Advanced science, Astrophysics, Cultural, International, Technical

Mysterious dark matter and dark energy

Physics is traditionally viewed as a hard subject requiring a great deal of mathematical prowess, devotion and perseverance to muster the subject matter. To a large extent, it is definitely true. But it does also offer, in its turn, a great deal of satisfaction, excitement and sense of achievement.

The 21st century physics, spanning from quantum computing to super-thin layer material called graphene to ultra-efficient LED bulbs to efficient harnessing of renewable energies to black holes to dark matter and dark energy, the range of topics is endless and it will disappoint no one with its vast challenges and ensuing excitement.

In our day-to-day lives, we encounter matter comprising protons and neutrons bundled together at the centre, called nucleus, of an atom and electrons whizzing around the nucleus. Some decades ago, these protons, neutrons and electrons were thought to be the fundamental particles of all matter; but not anymore. Now, quarks (six types) are thought to be the fundamental matter particles, which are glued together by force particles to form protons and neutrons.

These atoms and molecules making up matter here on earth are what we are accustomed to. The laws of physics, or for that matter of natural sciences, were developed to explain the natural processes as we encounter in our lives.

The basic physical principles are like these: a body has a definite size comprising length, breadth and height; it has a mass and weight; it is visible when there is sufficient light. If we push a body, we impart momentum, which is the product of mass and velocity. As it has the mass, it has gravity, meaning it attracts every other body and every other body attracts this body. These are the basic properties of a body as described in classical physics.

But there is no reason to be dogmatic about these basic principles. These principles can change here on earth or in our galaxy or somewhere outside our galaxy. When they do change, we would feel that things have gone topsy-turvy.

We live on a very tiny planet, called Earth, which revolves round the star, called Sun. There are eight other planets, thousands of satellites, comets and asteroids, all held together by the gravity of the Sun. The Sun, though extremely bright and overwhelmingly powerful to us, is a small star in our galaxy, called the Milky Way. It is estimated that there are over a billion, yes, 1,000,000,000 stars, many of them are much bigger than the Sun, in our galaxy. Now our galaxy is by no means the biggest or dominant galaxy in the universe. Cosmologists estimate that there are around one billion galaxies in our universe! Some of these galaxies are hundreds or even thousands of times bigger or massive than our galaxy. There are massive black holes at the centres of most of the galaxies, exerting gravitational pull to keep the galaxy together. Some of these black holes are millions of times bigger than the Sun. Now we can have a feel of how big our universe is!

Physics, or more appropriately astrophysics, studies the processes of these vast expanse of celestial bodies. The Sun as well as our galaxy, the Milky Way having over a billion stars are not static. The stars are spinning, the galaxy is spiralling, and everything is in motion.

Strange glow from the centre of the Milky Way

It was estimated, purely on physical principles, that the stars at the edges of a galaxy should move slower than the central ones, as the force of gravity of the galaxy is weaker away from the centre. But astronomical observations show that stars orbit at more or less at the same speed regardless of their distance from the centre. That was a great surprise, indeed shock, to the astrophysicists. The way this puzzle was eventually tackled was by assuming that there are massive unseen matters that exert tremendous amount of gravitational pull to keep the outlying stars moving at nearly the same speed and that mysterious matter is called the dark matter.

There are other tell-tale signs that there is something amiss in the material accounting of the universe. A strange bright glow spread over the length of the Milky Way was thought to be due to ordinary pulsars (pulsating stars) along the length. But now it is thought that dark matter may be responsible for this glow! But how does it do that, physics does not know yet.

But is this dark matter a fudge to solve the apparent conflict of physical behaviour with observations? Not really, this is how science progresses. Well thought out ideas are advanced and those ideas are tested and cross-examined against observations and the idea or concept that passes the tests is taken as the valid scientific concept.

But how do we know dark matter is there, if we cannot see them. We cannot see them because dark matter does not interact with light or electromagnetic radiation such as visible light, infra-red, ultra violet, radio waves, gamma rays and so on. Light goes straight through the dark matter, as if it is not there.

It should, however, be pointed out that dark matter is not the same thing as black hole. A black hole is made up of everyday particles (matter particles and force particles) – electrons, protons, neutrons, atoms, molecules, photons etc. Its gravity has just become so strong (because of its mass and super-compacted size) that it pulls and crushes everything to its core and nothing can escape from its clutches, not even light! A beam of light coming close to a black hole is pulled right insight and that is the end of that light beam never to be seen again!

