Brooklyn, USA

Ekushey February (or 21st of February) is commemorated by Bangladeshis across the world to honor students and activists who died in the 1952 Bengali Language Movement in what was then East Pakistan. Many years later, February 21st became known as “International Mother Language Day” across the world, a time for all people to reflect on, cherish, and protect the rich linguistic heritage of our human family.

For the final episode of our language season, we sit for “cha” and “adda” and hear the stories of Bangladeshi community members right here in Brooklyn. • Brooklyn, USA is produced by Emily Boghossian, Shirin Barghi, Charlie Hoxie, Khyriel Palmer, and Mayumi Sato. If you have something to say and want us to share it on the show, here’s how you can send us a message:

• Thank you to Ifti Chowdhury, Sohel Mahmud, Annie Ferdous, Kadar Rahim, Hanif Yazdi, the Royal Bengal Teahouse, Adriana, Leen, Nidal, and the Arab American Family Support Center.

• Transcript:

Show Notes

Ekushey February (or 21st of February) is commemorated by Bangladeshis across the world to honor students and activists who died in the 1952 Bengali Language Movement in what was then East Pakistan. Many years later, February 21st became known as “International Mother Language Day” across the world, a time for all people to reflect on, cherish, and protect the rich linguistic heritage of our human family. For the final episode of our language season, we sit for “cha” and “adda”  and hear the stories of Bangladeshi community members right here in Brooklyn. • Brooklyn, USA is produced by Emily Boghossian, Shirin Barghi, Charlie Hoxie, Khyriel Palmer, and Mayumi Sato. If you have something to say and want us to share it on the show, here’s how you can send us a message:

• Thank you to Ifti Chowdhury, Sohel Mahmud, Annie Ferdous, Kadar Rahim, Hanif Yazdi, the Royal Bengal Teahouse, Adriana, Leen, Nidal, and the Arab American Family Support Center.

Ifthekar Chowdhury AKA ifti is a New York-based musician, songwriter and music producer from Sylhet, Bangladesh. He grew up between Dhaka, New York City and Washington, DC. Growing up he was exposed to sufi music, kirtan and other forms of Bengali traditional music blended with music from the middle east and Latin America. His love for music and poetry from around the world gave him the opportunity to sing in different languages and build cultural bridges as a curator and producer at Royal Bengal Tea house. He has traveled to the UK, Mexico, Bangladesh and Colombia to collaborate with visual and culinary artists and curate cultural experiences that engage all the senses.

Sohel Mahmud is a Bangladeshi broadcast journalist, social worker and organizer based in Brooklyn. He has previously worked with Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), SHETU, CAAAV, BRIC, and Human Rights Watch. He also works as a translator, Interpreter and social media content creator. With more than one million followers, he is passionate about telling the story of Bangladeshi immigrants in the U.S. Watch more of Sohel's work on DWIPTV.

Royal Bengal Tea House (also known as RBTH) is an organization founded in 2014 to build a South East Asian community of musicians and support expatriates of Bangladeshi origin. It has since expanded to create musical events hosting performers and welcoming attendees of every nationality. Royal Bengal Tea House has also been involved politically, advocating for human rights issues in the United States and supporting humanitarian efforts overseas ranging from fundraising concerts for refugees and marginalized communities due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Follow Royal Bengal Tea House @royalbengalteahouse on Instagram, and The Royal Bengal Tea House on Facebook.

The Arab American Family Support Center is a non-profit organization established in 1994 to provide culturally and linguistically competent, trauma-informed social services to low-income immigrants and refugees in New York City. Working across four priority areas - Prevent, Promote, Get Ready, and Communicate - AAFSC has served 10,000 community members this past year, across 13 physical locations, to achieve their ultimate goal of strengthening families.

The Endangered Language Alliance is a New York City-based nonprofit with a mission to document endangered languages and support linguistic diversity. Explore their interactive language map at, and donate to ELA at the $50 dollar level to receive a beautiful print copy.

