Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bangladeshi Bees over Bangladeshi Fairies...Because There Aren't Any

          On Tuesday, Dr. Shabbir Mian came to talk to our class about “Folk and Fairy Tales from Bangladesh”, as his presentation was so entitled.  We were to read “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus” to prepare for the class.  However, Dr. Mian began his lecture with a broader view.  Bangladesh is a small country next to India, in fact surrounded by India on most sides.  It is situated on a delta with three large rivers.  Due to the significance of water to their livelihoods, water is an extremely important motif in their fairy tales.  Fairy tales are called Rupkotha in Bangladeshi, or more literally, “Beautiful Words.”  Interestingly enough, Bangladeshi fairy tales do not actually include fairies.  Their tales certainly have magical and fantastical aspects, but the fae are sidelined to the importance of the deities and divine.  The fairy tales come from the Sanskrit work, Panchatantra or The Five Principles, written around 550 AD.  It is based on ancient oral tradition including animal fables in verse and prose.  It can be considered a treatise on human conduct, similar to morals our class has seen in Perrault and the Brothers Grimm’s tales.
          The Jakatas share some of their tales with the Panchatantra.  The Jakatas, written around the fifth century BC, were also based on oral tradition, many referring to the previous lives of the Buddha.  He exhibited a certain virtue in each tale, similar again to those morals we have seen in previous fairy tales.  Dr. Main proceeded to explain how most storylines of Bangladeshi tales related the struggles of good versus evil, vice versus virtue.  The tales clearly delineate one from the other.  The common theme throughout all the tales is that virtue is reward and evil is punished.  These tales do not demonstrate the power of redemption; there are no second chances.  This is because evil is not simply punished with incarceration; evil is killed and exterminated so that it cannot spring up elsewhere later on.   
          This theme challenges the common belief of Western society.  America is the land of second chances.  We draw millions of immigrants to our country with the idea that they can have a second chance, and therefore a better life, simply by coming here.  Disney demonstrates our desire for this in many of their movies, but that concept is also drawn from the European inspirations.  The story of Beauty and the Beast is all about the Beast having a second chance to become more gentlemanly and to refine his wild ways.  Even in Angela Carter’s version, the girl is given a second chance/life to become true to her inner self.  People make mistakes; that is part of what being human is all about.  Making mistakes and learning from them.  As previously stated, this is not emphasized in the Bangladeshi tales.  
          In the story we read for class, “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus”, the two sons rampage through the demon community killing everyone.  Even though one of the sons is half demonic through his mother, no other demonic creature is given mercy.  The mother is depicted as viciously evil, no longer human.  Since she is not human, she does not have the option of a second chance.  This decisive logic that pervades that Bangladeshi stories both simplifies and complicates life.  Sure, abstract decisions are easier.  But when things are personal, they never seem black and white, and therefore there is no simple decision.  Personally, growing up in a culture that doesn't allow for mistakes would seem to constrain innovation and creativity, as people who are condemned for failure may not want to take the chance of success.  This is not to say anything against the Bangladeshi culture.  Americans along with every other culture would not want the ideas present in our stories to simply be extrapolated and placed upon our society.  This is simply to suggest that there are dangers with present any ideas to our youth who then may take it and run with it.

Thanks to my fellow blogger for the image:

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