Bangali Kare koye?

“Baba, jhoper dike doure ota ki gelo? Boro Boro Kaan?”

“Ota Khorgosh”.

[Apu : Dad, what runs there, into the bush? Dad : Its a rabbit., From “Pather Panchali” by Bibhutibhshan Bandopdhyay]

I am sure we all are familiar with Apu’s first trip outside Nischindipur accompanied by his father Harihar, where on the way he meets a bunch of rabbits and is astounded that creatures like them can exist. Why did i choose to quote Bibhutibhushan in this post? Well, in the following paragraphs, i wish to take you through a brief journey of the intriguing creature called a Bengali. Bengalis surely do not have “boro boro kaan” like rabbits, but none the less, deserve to be preserved in the museum, lest they become extinct.

Stereotyping is an inherent human exercise and we all indulge in the happy pleasures of such futile pursuits to satisfy our hopelessly idle minds more often than not. Bengalis are stereotyped too, and i daresay they enjoy being stereotyped. Two Union Ministers (both Bengalis) became laughing stocks for their English and Hindi diction when they presented respective Budgets to the Parliament. The quintessential “O” at the end of very word or the rOsOgOlla and “Ishhhhhhhh”, we have had to silently bear the brunt of being a Bengali, pardon, stereotypical Bengali. Rabindranath to Ray, we have been living with stereotypes, thinking beyond which, makes us lose our mind.

In an earlier post reviewing a recent Bengali film (you can read it here) i had written

Bengalis hardly have anything to be proud of except a rich legacy left over by Rabindranath Thakur and the likes of Satyajit Ray.

Those words sparked a mini debate in the comments section led by Subrata Sen. He disproved of my words and suggested being a Bengali is more than being proud of only Satyajit Ray or Rabindranath Tagore. After going through arguments and counter arguments, i chose to share my views on the issue, in a separate post.

Bengal definitely has many a great icons, some deserve merit more than Tagore or Ray, and blame it on us we have not been able to live up to them or grant them their due honour. Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Vidyasagar, Vidyapati to Jagadish Bose, S N Bose to Chaitanya Deb, Ramkrishna to Matangini Hajra, Bengal has always produced a pool of talent. Remember “Moder Gorob Moder Asha…..”? However, since early childhood we are indoctrinated to love Tagore more than no one else (is it by choice or compulsion i do not know, but once you start reading the Bard, you simply fall in love with him). Comparisons to his peers, all great men seem futile and very easily we place Tagore on a pedestal of God and celebrate his works as the Gospel. Even the para’s Mastan these days showers his love for Rabindranath these days (how many of his works he actually read can be questioned). Who is responsible for the divine-fication  of Tagore? Are we not responsible ourselves?

As a reader, i began reading Tagore quite late. After i passed school. Around same time i was glued to Jibanananda but eventually moved away from the latter. The artistic caliber of Tagore is beyond doubts, but celebrating him as the only icon of Bengali literature might seem a bit unfair. However, is it not the rampant truth? Or consider Satyajit Ray. And Ritwik Ghatak. Two stalwarts belonging to two different genres of film making. But Bengalis swear by Ray. Is it because he won the Oscar? (or for that matter is Nobel the reason for the love bestwoed on Tagore?) I guess not. Manik Babu brought intelligent films to the masses, while Ritwik Ghatak considered his films to be his canvas which he filled with all his creativity.

Then again, is being a Bengali all about the stereotypes designated for us? You will find a Bengali in every successful institution around the world, except Bengal. Is that the reason why we Bengalis have stopped living in the present and stick to a past that has been presented to us after deliberate modifications? Is the bubble bursting? Has the fountain of creativity dried up? I am sure all the answers are in the negative. But then, why are we Bengalis devoid of an identity of our own, apart from the three R’s (rabindranath, ray and rosogolla)?

Few days ago i had come across this on Facebook (courtesy a fellow “Bengali” )

[you can read the full article here]

‎”The Bengali bhadralok is like Marie Antoinette. If (the masses) can’t have bread, give them Rabindrasangeet.

I believe its time we faced the mirror and answered the difficult questions than simply evading them.