Visit us online at

This episode featured clips from the Royal Bengal Teahouse, and the Al-Sarah & the Nubatones, and Jomion & The Uklos live performances on B-Side, produced by BRIC TV.


• Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @BRICTV 

What is Brooklyn, USA?

Brooklyn, USA is a podcast that blends short documentary, hyperlocal journalism, personal narratives, sound art and audiovisual experimentation to reflect the diversity and beauty of our borough. We deliver New York stories told by the people who live them, and cover issues that impact our community in its own voice. #BKUSA

60 | Carry Your Language In Your Heart
Brooklyn, USA | February 16, 2022

[MUSIC BED: Alsarah & The Nubatones live performance on B-Side, produced by BRIC TV]

Khyriel Palmer: You’re listening to the Brooklyn, USA podcast – an occasional audio love letter from Brooklyn to the world. Ekushey February, or the 21st of February, is a day for Bangladeshis across the world to honor the students and activists who died in the 1952 Bengali language movement in what was then East Pakistan. Many years later, February 21st became known as International Mother Language Day, a time for people everywhere to reflect on, cherish and protect the rich linguistic heritage of our human family. In the final episode of our language season, we sit for 'cha' and 'ada' and hear stories of Bangladeshi community members right here in Brooklyn.


[MUSIC BED: Summer Jam Session Performance by Zarrin Maisha ]

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) One of the things that you can always do is called ‘ada’. We just hang out casually and we sip on some tea and eat some snacks and we talk about life. Sometimes we bust into beautiful music from a different land, a different times.

[CLIP from Royal Bengal Teahouse (RBTH), Zarrin Maisha] in honor of Poet Kazi Nasrul Islam, our national poet of Bangladesh, I will start my first piece…

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) When you migrate to a different country, you don't just in your language in your heart, but you carry these other practices and rituals that were passed on to you by your parents' generations and their generations before that and their generations before that.

[CLIP from RBTH, Zarrin Maisha] This song is very near and dear to my heart, and the words of this song is what makes it even more beautiful. “All that we seek is within us no matter external gain can fill that void.”

[CLIP from RBTH, Zarrin Maisha, Music, singing poem]

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) My name is Iftikhar Hussain Chowdhury. My friends call me Ifti. I'm originally from Sylhet, Bangladesh, but I grew up in Dhaka and then later moved to the United States for college; and I think New York City is home now. About two thirds of the entire Bangladeshi population in the U.S. actually live here in the city. You can hear Bangla all over the city, from Brooklyn to the Bronx and Queens. If you go to Kensington, you will see people eating Paan and just chit chatting in Bangla, and it's beautiful to listen to….

[FADE UP STREET SOUND: cars honking, men speaking in Bengali]

Annie Ferdous My name is Annie Ferdous. I live in Brooklyn, New York. I came from Bangladesh here in 1988. Since then, I'm living here. I raised two children here. I work in a public school, and on this side, I teach our next generation Bangladeshi culture.

[MUSIC CLIP: Srishti Sukher Ullase, Kazi Sabyasachi]

Annie Ferdous When I say Bangladeshi culture, I mean, Bangla language... singing, dancing, whatever. It can represent a culture. We teach everything to our next generation.

Sohel Mahmud My name is Sohel Mahmud. I have been living here in Kensington, Brooklyn, for more than six years. I'm a social worker. Iran and IPTV, which name is Probashi TV and it is based in Brooklyn too. This, television network works for the Bengali speaking expatriates around the world. I'm very much proud that I can communicate to my natives, to my people, with my mother tongue.