Dark energy expansion

Dark matter, although invisible, does exert gravitation pull and this gravitational pull that makes dark matter attractive to scientists. The Universe, although expanding, is not in danger of runaway expansion. There is something that is holding the whole thing together and that something may be the dark matter.

Immediately following the Big Bang, the then Universe expanded very rapidly, known as inflationary phase, for tens of millions of years followed by expansion for some billion years and then it stabilised for a few billion years and now it is again in the expansion phase. The present expansion is that the space itself is expanding and so every star and every galaxy is moving away from every other star or galaxy. What is giving these celestial bodies energy (repulsive in this case) to move away from each other? Scientists came up with the proposition that there must be some unknown, unseen energy, which is now called the dark energy.

On purely material and energy balance of the Universe, it is thought that our visible (and known) Universe accounts for only 4.9 percent of the total Universe, dark matter accounts for 26.8 percent and dark energy for 68.3 percent. So, we only know in the vast mind-boggling universe extending over 13.8 billion light years a meagre 5 percent and the remaining 95 percent is hidden or unknown to us!

Scientists all over the world are trying hard to find evidence of dark matter and dark energy. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is trying to find any remotest evidence of dark matter and energy. On theoretical basis, some scientists are proposing that dark energy may emanate from a fifth form of force, which is yet unknown. The four forces that we know are electromagnetic, weak nuclear, strong nuclear and gravitational forces. The fifth force may be a variant of gravitational force – a repulsive gravitational force – that comes into play in the vast intergalactic space.

When Einstein produced the general theory of relativity in 1915, he introduced, almost arbitrarily, a parameter, called the cosmological constant, into the theory to counter the effects of gravitational pull and make the Universe a static one. That cosmological constant effectively introduced the repulsive effects. It may be pointed out that the Universe was thought to be static at that time. But only a few years later when it was incontrovertibly shown that the Universe was, in fact, expanding, Einstein humbly admitted that it was his “biggest mistake”. Now, more than hundred years later, it is assumed that the cosmological constant may be considered to be the quantity to cater for the dark energy! Could Einstein’s “biggest mistake” be a blessing in disguise, it offers not only a correct presumption but also a saviour of modern cosmology?

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Religious, Technical

Isn’t black hole a black mystery?

A black hole – hitherto an invisible celestial body – was in cosmological vocabulary even before Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1915. But when the relativity theory predicted with full scientific rigour that a massive stellar body can have such a strong gravitational pull that nothing, no object, not even electromagnetic radiation such as light, can escape from it, the concept of a black hole became firmly established in scientific parlance. But it remained at that time only a mathematical curiosity, as no scientific evidence or mechanism of formation of a black hole was put forward. However, it became a realistic possibility after the detection of pulsars some decades later.   

The detection of pulsars (rotating neutron stars) by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a research student at the University of Cambridge in 1967, gave renewed spurt to the concept of gravitational collapse and the formation of black holes. A normal star, when it comes to the end of its life due to lack of fusion fuel, collapses under its own gravity and becomes a neutron star. It may be mentioned that an atom consists of neutrons (neutral in charge) and positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. If gravity becomes too strong, protons and electrons are pulled together to merge with each other, neutralise their charges and become neutrons and the whole star becomes a neutron star. (For the detection of neutron star, which was considered as “one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century” by the Nobel Committee, her supervisor and another astronomer were awarded Nobel prize in Physics in 1974, but Jocelyn Bell was not even mentioned in the citation. However, years later, in 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. She donated the whole of the £2.3 million prize money to the Institute of Physics in the UK to help female, minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.

Not all stars eventually become neutron stars. If the mass of a star is less than 2.6 times the mass of the Sun, the gravity would not be strong enough to turn it into a neutron star. The gravitational pull in a neutron star ultimately becomes so strong that all its mass and its nearby matters are pulled to a small volume and the star becomes a black hole. A black hole can merge with another black hole to become a bigger and stronger black hole.

It is speculated that there are black holes of various sizes in most of the galaxies and in some galaxies, there are supermassive black holes at their centres. The nearest black hole from Earth is quite a few thousand light-years away; but they exert no influence on this planet. The supermassive black hole in our galaxy (the Milky Way) is about 26,000 light-years away.

Despite the name, a black hole is not all black. The gas and dust trapped around the edges of the black hole are compacted so densely and heated up so enormously that there are literally gigantic cauldrons of fire around the periphery of a black hole. The temperatures can be around billions of degrees!

