Shoptodina Foundation, the brain child of Dr. Tamal Dasgupta, has been doing pioneering work related to Bengal and Bengalis especially through their academic mouthpiece The Journal of Bengali Studies. Under the aegis of this foundation on 15th April, 2016, a seminar was held in Mahabodhi Society Auditorium, Kolkata, titled “Towards Classical Status for Bengali Language”. In the sweltering heat of an April day the heritage structure saw intellectuals from different fields engage in a discussion that at some point in time will prove decisive in gaining the classical status for a language that is a heritage of Bengal. It is not only a matter of pride for the Bengalis that this initiative is being taken; it also opens up logistical and infrastructural facilities for the upliftment and spread of the language which is being compromised in usage due to the constraints of not being the language of currency on a global platform in more sense than one.
The seminar, divided into two sessions on both sides of lunch, saw speakers express their thoughts on the issue in hand from their angles of vocation and research interests. The seminar began with a very interesting paper presentation with audio-visual aids by Dr. Swarup Bhattacharya on the topic depicting the transition through the ages of the boat of Bengal. Bengal being a major coastal area from where river and sea navigations have taken place since time immemorial has seen boats as central to the livelihood of its people and at a metaphoric level it symbolizes the spirit of Bengal and its classical anteriority. Language is as intrinsically linked with livelihood as nothing else can be. After this presentation Tapoban Bhattacharyya spoke on Bengal’s so-called first monarch Sasanka. He pointed out that at school and college level history books the space dedicated to the rule of Sasanka is being shrunk and given just a cursory mention and thereby a sort of elision is happening that is detrimental to the glory of Bengal.
Raibatak Sengupta followed it up with a speech on the status of Bopdev, who is seen variously as Bengali and Marathi due to lack of any well-researched evidence. The speaker iterated that time demands an appropriation of this legendary figure of history so that the grayness disappears. It was then that Dr. Arjundeb Sensharma made his crucial presentation detailing how proto-Bengali language developed since Sasanka’s time and has directly descended into the modern form that is prevalent now. He gave arguments on why Bengali language should be accorded the status of classical language. Later Dr. Piya Biswas discussed Charyapadas and how they are part of the development of Bengali language from its proto origins (and not exclusively precursors of Oriya language). Anirban Das too argued for the classical status for the Bengali language and presented evidence of the antiquity of this language. Rituparno Chattopadhyay’s speech with the help of a Powerpoint Presentation was on the trade of Bengal and how the seals of Bengal prove the prevalence of a proto language that is the antecedent of present-day Bengali.
The penultimate speaker of the seminar was the Chief Guest himself, the noted poet and academic Subodh Sarkar. He regretted the facts that we live in a country where a language like Sanskrit gets the classical status after Tamil, where there are no speakers to argue for the classical status of an ancient language like Pali, and where Oriya gets classical status but not Bengali yet. He zeroed on the cause that the lack of unity amongst Bengali-speaking people has led to this state of affairs. He blamed the upper-middle class Bengalis who give little importance to their mother tongue and favour English instead. He promised all help if the demand is made to grant the classical status to Bengali language. Dr. Tamal Dasgupta summarized the proceedings and presented his own view point at the end of the seminar. He argued for the need of classical status for Bengali language, and elaborated the stakes that the Bengalis have in this battle, and what they stand to lose if they do not engage into this struggle for classical status. Extensively referencing Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay's magnum opus ODBL (Origin and Development of Bengali Language) Dr Dasgupta offered a cogent case for the language of Charyapadas being identical with old Bengali. He cautioned against the continuous poaching of Bengal's heritage at the hands of various vested interests, mentioning Jayadeva as a case in point. He further said that everything that stands for the pride and glory of Bengal is gradually getting eroded and it is time that Bengalis realize the precariousness of the situation and take proactive measures to address the issues that are at stake. His speech made it apparent that if the alarm is not sounded today then it might be too late.