforts to have twenty-first February declared as a public holiday in Canada then, I pray, you discuss it with the Member of Parliament of your respective area, the politicians, business magnates, disting-uished personalities of your respective societies, even with the Ambassadors and High Commissioners of your originating countries. We all love our mothers. Is it then an arduous task for us to exert all our endeavours towards winning a public holiday in the name of our mother? Come forward, so that through our mutual understanding and efforts we can present a Bill in the House of Commons and have it passed. On behalf of all the mothers of the world it is a fervent prayer coming from within the core of the heart of this humble son.