DEH Asks, “What’s Your Spirit Animal?”

Guess Your Spirit Animal!

Fairoz Anika, Umme Hani Anika


On 20th August 2019, DEH held a stimulating conference named ‘What is your Spirit Animal?’ on the significance of totem animals. The Professors revealed their spirit animals through giving various interpretations from their own life experiences, their journeys and also drew inspirations from different literary texts to justify the reason behind choosing their totem animals. It was referred by the Professors on the Conference that the human psyche embodies animal spirits and these animal spirits guide the human spirit. Associate Professor Ms. Nadia Rahman inaugurated the event by introducing the title of event and the Professors who are going to reveal their spirit animals. Then Professor Imran Rahman gave a short speech to complement DEH because of organizing such creative and insightful programs every year and expressed his eagerness to know about spirit animals of the ‘most distinguished, clever and articulated professors of DEH’ who are going to discuss about their spirit animals. The Former state minister for foreign affairs, Abul Hasan Chowdhury was present as the chief guest at the event, while the university Vice Chancellor HM Jahirul Haque was the guest of honour.

The event started with the revelation of Spirit animal from Associate Professor of DEH, Dr. Sohana Manzoor. She revealed her spirit animal as a ‘Duck.’ Dr. Sohana Manzoor started off with some lines from a poem to begin her speech: ‘I wish I could say I was ugly duckling grew into a swan, but that would be preposterous. There have been fairytales and also when there is an identity crisis, I rarely grow into big fluffy duck, who left her realm for a baby goat behind. I can quack jokes like all sorts, hence I am a duck.’  She referred herself with a duck due to its gentle nature and unique qualities. She told that how there are various varieties of ducks, but she imagines herself as an orange duckling that does not fly. She emphasized some interesting traits of ducks which makes them unique from other animals. She told that ducks are being regarded as omnivorous animals having 360 degree view through which it can have clear vision around its surroundings. They sleep with one eye open shutting off one half of its brain and the other half of its brain remains open. Through shading light on giving various popular cultural references and stories from children books, Professor Sohana Manzoor referred that ducks are delicate, beautiful and mysterious creatures whose spiritual meaning refers ‘being in moment where all powers are available.’

Professor Shaila Sultana claimed herself as a bear through rhetorically referring about her ‘brown skin with white mask’ and her love for food. She told that bears are thought to have super-human strength. She relates herself with a bear because its traits matches with her personalities like being ‘fiery and wild in rage’ with an ‘egotistical’ attitude which makes her to be like warrior so that she can learn to fight in a male-dominated society. She mentioned that how bears are intelligent in finding foods so she rhetorically regarded her unrefined taste buds which always becomes desperate to find food. She referred that how bears are associated with resurrection and coming back to life through rhetorically comparing her own habit of procrastination and doing things at the last moment. She ended her speech through giving various references of bears from folklores, mythologies and other cultural references, like, Bruno Bear, Teddy Bear, Winnie the Pooh, to emphasize how beers have both wild, ferocious and warm, protective nature. She ended her speech telling that bears are juxtaposition of both wild and cute feared and loved by all.

Professor Shamsad Mortuza started off his speech with a quote which emphasized the purpose of being a human: ‘What piece of work is a man? How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, how admirable and acts like an angel?’ He mentioned that this is Shakespeare’s apprehension about human that teaches the art of being human in humanities. He told how the magic of civilization enabled the humans to hide their animal self which Freud referred as the layers of human psyche-id, ego and super-ego; and Lacan considered as the juxtaposition of the hidden self and exposure of the other. He referred that human wants to be either God or Devil to cover their hidden animal entities. Through this short introduction, Shamsad Mortuza referred the reason behind relating oneself with an animal spirit. Professor Mortuza referred his animal spirit with a trickster who is ‘always hungry, always ready to lure someone’s wife, always trying to get something from nothing, shift in shapes, getting all in acts and ever scheming, never remorseful.’ Then he referred how the tricksters are portrayed in literature through giving various references. In mythical stories, tricksters are regarded as jesters and the Native Americans regard them as super-natural creatures with divine power. He told that the tricksters are full of paradoxes, but the Americans consider them as their guide, their totem. He drew comparison of trickster with foxes to refer that how in old world fox acts like humanized animal, but in new world the tricksters switches identities between humans and animals. He told that there are tricksters all over the world which always shifts its shape. Then, he gave a short description about his journey of doing Masters’ in US and PhD in UK to refer the reason behind choosing the trickster as his totem animal.

Professor Golam Sarwar chose, man’s best friend, dog, as his spirit animal. He recounted an incident from 1971 when the Pakistanis were scheduled to surrender and some soldiers decided to exact revenge by harassing the residents of the area where they set up their camps. It all started at around 11pm on the 15th of December, when loud banging sounded on the door of his house where he lived with his whole family and their pet dog, Mita. As the professor’s father spoke to two Pakistani soldiers an argument ensued, and Mita suddenly leapt forward hanging onto the jugular veins of one of the soldiers and the other opened fire to scare away the dog, but to no avail. The soldier’s throat was gravely wounded but they threatened to return the next day. As dawn broke, news of the Pakistani army’s surrender spread everywhere and it was then that the family could all sigh in relief. The professor added that if he could choose he would have been born as a dog because of the atrocities humans commit against one another.

