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Our world in ‘inverted commas’

  • Published at 05:32 pm December 27th, 2018
‘Free and fair’?
‘Free and fair’? / BIGSTOCK

When winning is not winning

For as long as I can remember, we, the Bangladeshi people, have struggled to understand where our inverted commas should go.

This I have observed in my students’ argumentative essays -- “My name is ‘Mehedi Hasan’ and I am agree with this statement” (no offense against any Mehedis out there) -- and on the storefronts littered across my city selling their personalized “kameezes” which can be “ordered” and will be “delivered” straight to your “home” -- if you catch my drift. 

This may not seem like much, a harmless syntactic error noticeable to grammar elitists and the like, and to nitpick the placement of two “ulta” commas seem to border on the pedantic. 

Somewhere along our history, perhaps in school or because of the way we were raised, we skipped the lesson on where quotation marks make sense. Or maybe it’s just that we were taught to use it wrong, like so many other lessons instrumental in the miseducation of Bangladesh. 

What exactly is at stake with the misplacement or, rather, the misuse of a few upside-down commas? Language-born we might be, but the power of language eludes us.  

What value could inverted commas have? They tell us where speech begins and ends, differentiating between the written word and the words we speak. They are used to denote the names of certain things, certain proper nouns. 

They emphasize, highlighting certain parts of our language with importance. Oftentimes, they denote sarcasm, double entendres, dualities. We say one thing, but we mean another.

One would think, given such diverse uses, that Bangladeshi people would understand them more than anyone else. After all, we are a “resilient” people, “liberated” by the will to speak our “mother tongue.”

But, then again, given how we have failed to prioritize the important, bogged down by the irrelevant, this is not as surprising. After all, in a country where suicides are an epidemic amongst students, “health” has no connection to psychology, and “grades” have no feasible relationship with a well-rounded education. 

And thus, we have made “progress,” increases in GDP, the RMG sector is now second best in the world, flyovers upon flyovers, “Digital” Bangladesh. No one seems to ask how the equation of more money equals more happiness and even more progress was instated in the first place, but a good business story always works, and is worth a safe editorial or two.

In the wake of massively “useful” U-loops and a “Vision 2020,” we have forgotten democracy. 

We have some “democracy,” I’m sure, but nothing to write to our white supremacist friends in Washington about, not without a few redactions anyway. 

Some version of the “truth” will make its way abroad, but we have a neighbour who has rather explicitly partaken in the practice of “genocide,” and the consequences have been nothing if not dire. 

The “United” Nations itself does not boast a democracy (has no one yet taken note of the irony of five supreme veto nations?), what democracy can they instil in “your” country? 

What inalienable “rights” will you use to cast your “vote” in a few days’ time when the “elections” are held? Which candidate will best “represent” your best interests, and which party will “win”? 

To be perfectly “honest,” did it ever really matter? 

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.