Annie Ferdous I was educated in a cultural line. I was a dancer. I learned singing, too. I think that each of us has some responsibility to our community.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) Just like any other immigrant kid moving to a different country. I was very lonely and I was looking for a sense of identity. And what really gave me a sense of identity was my mother tongue, was my language. And then in college, as I was interacting with students from different parts of the world

[NAT SOUND, Classroom murmur, instruments tuning]

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) I was taking classes with international students from the Middle East, from South Asia, Southeast Asia, from Latin America and Africa. I realized that there was a common thread. Everybody identified themselves through their language. The language they speak was a very important part of who they are. And this gave me an opportunity to connect with people from other parts of the world, explore their languages and find relationships between my language Bangla with theirs. Bengalis are very old languages, has it has so many different influences from the Middle East to China because of spice trade and because of different waves of immigration that happened in the Bengal region of South Asia and through exploration of different languages, I was able to connect with people from other parts of the world. And for me, that has given me a perspective that I'm very grateful for. I'm grateful because through this exploration of languages, I was able to learn about different musical cultures from different parts of the world.

[NAT SOUND, salsa street music]

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) I fell in love with salsa, merengue and cha cha cha cumbia, different Latin American music forms. I fell in love with Arabic poetry. I fell in love with music from different parts of the world, which I wouldn't be able to explore if it wasn't for my relationship with my own language, my mother tongue of Bengali. Fast forward to 2014, when I moved to Brooklyn, New York. A few Iranian journalists befriended me, and we started hanging out in my basement in Crown Heights. We started having some 'ada' Bengali style, but they brought a Persian taste to it. We would drink tea and we would sing some music and we would talk about life. This group of friends started growing very organically as more and more artists, journalists, architects, political activists started to join our group and just hang out. That's how Royal Bubble Tea House was born. clapping sound

[CLIP: Royal Bengal Teahouse Nat sound] So I think most of us are familiar with RBTH Royal Bengal Teahouse, but those of us who aren't, we get together and we make music, we create poetry, we dance…

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) … and we would sing in different languages. We would sing in Farsi, in Bengali, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese.

[CLIP: Royal Bengal Teahouse Nat sound] So our next artist is Sumar Frajad. Not only an exceedingly talented singer, but also an Oud player from Syria. Please welcome Sumar Frajad. song in Arabic

Annie Ferdous So why this language and Bangla culture is very important to us because we had to fight to establish this language as our own language.

[CLIP: Archival soundscape of the Bangladeshi language protests]

Sohel Mahmud as we all know, in 1947, India and Pakistan became two separate states. When British left Indian subcontinent and today's Bangladesh was part of Pakistan as East Pakistan. So Pakistan’s government declared do should be the official language of both part of the country, East and West Pakistan.

[CLIP: Archival audio, Speech by Muhammad Ali Jinnah] Let me make it very clear to you; leave no doubt that the state language of Pakistan is going to be able to be Urdu and no other language. And anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly…

Sohel Mahmud Pakistani rulers always wanted to control Bengali nation. They exploited Bengali people in every way. And as a part of a plan, first they hit Bengali mother tongue. Students from university Dhaka Medical College they took the initiative to protest against this decision. The movement it started from 1948, but it it became a volcano and it erupted on 21st February 1952. At that, the police opened fire and we lost our heroes. We are officially recognized as language martyrs Abul Barakat, Abdual Jabbar, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abdus Salam and Shafi Rahman.

Annie Ferdous If you want me to sing the the song that we always sing for this day … OK, I'm not a singer, though. But we all ... all of us know this song:

[Annie Ferdos sings Ekushey February song:
Amar Bhaiyer Rôkte - My Brothers Blood Spattered
Rangano Ekushe Februari - 21 February
Ami Ki Bhulite Pari - How can I forget the twenty-first of February
Chhele Hara Shôtô Mayer
ôshru Gôraye Februari - incarnadined by the love of my brother?
Ami Ki Bhulite Pari - The twenty-first of February, built by the tears
Amar Sonar Desher Rôkte - of a hundred mothers
Rangano Februari - robbed of their sons,
Ami Ki Bhulite Pari - Can I ever forget it?]

Annie Ferdous …it says that how can I forget the 21st February when our brothers, our children gave blood to protect this language?

