What defines Bangladesh?
The character of a nation is largely dictated by the legacy of its geography, its history, and its culture. How happy a nation is, or even why it is so, depends largely on its national characteristic, developed through a blend of all three.
The geography of any given nation is unique and its national character can be seen shaping through the culture of its people. Irish writer AL Basham, in his book The Wonder that was India, wrote about the British India: “Land of Ganges Valley is blessed by a bounteous nature, who demanded little from man in return for sustenance, but in her terrible anger cannot be appeased by human effort.
“Hence, it is suggested that the character of the people of Ganges Valley has tended to fatalism and quietism, accepting fortune and misfortune alike without complaints.” The land within the Ganges Valley is extremely fertile in feeding its people no matter the size of the population.
Flood, drought, famine, etc have been regular companions of the people in this valley. Numerous areas and their communities have disappeared due to these calamities. And thus, the people of this Gangetic plain adapted to deal with such adversity without complaint and submitted to the will of nature.
Do we exhibit a similar national character?
Let’s analyze the characteristics of a nation by the count of its geographic construct, history, and culture. Bangladesh is one of the very few countries which have remained in constant danger of natural calamities due to its low-lying nature. Historically, the people of this land have made constant shifts just to be able to survive. This national culture of survival turned into a sort of tribalistic outlook, submitting to the mercy of a bountiful nature and leading a normal life. The nation has, therefore, earned an extreme form of resilience -- weathering any kind of hardship and plight without shedding any tears on the one hand and bringing happiness to its people, offering a carefree life on the other.
One can always argue that it’s a force multiplier for a nation to progress and measure happiness. But it can also be argued that a nation may regress due to an extreme resilience in accepting happiness and plight alike.
Bangladesh, a land of rivers, provided its people with river routes and water transportation to move from place to place. As the country developed, the rivers dried up due to multiple factors, both external and internal. The journey through river routes was substituted by land routes due to the development of a network of roads and highways over the course of the development of the country.
Factors such as the abuse of rivers, unplanned urbanization and/or industrialization largely contributed to the drying-up of our sizeable river network. In the monsoon, it brings immeasurable hardships to urban areas.
Even the slightest bit of rain finds the roads heavily submerged. All kinds of transportation, including smaller boats, can be seen plying the roads during the monsoon. Interestingly, the people, because of their extreme resilience, can cope with it easily and without any complaint. The fertility of our forests and rivers, coupled with continuous efforts of our people to double the production of produce, have provided our country with plenty of food.
The abundance of crops or sweet-water fish throughout the country has made the people of this land particularly food-loving.
The eggplant is a low-price vegetable found in our country, mainly due to its large-scale production. The price goes even further down sometimes due to a lack of preservation methods.
A section of the people feel happy, buying it at affordable prices, consuming it as a staple. The picture of eggplant consumption in the time of Ramadan changes drastically, however. Eggplant becomes an essential food to be served by many people, especially while breaking fast.
The race to buy eggplants during Ramadan sees the price shoot up to the stratosphere. The wealthier section of our societies, who once never even considered eggplant an essential dish, suddenly start looking at it as an essential item for iftar. The other section of people reject it because of the price.
The influence of rivers, forests, fertility of land, and the monsoonal cycle of this region are what kept the people of this land from developing a warlike mentality like that of Europe. People grew an extreme resilience to living with nature comfortably and without any attempt to blame it for any of their discomfort.
Nature and religion have been synonymous for ages, and these are two qualities which define this land and its people, which has resulted in a very defensive national character -- able to withstand any hardship with a smile on our faces.
Brigadier General AF Jaglul Ahmed is Commandant, East Bengal Regimental Centre.