The first direct visual evidence of a black hole had been produced on 10 April 2019 by a team of over 200 international experts working in a number of countries. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) was used to detect the existence of a colossal black hole in M87 galaxy, in the Virgo galaxy cluster. The computer simulation from data collected in the EHT is shown below. This black hole is located some 55 million light-years from the Earth and its estimated mass is 6.5 billion times that of the Sun! So, this black hole is truly a monster of a black hole.

Computer simulation of black hole from real data

Although it is a monstrous black hole, its size is quite small and it is enormously far away (520 million million million kilometres away) from Earth. To observe directly that elusive black body that far away, astronomers require a telescope with an angular resolution so sharp that it would be like spotting an apple on the surface of Moon from Earth and the aerial dish that would be required for such a detection would be around the size of Earth! Obviously, that is not possible.

Instead, the international team of experts devised a Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) technique, which involves picking up radio signals (wavelength 1.3 mm) by a network of radio telescopes scattered around the globe. The locations of these eight radio-telescopes are shown below. When radio signals from these radio-telescopes are joined up, taking into account their geographical locations, lapsed times for signal detection etc, and processed in a supercomputer, an image can gradually be built up of the bright part of the periphery of the black hole.

Locations of Event Horizon Telescopes (EHT)

The key feature of a black hole is its event horizon – the boundary at which even light cannot escape its gravitational pull. The size of the event horizon depends on the mass of the black hole. Once an object crosses the boundary of the event horizon, there is absolutely no chance of coming back. A lead astronomer from MIT working on this EHT team said, “Black hole is a one-way door out of this universe.”

The general theory of relativity also predicted that a black hole will have a “shadow” around it, which may be around three times larger than the event horizon size. This shadow is caused by gravitational bending of light by the black hole. If something gets nearer the shadow, it can possibly escape the gravitational pull of the black hole, if its speed is sufficiently high (comparable to the speed of light).

It is postulated that the “shadow” comprises a number of rings around the event horizon. The nearer a ring is to the event horizon, the more rigorous and compact it is with extreme pressure-temperature conditions. 

If, hypothetically, an unfortunate human being falls even into the outer ring of a “shadow”, he will be pulled towards the black hole initially slowly and then progressively strongly – his leg will be pulled more vigorously than his upper part and consequently, his body will be deformed into a long thin strip like a spaghetti. And when that spaghetti shape crosses the event horizon, it will be stretched so much that it will become a very thin and very long string of atoms!

Is wormhole the link between a black hole and a white hole?

The general perception of a black hole is that it is a monster vacuum cleaner where everything, even light, is sucked into it through a funnel and nothing, absolutely nothing, can come out. It absorbs enormous amount of matter and squashes them into tiny volumes. What happens to this gigantic amount of matter is a mystery, a black mystery.

There are two parallel streams of pure speculative thoughts. One is that when a black hole becomes too big – either by incessantly swallowing up matters from its surroundings or by merger with other black holes – a super-giant explosion, more like a big bang, may take place. So, a black hole may be the mother of a new big bang, a new generation of universe.

The other thought is that the funnel of a black hole is connected through a neck, called the wormhole, to a different spacetime and hence a different universe at the other end. All the materials that a black hole sucks up at the front end in this universe go through the wormhole to another reverse funnel where all the materials are spewed out into a different spacetime. That funnel is called the white hole. Thus, a black hole and a white hole is a conjugate pair – a connection between two universes!  But the question is, since there are billions of black holes in our universe, then there could be billions of corresponding wormholes and white holes and universes.

One universe is big enough or bad enough for human minds to contemplate, billions of universes will make humans go crazy.

Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist

Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political, Religious

Muslims who stand up to Mullahs are no ‘Islamophobes’

On Sunday March 17, Hassan Sajwani, an active Twitterati in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) quoted a warning his country’s foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan had delivered to Europe at the “Tweeps Forum” in Saudi Arabia in 2017.

The UAE foreign minister had warned Europe about the rise of Islamic extremism within the continent: There will come a day when we will see far more radicals, extremists and terrorists coming from Europe because of lack of decision-making and European politicians trying to be politically correct.

Sajwani’s tweet recollecting the UAE minister’s 2017 warning turned out to be quite prophetic. The very next day, on Monday, Turkish-born gunman Gokmen Tanis brought the Dutch city of Utrecht to a halt when he fired on a tram (streetcar) killing three people and injuring three others. The Dutch prosecutors investigating the attack said, “So far a terrorist motive is being seriously taken into account. Among other things a letter found in the getaway car and the nature of the facts give rise to that,” a statement said (in Dutch), without detailing the contents of the letter.