Sohel Mahmud This is the history of our mother tongue. I strongly believe when 21st February of 1953 splitted our nation in a very straight way that we need the right to speak, the right to move free, the right to think free - and 1952 outcome is our independence in 1971. In 1971, after nine months bloody war with the Pakistan Army, we own our independence and we own the land…

[CLIP: Archival Newscast from the 70s] My Golden Bengal, I love you forever. Your skies, your air. Make music in my heart. Those words now, the national anthem of Bangladesh were written by a Bengali poet who died 30 years ago from the country of which he wrote have seen more hate than love in the last year. Today, another man is charged with the job of returning East Bengal to the state in which the poet really imagined it. His name is Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Prime Minister of Bangladesh]

[SOUND EFFECT: Phone dialing, phone ringing…]

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) Hi Kadar, how are you?

Kadar Rahim I'm good, how are you? Thank you for having me, by the way.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) I'm great.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) So previously I just talked about 'ada' right? It's a very uniquely Bengali phenomenon. We say, ada, like let's have an ada where we drink tea and we just hang out with our close friends and we talk about life. And I was thinking, you know, it'd be really nice to bring in a close friend of mine, a mentor, a culinary genius, a historian, a linguist, that phenomenal person, and to have him join us in this conversation. I just wanted to introduce Kadar ... Kadar are you there?

Kadar Rahim Hey, thank you so much. I mean, I love the introduction, but I don't know if I can live up to all those titles that you gave me, but thank you for calling me.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) So I just wanted to kind of introduce you, you know, would you like to introduce yourself? Like, how would you? Who are you?

Kadar Rahim Who am I? That's a very good question. Very essential. I would consider myself a Bengali American. I grew up here, but I've lived in Bangladesh in terms of work. I'm very connected to the country. Yeah, I do see myself very comfortably calling myself Bangladeshi or Bengali American.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) I would consider myself Bengali American as well... and what is your relationship with Bangla language?

Kadar Rahim Hmm. I think Bangla language is such a huge part of our identity since we were a little, you know, people were going to, let's say, Catholic school or, I don't know, Chinese school like in our community. But we we were taught it at home because our parents were so keen on preserving the linguistic heritage of our country, of our culture. But we didn't have access to it when we were growing up in the 80s and 90s. So for me, my connection to Bangla is both of familial intimacy and also a connection to a country that I didn't necessarily grow up in.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) Interesting... so a little difference between how Kadar grew up and I grew up. I grew up in Bangladesh, and I didn't come to the U.S. until I was like in my late teens and Kadar grew up in New Jersey. So we had very interesting, different upbringings, and our relationship with Bengali as a language was a little different.

Kadar Rahim It's definitely the case for many of us immigrants growing up here because immigrants, what we tried to do is we try to preserve the culture and the language. Whereas for example, as you said, you grew up in Bangladesh, it was you lived, you know, you lived it in its natural habitat in a way, you know, so you saw it evolve, you saw it surrounding you.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) Right, exactly. And you know, during the national celebrations, and you know, some of the major celebrations in Bangladesh were surrounded ... surrounding the concepts of the historical. The political history of Bangladesh, right, for example, for Ekushey February or 21st of February was celebrated, you know, throughout the country and as kids, it was a big festivity like wake up super early in the morning or even the night before at midnight walk bare feet with our family, with flowers to, you know, to the monuments and to pay our respect to the martyrs of 1952. And this is the first time ever a group of people actually were killed and protested to preserve their language. Is that is that correct?

Kadar Rahim This was actually not the first time language was fought over. Language is such a divisive factor in human history, you know, and language played a role in many battles and wars, etc..

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) Interesting. Who else do you know....