P.S. – My sincerest thanks to Subrata Da, Sohini, Shubhankar Da for their comments on the post where it all began. You kindled the spark that must spread like wildfire.

[I borrowed a few words or phrases from your comments, because the emotions could not be better expressed].

Courtesy The Telegraph

About Agnivo Niyogi

Typical Aantel, reader, blogger, news addict, opinionated. Digital media enthusiast. Didi fanboi. Joy Bangla!

Posted on May 23, 2011, in Personal Musings and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. awesome article agnivo !! so true whatever u said especially the last paragraph !! It’s time to move on Bongs from the 3 R’s !!

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  2. really thought-provoking 🙂

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  3. A really refreshing read after a weekend full of Bengali-themed movies.. yes it included your reccos (The Japanese Wife and Antaheen) too.

    Keep writing.

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  4. Awesome blog, but moving away from something good is not a good idea, but rational sense should be there!

    P.S. Rossogolla is not the best thing Bengali have-Kheer kadam is!

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  5. Again, I have a few points to make. As usual against this article. The “argumentative” Bengali, as they say.🙂
    The previous article and this one smack of something, very distinct among all Bengalis. Pride. This sense of pride is something which I would question here.
    A stereotypical Bengali is what? Are we talking about the stereotypical Bengali “bhodrolok” as Agnivo is, or we are talking about Bengalis in general? Let’s look at the past, the history of the culture of Bengalis, as it is the culture of the Bengalis we are so proud of.
    Look at the history of Bengali literature. History of Bengali literature begins with Vidyapati, who was born in East Bihar, also known as Mithila region, and who used to write poems in Maithili language. That was just about 500 years ago. We can safely assume, therefore, that Bengali, as language, was unevolved at that time. Boru Chandidas and “Adi Kobi” Krittibas used to write in the 17th century, when we can say Bengali as a language has begun to evolve. It’s just 200 hundred years that Bengali prose is being written. It’s common knowledge that Vidyasagar was the pioneer and he added punctuation mark in Bengali language.
    Therefore, the language and tradition that we are often very proud of are just about 200 years old. Compare this tradition with any European language, even the other Indian languages, including Hindi, and the stark truth comes out. The “tradition” that we Bengalis are proud of is baseless. It simply does note exist. Because we do not have the history to actually have the so-called tradition.
    So, our pride is based on what? Tagore? Okay, let’s assume when we are talking about tradition, we basically mean Tagore. But is Tagore the torchbearer of Bengali tradition that we are proud of? Or is it just a part? Or maybe the part, which Bengal shows off or likes to show off but is actually not the typical stereotypical Bengali?
    Again, let’s take a hard look at our culture. The traditional folk songs, including many baul songs, prevalent before Tagore came into being (Tagore was much influenced by Lalon, we all know that), are not exactly what a Bengali would like to be proud of. Our folk songs had vulgur language (kheur), sexual innuendos, and double-meanings. If you ever hear a typical Alkap song, a part of north Bengal’s traditional folk, many of us would blush. Has anyone heard of the famous Bengali poet, Bhola Moyra? His songs, prevalent before Tagore?
    In print, try read “hutom pyachar noksha” by Kaliprasanna Sinha. Going by that noksha, our folk songs, we can safely assume that the typical Bengali culture traditionally had been crass, rustic and unsophisticated. No wonder the history of literature starts from a poet from Bihar!
    What Rabindranath imparted in a section of Bengalis is the “sophistication”. Many Bengalis started believing and still believe that Rabindranath is the epitome of Bengali culture. Sadly, he is not. He is just the icon for the stereotypical Bengali bhodrolok. Bengali culture is rooted somewhere else.
    It’s difficult to kill folk art. Despite Tagore the culture of vulgar expression, crass livid unsophisticated art exists. In our Jatra form, in the popularity of Tunir Ma or Dayal Baba songs. We “bhodroloks” tend to overlook them, but they are there. And that is also Bengali culture.
    Bengalis are not only elites. There is a vast amount of Bengaliness which will remain beyond our comprehension if we cannot take a proper perspective.
    And “Bengali kare koy”, I think, cannot be decided by Noble committe or the people who give Oscar awards, right?

