The "Bede" are a community of nomads in the Indian subcontinent who do not have a permanent settlement and move from one place to another.
In Bangladesh, the Bede community follows the customs of their nomadic society and live collectively in boats on the rivers and canals, or in temporary shelters on the plain land along the banks of the river, leading undignified lives as a community alienated from mainstream society.
In addition, this community is dispersed in various parts of Bangladesh, mainly at Savar in Dhaka, Kaliganj in Jhenaidah, Munshiganj, Sunamganj, Joydevpur in Gazipur, Mirsarai in Chattogram, Cumilla, and Sonagazi in Feni.
According to a survey by the Department of Social Welfare, 99% of the Bede population are Muslim, and a similar percentage of them are unlettered.
Their nomadic way of life has made the Bede community almost remote from the mainstream of society, underprivileged, poverty-stricken, with little or no access to services as well as privileges as citizens. They are often subject to human rights violations, along with discrimination.
Significantly, the Bede people have their own unique native language, "Thar," which has remained elusive since it has no written form and is only used among themselves.
Accordingly, the author Habibur Rahman, an avid social researcher, has looked in depth into the community life of the Bede population and has written a well-researched book titled "Thar: The Language of the Bede People," in which he described vividly what he saw, each of its 11 chapters focusing on a separate aspect of the Thar language and its grammar.
Habibur Rahman has given birth to a rare historical record in Bangladesh.
He defines the language and its characteristics, origins, and variations, the ethnic identity of the Bede people, application of Noam Chomsky's theory to the Thar language, syntax, phonological analysis and transformation, verb changes, phonics, and phonetic analysis, morphology, thousands of basic words of Thar language, its tenses, moods, genders, sentence structure, syntax, synonyms, antonyms, etc.
He characterised this book on Thar as a thorough book by presenting ample examples of forms and transformations of social, economic, cultural, and environmental terms in the lexicon of the Thar language.
He demonstrated that Thar is the mother tongue of a few, but its lexicon and future history depend on its permanent existence alongside other languages.
Additionally, Rahman not only depicted the distinct endangered language 'Thar' of the Bede people, but also followed established, accepted conventions from a modern, scientific linguistic point of view with a sense of inquisitiveness.
He has acquainted the reader with the language's underlying structure and made complicated concepts in linguistics easily understandable for a lay audience. Furthermore, this book is an important and unique addition to linguistic research. Fundamental research on the language of a marginalised community is rare indeed.
Rahman's loving and affectionate engagement with the fieldwork in the Bede community and his painstaking insightful research lends depth and analysis to the book, which absorbs a reader page after page.
This book can shed light on various aspects of nomadic life, specifically the cultural aspects of the Bede community. Consequently, studying this endangered language can be a good alternative to archaeological excavations, because the language is a reflection of the present life of a community.
I must also acknowledge the author's dedication to tell the readers about the struggle of everyday life in the Bede community. They are exposed to poverty and vulnerability, struggle to earn a living, but they still have no regrets.
These are the tales the author wanted to share with his readers to help them understand the sorrows and joys of the Bede people. The Bede people are often seen merely as snake charmers, vendors of indigenous medicine, or entertainers running monkey shows and magic shows, but Rahman helps the reader see them as total human beings.
I admit that before reading this book I did not take much interest in the life of the Bede community and was not aware that they have a matrilineal society and even a separate mother tongue they feel proud of.
This book has not only introduced the reader to the language of the Bede, but it also made a bridge between them and the distinct social fabric of the Bede.
The writer has analysed the language of "Thar" and tried to find its meaning in Bangla, a difficult task indeed. I appreciate his effort to make the book an in-depth and participatory research work.
Rahman at first selected the field of research, then collected enough data and analysed all the elements, and then compiled all that he discovered in his book to paint an authentic picture of the Bede community's life.
He collected the words of "Thar" language from his cordial and friendly association with members of this community. His love and respect for these people helped him earn the trust of the community and understand their language.
The author thinks that although the unique Thar language is spoken exclusively by people of a small community, it needs to be preserved.
The readers of the book will discover a bit of the strength of Thar words, which sound the love and sorrow of Bede men, women, and children, often unheeded by mainstream society.
The readers will discover the depth and power of Rahman's analysis, as well as his dedication and love for the Bede, on each page of this book.
Future researchers will surely find this book a rich reference. Therefore, the Thar language and Rahman's book should be preserved under government patronage, read and researched in educational institutions of the country as well as abroad.
Furthermore, Rahman's book ought to be translated into English in order to reach a broader international audience.
Habibur Rahman. ISBN:9789846345070 Published by Panjaree Publications Ltd. February 2022
Serajul Islam Quadir is the former Bureau Chief of Reuters and currently Executive Editor of the American Chamber's Journal