Kadar Rahim You have to realize that this was a wave all across South Asia at that time when India was uniting? They were forcing many regions to come under a Hindi hegemony. And the south of India, where they speak Tamil and Telugu, Malayalam etc, they were also protesting the imposition of Hindi over them in the 50s and 60s. Similar things were happening in various parts of this multi-ethnic countries that suddenly sprouted after colonialism. During colonialism, you had the colonial language as the official language. So this was going on in many other parts of the world. You had the European ethnonationalism in the 1800s where, for example, France was very big on imposing French as their national language. And in southern parts of France, provincial, Occitan, these languages died out and they tried and they resisted for a long time, but eventually French took over. Spain is a very interesting story where regional languages still survive, and they've been fighting for regional linguistic identity for a really long time, much before Bengali, you know, in the 1800’s. But I would. They the Bengali language movement led to this war that put forward language as the, you know, main factor in other ones, you had other factors.

[CLIP, Music, Dance: Ekushey February performance from BTV]

Kadar Rahim See, the beauty of this international mother language day is it not only celebrates what happened during 1952, but it also just captures what language is to people you know it, how it really gets into the essence of being human. And I think that is what is really beautifully captured in this holiday.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) It's great. So what advice would you have for parents in the US and community members in the US who want to keep their languages alive?

Kadar Rahim I would say speak the language as much as you can, as frequently as you can. What I see a lot of times and even in my own family, like the next generation, I see parents solely speaking in English. We obviously are creating a hybrid language here, which is very natural mix of Bangla and English ..Bengalish ... Not to sound like a language purist, but I think there is a great value in trying to speak proper Bangla or just, you know, majority Bangla to your children. It is something that they will be grateful for later on in life.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) Absolutely. And I could not agree more. And I think there are so many beautiful intricacies about Bengali poetry and Bengali literature, Bengali music. There are certain words that don't even translate at all to English. And, you know, with Royal Bengal Teahouse, we have this project going on where we are translating Bengali songs to Spanish, and a lot of times I struggle with expressing certain emotions in Spanish because it just does not translate. You need 10 words in Spanish to explain just one word, one emotion or one phenomenon in Bengali, which you could just express with one word.

Kadar Rahim Well, language is a very big determinant of our psychology. You know, there are certain tribes in Australia where they don't have words for north south east west. They literally have words for very specific directions. You know, north east, east. And you know, their brains work so sharply and they created new words for it. So when you think of Bengal, you're thinking of greenery, you're thinking of rivers is you're thinking of, as we say, six seasons. All of that affected the Bengali language. You know, we have this kind of a melancholia in our music. This Sodade as the Portuguese would call it. So our geography affected our psychology, which affected our language, which affected the vocabulary we used in our poetry.

[MUSIC BED: soft drum, Dhaki, and sound of river]

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) It's like growing up in Bangladesh, right? Growing up in Bangladesh, there were so many rivers, there was so much greenery. It just reminds me of this poem by poet Shamsur Rahman.... on the banks of the Meghna River... And, you know, because there are so many rivers, there's so many boats and the boats are beautiful vinegars and sails, which are very colorful. And you see a lot of fireflies in the villages when you go into the countryside of Bengal in Bangladesh. And he makes references to a small village called Paratoli. That's how I relate to my surroundings growing up, my memories from childhood.

Kadar Rahim It's almost like a nurturing figure, you know, and which is interesting because Bengal is personified as ‘Bhanga Matta’, which is Mother Bengal, which is also interestingly, the national anthem of Bangladesh is 'Amar Shonar Bangla' and in that Bengal is personified as a mother. So Bengali and Bengali language are very intrinsically, you know, related. And it's, as I said, a very nurturing connotation to all of this. It's almost like a motherly affection that people have towards Bengal and Bengali language.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) Very interesting. Very interesting. And you know, one thing we try to do as as we produce new music and we try to bring communities together. One avenue I can think of is bringing more people who speak different dialects of Bengali together is to use more of those dialects in music and poetry. And like nowadays, you listen to a lot of music in pop culture where you know, the combined Spanish and English and sometimes Portuguese and the I think music like that brings people together.

Kadar Rahim Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think a platform like Royal Bengal Teahouse. Yeah, it's a lot of people from our generation that are really trying to build a community that's not necessarily based on geography of their parents. It's the geography of New York City and the reality of living in America.