The Utrecht killing of non-Muslims by a Turkish terror suspect cannot be seen outside the recent massacre of Muslims inside two New Zealand mosques by a white nationalist and earlier massacres carried out against Christians inside and outside churches in The Philippines and Nigeria as well as in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

While the world gave 24/7 coverage to the Christchurch mosque massacre and white folks rightfully denounced one of their own sons, to embrace their Muslim citizens, there was almost no coverage of the Muslim massacre of Christians in Nigeria just a few days earlier on March 4.

Similarly, on Jan. 27, Muslim jihadis bombed a Catholic church in Jolo, Philippines, killing 20 Christians, yet this attack barely caused a ripple. No weeping politicians, no candlelit vigils and no public demonstration by Muslims in Canada denouncing the jihadi terrorists the way whites denounced a white nationalist.

In fact, Islamists in Europe and North America used the outpouring of goodwill towards Muslims to target Muslim critics of Islamism. Death threats called for eliminating me, my friend Maajid Nawaz in the U.K., Imam Muhammad Tawhidi in Australia and scores of secular Muslims were targeted.

These attacks angered Ensaf Haider, the Canadian wife of Saudi prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi. She tweeted: “Don’t be fooled by pro-Sharia Islamists in North America. They may want you to believe they are saddened by the #NewZealandMosqueAttacks, but fact is they can’t disguise the triumphant spring in their step. Now, they’ll milk sympathy and play victim while pushing their Islamist agenda.”

As the 2017 report tracking “violent Islamist extremism” found, jihadi terrorism has resulted in the deaths of 84,000 people last year. There was a total of 7,841 attacks – an average of 21 per day – in 48 countries.

These figures should alarm Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, opposition leader Andrew Scheer and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, but all three parroted the Islamist agenda of legitimizing the most regressive segment of Muslims in Canada while abandoning Muslims who have stood up against Sharia and the doctrine of armed Jihad.

Which begs the question: Why do Christians have the right to laugh at a Ricky Gervais take on God and Jesus, but we Muslims dare not criticize the 17-times-a-day(1) deriding of Christians and Jews that takes place in our mosques across the world?

Just as Martin Luther was no Christianophobe when he stood up to the Roman Catholic Church, Muslims who stand up to Mullahs are no “Islamophobes.”

  • The 17-times a day deriding of Christians and Jews derives from Sura Fatiha which is recited at every raqah of the prayer. Through Sura Fatiha, a Muslim asks Allah to ‘show the right path, not the path of those who earned your wrath or those who went astray’. The Quran does not say who those people are, who earned Allah’s wrath, but according to Tafseers of the Quran and Sharia Law as well as Hadith, the reference is to Jews and Christians. If the Mullahs (Imams) denounced this man-made Tafseer and Hadith as incorrect and rejected, the 17 references would turn into a positive form of prayer. But not a singe Mullah (Imam) is willing to denounce this man-made intrusion into the meaning of Surah Fatiha.

Tarek Fatah, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress and columnist at the Toronto Sun, is a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Cultural, Economic, Human Rights, International, Political, Religious

Has U.S./Saudi relation outlived its economic and strategic significance?

An analysis by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR):

One of the world’s best kept secrets,the lucrativecontracts between the democratic America and autocratic Saudi Arabia, is crumbling due to varieties of reasons, including cunning manoeuvres (manipulations due to cultural differences and business practices,) to heightened tensions, to new energy sources and to a wide range of more stable, profitable and relevant economic and strategic options. From its formalised inception in 1945, the U.S./Saudi relationship has been based on mistrust and, on the Saudi side, lack of both viable protectors and concern for evolving human ingenuity with its consequential political, economic and social impacts.

Despite its original specific objectives – U.S. companies’ domination over Saudi oil and construction of the state’s infrastructure in exchange for U.S. government protection for the Saudi oligarchs – the contract was expanded to cover a wide range of political and strategic areas, which successive monarchs cleverly utilized to spread, strengthen and export their religious zealotry and political repression, which resulted in anti-American reactions in the Arab East and beyond.