Professor Azfar Hossain on the other hand dropped subtle hints and kept the audience guessing about his spirit animal, all the while speaking metaphorically. He began by quoting a few lines from one of Pablo Neruda poems “Ode to the Cat”, which describes the Professor’s spirit animal as ‘a little emperor, without a realm and a conqueror without a home’, W.B. Yeats’s poem “The Cat and the Moon”, calls the animal ‘a Black Minnaloushe’, William Carlos William’s poem “Poems” uses imagery to beautifully portray how the animal moves as it descends from the ‘closet’ to the ‘flowerpot’, and with the last hint from one of T.S. Eliot’s poem “Mr. Mistoffelees” of an animal which can ‘creep through the tiniest of cracks’, ‘walk on the narrowest rail’, and ‘play any trick with a cork, spoon or a bit of fish-paste’, the audience finally guessed the animal cat as his spirit animal. He reaffirmed his spirit animal being a cat with some interesting puns and wordplays namely when he distinguished a cat from a comma as ‘the cat having the claws before the paws, while the comma has the pause before the clause’ and he resumed speaking metaphorically, saying his favourite colour was ‘purrple’, and ‘loves to write his notes on scratch paper’, he also added that he ‘hates doing online shopping since he hates preparing catalogues’. He referenced T.S. Eliot’s collection of poem in his book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and read out a few titles of poems in the book.He described that the poetic, philosophical, political, mythological and historical aspects can all be revolved around the cat. The Professor also discussed how cats are viewed in different countries like China and the Egypt and the symbolic value of different breeds of cats. He concluded his speech with his poem titled “My Version of Meowism” with the hope of love and liberation.

Professor Fakrul Alam initiated his speech by sharing his thoughts about the spirit animals of the Professors who had previously presented. He then went on to reveal his totem, whale, but not before providing spoilers for Professor Kaiser Hamidul Haq’s spirit animal by reciting some lines from the poem “Snake” by D.H. Lawrence, earning bursts of laughter from the audience. He got inspired by Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick and chose whale as his totem. He read out the symbols that represent the people with the whale totem, as being people who have a deeper perception of life and those who have knowledge about the cosmos. He mentioned some literary works which talk about whales namely John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, and Alexander Pope’s mock epic The Rape of the Lock where the female protagonist wears a petticoat made of whale ribs. He recited some lines from the novel Moby Dick about the whale being the ‘king of the boundless sea’ and contrasted that with the current situation of whales that are endangered. He concluded his speech with the thought that students will get the opportunity of reading Moby Dick and fall in love with the whale.

Professor Kaiser Hamidul Haq started his presentation by greeting everyone with a ‘Hissss!’ and went on to listing words like ‘miss’ and ‘kiss’ which rhymed with the word. He then discussed the differences between spirit animal and totem. He explained that snakes are admirable creatures, every culture has something about snakes because there is a vital connection between us and snakes which had to do with evolution. Animals which did not have the instinct to be wary of snakes became extinct. He also said what we fear, also fascinates us. He discussed the folktales about snakes and their gems. Stories about Manasa the goddess of snakes in Hindu religion originated mainly from the eastern part of the subcontinent. He briefly talked about his book on the Hindu goddess where he had painstakingly collected the sources. In Tangail towards the end of Shraban month a festival is held to pay tribute to Manasa and several plays are performed by people who are from different religious backgrounds. However, the goddess is not much popular among Orthodox Hindus and is therefore a minor god. But like other gods in Hinduism she is multi-faceted and has a number of traits like she could be angry, seductive, happy, generous, etc. She craves attention. He went on to explain what happened if someone did not give her attention, with reference to a folktale involving Chand Saodagar who defied Manasa but admitted defeat and built a shrine dedicated to her in the Sundarbans. He concluded with the hopes that these folktales will likely to travel to the West, because of the large number of migrants in America and Europe.

Lastly,Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam revealed his totem animal which was a bat. He emphasized how bats are being represented negatively in our society and also referred some unique traits of a bat. He told that bats are thought of having unprecedented perception, but cannot be fooled with disguise. He referred that bats are thought to be super-social with uncanny perception and know how to change direction of conversations when necessary. He also mentioned that bats are active listeners and thought to be wise and diligent. He rhetorically regarded himself not being wise like a bat and expressed that he wants to be diligent like a bat. He gave references of Bats from Macbeth and said, ‘Bats are associated with witchcraft, terror, doom and bat is kind of a transport animal.’ He told that how bats can get into heads of human through their dreams to create confusion in their minds. He also referred that bats are supposed to be both active listeners and considered as wise and diligent. He mentioned that bats have much significance in Postcolonial and Postmodern literature. He referred that it is very logical to see bats as the ultimate daemonic other in the animal kingdom from the general perspective which shows the common attitude of disgust similar to the idea of subaltern identities. The west tries to depict bats as something evil whereas the east tries to show a different picture. According to the Professor,the position of bat hanging upside down shows postmodern rejection of the rigid modern order and structure.Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam ended his speech saying, ‘Bat is an animal of prosperity. Bats are what they are and I like bats because I like to battle.’

Former state minister for foreign affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury also attended the event, and the university Vice-Chancellor was the guest of honour, and gave the closing speech. Dr. Nadia Rahman gave the vote of thanks.This innovative event mesmerized the audience leaving them to ponder about their own spirit animals.

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