Category Archives: Personal Musings
Popularly known as the Indian Halloween, Bhoot Chaturdashi (‘bhoot’ means ‘ghost’ and ‘chaturdashi’ is the 14th night of the moon’s cycle) is observed on the night before Kali Puja.
Observed primarily in the eastern parts of India, it is said that on this night the dead walk among the living. The evil spiritual powers are seemingly heightened on this night. In order to keep the evil spirits at bay, people ritualistically observe Bhoot Chaturdashi every year.
Bhoot Chaturdashi is known for the famous choddo shaak, or fourteen types of green leafy vegetables, where the shaak are cooked together. It is compulsorily eaten for lunch. For choddo shaak, the fourteen can be any fourteen, and neither is there any specific method of cooking.
Choddo shaak (Image: Reuters)
At dusk, earthen lamps or diyas are lit in the fourteen darkest corners of the household. This is done to ward off evil spirits as well as prevent them from entering the house. Folklore says that the spirits of forefathers come back to the household on this night. Hence, these lamps also serve to guide the spirits of forefathers.
Like many traditions, Bhoot Chaturdashi is also dying a slow death. The fast-paced urban life and a cosmopolitan outlook has helped the city-bred Bengali to adopt Dhanteras and other rituals (no harm in that, absolutely) but then we also moving away from our roots.
(This article was written by me for Maa Mati Manush TV and first published on October 22, 2014)
Image Source: Facebook page of Shree Venkatesh Films
A debate has been raging on social and mainstream media on the proposed change of name for West Bengal. The state government, in a recent Cabinet meeting, decided to drop ‘West’ from the name of the State. It is proposed that the new name would be Bengal in English and Bangla or Banga in Bengali. This has triggered a debate among people with a section happy that the confusion, over why an eastern State was called West Bengal, will finally come to and end, while another section is flabbergasted at the attempt to denounce history.
The blame for this debate must go to Lord Curzon, who in 1905 decided to partition then Bengal Presidency into two parts: East and West. Although he cited administrative reasons for the exercise, the idea was to drive a wedge between the Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. There were massive protests across the province against the devilish designs of Lord Curzon; Rabindranath Tagore famously penned his song ‘Banglar Mati Banglar Jol’ and initiated the ‘Raakhi Utsav’ to foster ties of brotherhood between the two communities. Finally, the partition was annulled in 1911 and Calcutta paid a price as the National Capital of India was shifted to Delhi.
History too had different plans for Bengal; in 1947 after the partition of India, Bengal was again divided – East Bengal became a part of Pakistan and West Bengal remained with India. Until 1954, East Bengal was an autonomous unit which became an eastern province of Pakistan in 1955, thus becoming East Pakistan. In 1971, after the liberation war, East Pakistan became an independent country and took the name Bangladesh.
There have been attempts in the past to rename West Bengal (right from the days of Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy till Jyoti Basu). This is an issue where unanimous public opinion would always remain a red herring. East Bengal (or East Pakistan) managed to shed its baggage of history and adopted the name Bangladesh. Why should that burden be perennially placed on the shoulders of West Bengal?
The prefix ‘West’ brings with it the sad memory of partition, of refugees, of not-so-pleasant goodbyes; it is a constant reminder of the bloodshed and violence that came with independence. Homes were destroyed, families were broken, people were displaced – all for the whims of a few in power. The prefix ‘West’ before Bengal is like the appendix in our body; getting rid of it could bring closure to thousands who are still tormented by their experience of partition.
Bengal is changing, for the better. To move towards a new tomorrow, we must break free from the shackles of the past. As much as we remember our shared history with Bangladesh, we cannot let ourselves be weighed down by the gravity of a name. This is the age of branding and ‘Bengal’ is much more appealing and attractive.
We must also remember, no matter how hard we try, we can never put the two Bengals together again. Apart from our shared mother language, we have nothing left in common. ‘West’ Bengal is a province of a larger country with its own share of problems. Bangladesh is a different country with realities of its own. The two Bengals can collaborate, never unify. To carry the burden of ‘West’ to keep the idea of unified Bengal alive is an exercise in futility.
There is a section which feels this issue is a meaningless diversion from the lacunae in governance. I wish to point out to them the results of the recently-concluded Assembly elections in West Bengal where the ruling party was voted to power for a second term with a landslide verdict. Even the strongest critic of the government cannot point fingers at the voting process. A mandate of that magnitude is achieved only by good work, agenda for development and progress.
Moreover, anyone following the daily events would be aware that this proposed change of name is not at the cost of other works. On the same day the Cabinet decide to change the name of the State, the Chief Minister held a high-level meeting regarding illegal promoters and dengue scare. For the last 3 days she has toured three districts and held administrative review meetings about progress of various projects. West Bengal is placed in safe hands as far as governance is concerned.
Even Germany broke the Berlin Wall, which was a remnant of World War II and moved on. It is about time Bengal does too. East or West, the Bengali spirit always flies high!
P.S. – A lot of morons mocked the name Banga (confusing it with Bongo, that’s how we Bengalis pronounce Banga) without even realising Banga is a part of India’s National Anthem. Hope they expanded their knowledge of languages.
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