However, due to its financial lucrativeness, the U.S./Saudi pact survived regional threats, such as Arab nationalism and the devastating economic and social fallout from the Saudi-led oil embargo in 1973. It also survived the traumas of the mortifying terrorist attacks carried out by mostly Saudi nationals on September 11, 2001 (9/11) – an event that not only permanently changed American society, but affected the international community.  Furthermore, the relationship could not escape the fallout of the unforeseen Arab masses’ pro-democracy and anti-autocracy uprising (the Arab Spring) where the U.S. and its Western allies had to take sides.

Due to economic and energy exigencies and fewer options for the U.S., the U.S./Saudi relationship weathered the battering events mentioned above. However, the accumulative fallout from these events has profoundly destabilised and exposed the tacit trade-off upon which the eight-decade old profit-driven pact was founded: sacrificing American democratic and moral values to protect a cruel system founded on social injustice, religious intolerance and a sectarian law (Shariah,) which considers the individual’s right to choose antithetical to God’s will, thus blasphemous.

Badly scarred and weakened by prior events, the U.S./Saudi relationship hit rock bottom after the gruesome murder of The Washington Post Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. Although unspeakable punishment for critics and human rights advocates is standard procedure of the Saudi regime, the brazenness of Khashoggi’s extrajudicial assassination generated unprecedented condemnation of the Saudi monarchy by foes and friends alike, including the Saudis’ closest ally, the U.S. Combined with ongoing U.S. support for the Saudi-led onslaught against Yemen, Khashoggi’s murder coalesced unparalleled anti-Saudi support globally, especially in the U.S. media, among the public and, more ominously, in the U.S. Congress, where a significant number of powerful bipartisan lawmakers not only condemned Saudi behaviour and branded the future king as “dangerous, unstable, crazy and a wrecking ball,” but further alienated the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government from each other.

In light of these developments, including destabilizing Saudi foreign policies, erratic leadership and unprecedented public denunciations by powerful American politicians, it is inconceivable that the U.S./Saudi relationship can be restored to its pre-Khashoggi-assassination status. 

Regardless of the future status of the U.S./Saudi relationship, the American government and businesses are in superior positions and have more profitable economic and strategic options to choose from now than they had during the Saudi-led oil embargo in 1973 and when ideologically inspired Saudi nationals attacked the symbols of American economic and military power in September 2001. On the other hand, the Saudi rulers are struggling to maintain economic and political stability resulting from a far-reaching decline in oil revenues, unprecedented discordance within the ruling family, costly regional conflicts and rising expectations of an increasingly restless population, most of which is below the age of 30.

Irrespective of the current U.S. Administration’s disputes with countries like China, Mexico and Canada over “tariffs and imbalanced trade,” the American economy needs global markets and natural resources, without which the American standard of living could plummet and U.S. influence economically, politically and militarily could be overcome by undemocratic competitors like expansionist China. This potential possibility can be avoided if seen for what it is, a race against time. There is no shortage of opportunities for American companies’ ingenuity and investment in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where untapped human potential and natural resources abound.

The deterioration of the U.S./Saudi relationship is representative of a larger gloomy future for the Middle East. Caught up in raging self-inflicted violence, political instability, social unrest, rampant corruption, unwillingness to operate within globally recognized and practised business and political norms, the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) is not only becoming an increasingly undesirable region for business, but a global pariah. 

Dr Ali H Alyami, Director of CDHR

Bangladesh, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political

February 21: International Mother Language Day

Ekushey February (21 February) was the forerunner to Bengali nationalist movements against the political and economic domination of the then West Pakistan, including the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971

More than 78 years ago, Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” It was a tribute to the men and women of the Royal Air Force who valiantly defended England from the relentless bombing by the Nazis during World War II.

Churchill’s tribute is equally applicable to the martyrs of the Language Movement, with the 260 million Bangla speaking people as the “so many” and Salam, Rafiq, Jabbar, Barkat and others as the “so few.” The so few were killed on February 21, 1952 near Dhaka Medical College when the Pakistani police opened fire on Bengali protesters who were demanding official status for their mother tongue.

The song ‘Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushey February, Ami Ki Bhulite Pari’ (My brothers’ blood spattered 21 February/How can I forget it?) says it all. It epitomizes the supreme sacrifice made by these few men.

A few months after the killing, a young poet and political activist from Chittagong named Mahbubul Alam expressed the grief and anger of every Bangali in a poem: Kandte ashini – phanshir dabi niye eshechhi―I have not come to weep, I have come to demand them hanged. The English translation of the last few lines is:

Today I am not deranged with anger,

Today I am not overwhelmed by grief,

Today I am only unflinching

in my determination . . . .

The demand that those who perpetrated the crime be hanged.