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  6. Though I generally agree with your observations on ‘stereotypical’ Bong-hood, I, well into the seventh decade of my life, have come to terms with certain aspects:

    1. That, more often than not, when one tries to transcend ones ethnic past, one leaves the ethnic domain behind. That’s what had happened once to the so-called Young Bengal, the disciples of Derozio; but, for one reason or the other, most of them – certainly the more illustrious ones – had returned once again into Bong-hood. Many such returns had subtly modified the very essence of Bengali ethnicity.

    2. That the people who had seceded from and and receded into Bong-hood, comprised of an insignificant fraction – less than a percent, perhaps, of all those with Bengali as their mother tongue. Their antics – including the epochal ones from RR Roy, MM Dutt, RN Tagore, et al – did not affect the collective ethnicity AT ALL. Mumbai films, Doordarshan and the cell phone revolution has brought about FAR greater change.

    3. That our strange vowels, rice-and-fish-eating habits and culture (as extant in rural Bengal, or all of it outside the boundaries of Kolkata and Dhaka), all point to our Austro-Asiatic origin (as opposed to most of India north of Godavari).

    Would you still mock at the brand of English and Hindi that some of our Bong ministers speak? Do Advani or Sushma Swaraj speak English with better accents? Do they speak any Bengali at all? I would rather deride them, every professional polician in this country, for many other failings much more germane.

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  7. Though I generally agree with your observations on ‘stereotypical’ Bong-hood, I, well into the seventh decade of my life, have come to terms with certain aspects:

    1. That, more often than not, when one tries to transcend ones ethnic past, one leaves the ethnic domain behind. That’s what had happened once to the so-called Young Bengal, the disciples of Derozio; but, for one reason or the other, most of them – certainly the more illustrious ones – had returned once again into Bong-hood. Many such returns had subtly modified the very essence of Bengali ethnicity.

    2. That the people who had seceded from and and receded into Bong-hood, comprised of an insignificant fraction – less than a percent, perhaps, of all those with Bengali as their mother tongue. Their antics – including the epochal ones from RR Roy, MM Dutt, RN Tagore, et al – did not affect the collective ethnicity AT ALL. Mumbai films, Doordarshan and the cell phone revolution have brought about FAR greater change.

    3. That our strange vowels, rice-and-fish-eating habits and culture (as extant in rural Bengal, or all of it outside the boundaries of Kolkata and Dhaka), all point to our Austro-Asiatic origin (as opposed to most of India north of Godavari).

    Would you still mock at the brand of English and Hindi that some of our Bong ministers speak? Do Advani or Sushma Swaraj speak English with better accents? Do they speak any Bengali at all? I would rather deride them, every professional politician in this country, for many other failings much more germane.

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  8. I had comments to make!Then after I had gone through the blog and the comments thereafter,I realized it refers to the West Bengal resdients(Indian Bengalis)only!So not qualified!I would rather keep reading the reactions/comments silently, but with interest!
    Keep writing! And thanks to all!

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  9. Bengalis have lost their unity amongst themselves. The “Banagali kankra” psychology is not a myth. A typical bengali is someone who would be proud to hate a fellow bengali. That’s why north indians make so much fun of bengalis , because they know bengalis wont fight back on them , inturn they would start debating amongst themselves ( other fellow bengalis ). I am proud to be a bengali. Even though i will be representing karnataka this year in All-India knockdown karate tournament but i am a bengali from heart. I have seen other races of india. they have a very strong unity amongst each other. They will stand up for anyone of their own community. But bengalis,, haha.. they will just stand and lament. Bengalis are not weak. It’s the country that think we are weak and has stereotyped us to be weak. Because of this bengalis think they are weak .When they see a bengali fighitng hard they are shocked. I have fought many fights with north indians, most from haryana , UP side. When i start beating them up they get surprised and frustrated. They think why is he fighting better than us. ??!!. after the fight i go to my corner but the north indians look at me like i am some kind of a freak. ?!!. then round 2 comes, then again i beat him up. they get more frustrated. I feel great. After the fight is over they wont shake hands with me. They just give a hard look ( which is a very typical north indian way of saying ” u r a freak ” , which i find extremely hillarious) and go off.

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