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