Every year on February 21, people from all walks of life head to the Shaheed Minar―the Martyr’s Monument built as a tribute to the martyrs of the language movement―singing the song “Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushey February” in the probhat feri, a barefoot procession starting at one minute past midnight. The monument stood tall until March 26, 1971, when it was demolished by the Pakistan army during Operation Searchlight. It was rebuilt after Bangladesh gained independence.

The seeds of the language movement were sown in 1948, when on February 25, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor-General, said in the Constituent Assembly that Pakistan being a Muslim state, Urdu would be its state language. Four weeks later, on March 21, at the Dhaka University convocation, Jinnah once again said, “While the language of the province [East Pakistan] can be Bengali, the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really an enemy of Pakistan.” These statements by Jinnah evoked angry protests from the Bengalis who took it as an affront to their language. After all, Bangla (Bengali) was spoken by fifty-four percent of the population of Pakistan.  

On January 26, 1952, the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan recommended that Urdu should be the only state language of Pakistan. On the same day, in a public meeting at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Nazimuddin, a Bengali who wouldn’t speak in Bangla, declared that Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan.

Both the developments were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. They sparked off a wave of agitation leading to the police firing on February 21. Bangla finally gained official status in Pakistan, alongside Urdu, in 1956.

Why do we feel so passionately about Bangla language? Bangla is an Indo-European language spoken mostly in the East Indian subcontinent. It has evolved circa 650 A.D. from Sanskrit and Magadhi Prakrit, believed to be the language spoken by Gautama Buddha, and was the language of the ancient kingdom of Magadha.

Nineteenth century was the period when the actual literary renaissance of Bangla started. Literary stalwarts, such as Michael Madhusudan Datta (1834-1873) and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1898) were the founders of modern Bangla literature. Madhusudan was the first Bengali poet to write in amitrakshar chhanda (blank verse) and combined western influences into the essence of Bengla literature.

Then came Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore), a Bengali polymath, who gave new meaning to Bangla literature. As we all know, he was a poet, novelist, short storywriter, dramatist, essayist, lyricist, painter and literary critic all rolled into one. In short, he is the Shakespeare and more of Bangla literature. He won the 1913 Literature Nobel Prize for his epic Geetanjali. The other Bengali poets and writers who made our literature superbly rich were Kazi Nazrul Islam, a poet, dramatist, writer, musician and a revolutionary, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Jibananda Das and Bibutibhushan Bandopadhyay, to name a few.

Why are we so emotional about February 21, also known as Ekushey ? We are emotional because:

Ekushey ignited a movement where language took precedence over religion.

Ekushey was the forerunner to Bengali nationalist movements against the political and economic domination of the then West Pakistan, including the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

Ekushey is a symbol of our freedom, emancipation and independence from a repressive regime. Ekushey is the day we pay homage to the brave, young souls who laid down their life for the Bengla language. It is also a day of remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who sacrificed their lives for our independence.

Ekushey is a symbol of Bangali culture.

Ekushey means keeping our head high.

Ekushey teaches us to fight social injustice, inequality and oppression.

Ekushey is our guiding light towards a better future.

More importantly, Ekushey makes us feel proud to be a Bengali.

Every nation loves its mother tongue and so do we. We are proud of our literature, our music, our culture, our heritage. We love our poetry because the verses are so mellifluous for which there are no parallels. Examples are: Tagore’s Banglar maati, Banglar jol, Banglar baayo, Banglar phol, punnyo hauk, punnyo hauk, hey bhagoban. (The soil of Bengal, the water of Bengal, the air of Bengal, the fruits of Bengal, may be blessed, may be blessed, O’ my Lord.)

Dijendra Lal Rai’s O Ma Tomar Charan Duti Bokshe Aamar Dhori, Aamar Ei Deshete Janmo Jeno Ei Deshe Te Mori (Oh my Mother, I hold your feet in my heart. I was born in this land and I want to die here too.)

That is why we gave blood for our mother tongue. And that invariably justifies our quintessential emotion for Bangla.  In November 1999, UNESCO declared February 21 as the International Mother Language Day. This is a matter of great pride for the Bangla speaking people all over the world, because it is a recognition by the United Nations of the supreme sacrifice we made in 1952 to defend our rights to read, write and speak in mother tongue – Bangla. Since then, the day is observed worldwide to promote peace, awareness of linguistic and cultural heritage, multiculturism and multilingualism.

The writer is a professor of physics at Fordham University, New York