Royal Bengal Teahouse Nat sound My son is a popular song from over on that. And as you know, the song 15. You. She, you know, she will be trying to reach me.

Ifti Chowdhury (IC) This was such a lovely conversation, Kadar, it's always a pleasure to have, you know, such interesting conversations with you. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Kadar Rahim Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. It's always a pleasure talking about not just Bangla, but everything else with you and

[BEEP] [voicemail audio] Nidal: Hi, my name is Nidal, and I speak Arabic. I love the Arabic language because there is so much history and culture. This is my first language and what I teach my children.

[BEEP] [voicemail audio] Leen: Hi, I'm Leen, I work for AAFSC, live in downtown Brooklyn. I am super thankful and proud to have grown up speaking two languages other than English. I grew up speaking Arabic and I've come to definitely appreciate it more as an adult. My parents are immigrants from the Middle East, so it was just something that was very natural. I would speak to them in Arabic and family in Arabic. The Arabic TV was always on in the background. My parents had these cassette tape that they would listen to, of course, with Arabic music. So it was just something I grew up with. One of the prompts that I thought was really cool was the one about idioms, and I have a few favorites. One of them being 'ala ra’si' which literally means on my head. And you would say this as a response. When someone asks you for something so similar to ask you for a favor, you would reply with 'ala ra’si', which can be interpreted to mean like, of course, I'll do it for you. I'll put your request. You know, it's at the top of my head. I'll get it done for you. You know, no problem. Another one that I like is "to'bernee" , which means you bury me or bury me. But you say it to someone that you love and care for a lot, you know, in hopes that you know, not to be too graphic, but like, you'll die before them. You know, I love you so much. You know me. I care for you. Those are a few passionate ones…. another one, you would call someone a ‘Khafif ad’dam’ for them, which means someone has thin blood. But we say it's on someone's being kind of annoying, obnoxious, you know, not too much of an insult, but just kind of like a witty response. And I think something that's really cool that idioms is even though every country or every article in country has its own dialect, some of these can be understood by all. So I think it's really cool. Thank you for giving me this chance to tell you about it.

[MUSIC BED: Jomion & The Uklos live performance on B-Side, produced by BRIC TV]

Khyriel Palmer: Brooklyn, USA is produced by me Khyriel Palmer,

Emily Boghossian: and me Emily Boghossian,

Shirin Barghi: and me Shirin Barghi,

Charlie Hoxie: and me Charlie Hoxie,

Mayumi Sato: and me Mayumi Sato,

Khyriel Palmer: with help this week from Ifti Chowdhury, Sohel Mahmood, Annie Ferdous, Kadar Rahim, Hanif Yazdi and the Royal Bengal Teahouse.

Khyriel Palmer: Watch and listen to more of Sohel Mahmud’s work on the DWIP TV network.
Follow Royal Bengal Teahouse @royalbengalteahouse on Instagram. And visit their facebook page for updates on future events.

Khyriel Palmer: Thank you to Adriana, Leen, Nidal, and the Arab American Family Support center for leaving a message.

Khyriel Palmer: To learn more about the Endangered Language Alliance, visit Explore ELA’s interactive language map at, and listen to more Lenape words, sentences, stories, grammar, songs, and lessons at The Lenape Talking Dictionary is the intellectual property of the federally-recognized Delaware Tribe of Indians in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The use of any written or audio material from this site shall require the advance-written permission of the Delaware Tribe of Indians.

Khyriel Palmer: If you want to tell us a story, or somehow end up on the podcast, check the show notes for a link to our guide on recording a voice memo on your mobile phone and sending it to us on the internet. And if you like what you hear or think we missed something, comment, like, share and subscribe, and follow at BRIC TV on twitter and instagram, for updates. For more information on this and all BRIC Radio podcasts, visit

Khyriel Palmer: We are on the unceded territory of the Lenni Lenape, Canarsie, Shinecock, and Munsee people. We acknowledge the many Indigenous Nations with ties to this land and we recognize that the Lenape still call Manahatta home.


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