Universal Voices: A Tower of Babel Resurrected through Language

By Abrar Farhan Zaman


All too often in a chorus of different languages misunderstandings frequently hold sway. As I delve into the theme of ‘communication’ and ‘connection’ this semester, my inspiration springs forth from the enduring allegory of the Tower of Babel. My quest is to unearth the core of unity amidst the mosaic of linguistic diversity, and create a contemporary figurative Tower that bridges divides rather than builds them.

To that end, I have extended my hand to friends residing in distant corners of our planet, each harboring within their native languages unique treasures that are emblematic of their identity and dearest principles, in the hopes of finding connection through the language of shared hopes, values, and dreams.

Timothy James Nichols (UK)

Timothy, from the United Kingdom, shared a cherished poem by Rudyard Kipling. “If” has been a guiding principle in his life, passed down from his grandfather to him. It encourages virtues that transcend language barriers—integrity, humility, and resilience.

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”

Lea Fensch (France)

Lea hails from Grenoble, France, and her chosen sentence transcends borders. Often misattributed to Voltaire but actually penned by English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, this phrase embodies the essence of free speech.

“Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu’au bout pour que vous puissiez le dire.”

Translation: “I disagree with your statement, but I will fight until my last breath so you will be
allowed to say it.”

Vahren (Hungary)

From Hungary, Vahren shares wisdom that transcends linguistic barriers. She picked a haiku from Hungarian poet Ákos Fodor. Her contribution reminds us to confront our fears and conquer them. She is currently recovering from a surgery and her courage in the face of uncertainty is inspiring.

“Akkor jársz jól, ha
mind közelebb lépsz ahhoz,
amitől félnél.”

Translation:

“You get on well if
you step ever closer to
what you’d be scared of.”

Liron Levi (Israel)

Liron, an aspiring writer, and artist brings us a sentence in Hebrew that encapsulates the duality of being both knowledgeable and resolute—a “Writer and Fighter.”

Sentence: ספרא וסייפא
Translation: “With book and sword”

Rasmus (Finland)

Rasmus, a chef from Finland, deliciously cooked us a riveting excerpt from his novel. His words reflect the universal yearning for true freedom—freedom from external influences and the power to choose one’s path.

“Vapaus. Oikeus jota monet luulevat pitävänsä, mutta niin harva ymmärtää. Onko se oikeus valita? Oikeus elää? Ei, oikea vapaus on olla vapaa muiden vaikutuksista. Olla antamatta muiden valita puolestasi, olla antamatta vaikuttaa päätöksiäsi. Se on vapaus josta haaveilen, ja se on vapaus jonka pyrin saamaan.”

Translation: “Freedom. The right many think they have, yet so few utterly understand it. Is it to have the right to choose? The right to live? No, true freedom is to be free from the influence of others. To not let others choose for you, to not influence your decisions. Such is the freedom I dream of, and such is the freedom I strive to obtain.”

Gosha (Russian Federation)

Gosha, an electrician hailing from the vast expanses of Komi, who enjoys photographing abandoned Soviet settlements in his spare time and reviewing cinema, shares a proverb that resonates universally but is particularly vivid in its Russian expression:

“у семи нянек – дитя без глазу”

Translation: “7 babysitters, but a kid without supervision.”

While interpretations may vary, Gosha’s favorite meaning captures the essence of inefficiency when too many hands are on deck, yet the responsibility remains unfulfilled. It’s a sentiment we can all relate to, especially in the intricate dance of group projects where collective hopes rest on the assumption that someone else will shoulder the task. Gosha’s wisdom serves as a reminder that sometimes, in the midst of collaboration, the true challenge lies in effective coordination and shared responsibility.

Abdur Rahman Al Thani (Qatar)

From Qatar, His Excellency Abdur Rahman Al Thani, a prominent member of the royal family and the visionary behind the Qatar TTRPG community, shares a profound Arabic quote that embodies his core values. As a creator of narrative tabletop games like Fable, Symphony of Nightmares, and Quest World, he stands as a testament to the power of storytelling. The quote he shares, attributed to Ali Ibn Aby Talib, reflects his humble and open-minded approach to life.

“من أعجب برأيه ضل”

Translation: “He who takes pride in his opinion, has lost the way”

Abrar Farhan Zaman (Bangladesh)

For my part I have chosen some lines from a song written by my grandfather Dr. Mohammad Moniruzzaman that has resonated with me throughout the years.

“প্রতিদিন কত খবর আসে যে
কাগজের পাতা ভরে,
জীবন পাতার অনেক খবর
রয়ে যায় অগোচরে”

Translation:

“Daybreak brings new news
That fills the pages of the paper,
Yet so much of life
Never make it past the final edit.”

As the Editorial Coordinator of our campus newspaper’s English section, I have been acutely aware of the poignant reality my grandfather once described. The clash between the abundance of content and the limitations of space is a predicament I have encountered all too often. For the Spring 2023 Issue, for instance, I found myself grappling with the challenging decision of curating only 12 pages from the 27 brimming with content.

The analogy my grandfather drew between our editorial choices and the vast expanse of untold stories in life is both insightful and sobering. It underscores the importance of approaching individual narratives with a degree of humility. Each article I publish is a window into one perspective, but it is essential to acknowledge that countless stories remain unspoken, residing beyond the realm of my perception.

It serves as a reminder that I should tread lightly in passing judgments on individuals, recognizing that there are many facets of their experiences that lie shrouded in obscurity, beyond my reach and understanding. In a world where I often feel inundated with information, my grandfather’s words highlight the value of approaching each person’s story with an open heart and a sense of curiosity.