Monday, January 18, 2021
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Will Bengal dare to hope, finally?

When I look at Bengal today, I think of Egypt. While both their glorious pasts are undeniable, that legacy does not inform any deed or thought of the current population.

A myriad colours juxtaposed, a flower bed, the rainbow, and the map of West Bengal with election phase demarcation. When the Election Commission announced the break up of each polling phase only in West Bengal a clump of districts was going to the polls at a time, while with each phase swathes of hinterland and bigger states were completing their seats in one go. Back in 2014 Bengal saw the maximum poll violence. This time, clearly, neither the Election Commission nor the country was expecting any better. And Bengal stooped to this expectation and how!

On the eve of every phase I crossed my fingers. Please God, forge a miracle, uplift by your magic the conduct of the Bengali political class. Let people power overcome gunda culture. Let no one have to die… When you have to pray for something as basic as human decency and hope that no life was lost in an exercise in democracy you know the cause is almost lost. And, alas, as I woke up this morning not only did I learn that even as I prayed last night there were pre poll shootouts at Jhargram, but with every passing hour of the day more violence continues to be reported, Rampura, Bankura…

As a Bengali living away from my state, probashis as we call ourselves, I hate to confess that growing up in the 70s and 80s and looking at Bengal from far, the communist regime had surreptitiously tinted my glasses red and had managed to make me romanticise the intellectual quest of the Bengali to fight for an equitable society. Access to independent media was non-existent and today I have come to recognise with horror the vast conspiracy of this ideology that engineered to destroy the state and deracinate its people.

Change brings hope and hope change but what did Bengal get? The dismantling of decency, the erosion of basic governance, the rule absolute of organised violence and dangerous policies of minority appeasement that pushed Bengal to a state of material and moral depravation that shocks us now only when a new low is reached.

Yesterday the gag orders of the regime could stoop even lower. A young girl had dared to affront the cultured Bengali Sensibility of Bivas Chandra Hazra. He complained to the police. The young girl was arrested for a photoshopped picture she had shared. Bivas must have slept peacefully through the night, as Priyanka Sharma spent the first of potentially 14 nights in Jail.

À few of days ago three young men chanted “Jai Shri Ram” when the Chief Minister’s convoy was driving by. She stopped her car, stormed out. Yelled in a manner Bivas surely found cultured and the next thing you knew the three were in Jail. What’s worse, self-appointed custodians of Bengali culture went to great lengths to argue that Shri Ram was alien to Bangla Ethos. The names of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Aurobindo were pronounced in the same breath as Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen and Shri Ram was relegated to enjoyable mythology. All this of course passing off as posh Bangla sensibility.
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When I look at Bengal today, I think of Egypt. While both their glorious pasts are undeniable, that legacy does not inform any deed or thought of the current population. Deracination is dangerous, it is weakening, it creates fissures in our identity where confusion first settles and is slowly filled up and cemented by values alien and destructive. In Bengal “Useful Idiots” are propped up by a network and collusion of breaking Bengal forces as role models and upholders of her culture and strength. But for how much longer will tales of “now matter how poor each Bengali house hold has a harmonium” or only their apparent innate taste for all things refined be touted as authentic. How long will the educated class consider Hinduism and Indic values beneath their consideration. How long can the lack of the rajas, vitality, wealth and wellbeing fool its people. It is high time the bluff was called.
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Last December on a visit to Kolkata my taxi driver from the airport told me that Finolex had just closed shop, everything was moving out of the state. There was nothing to hope for there. Bengal was today a state of the elderly and mothers with school going children. What struck me as I crisscrossed the city in every possible mode of transport and inconceivable by lanes and gullies was the resignation the people had towards misgovernance, mediocrity, monotony and squalor. It was as though the capacity to think big and dare to aspire was snatched from their minds, a better standard of living obliterated from their fate. Bivas Hazra is one such resigned embittered hopeless soul I think, revolted by the courage of calling out the canker in Bengal that no one dare utter.

It set me thinking and I realised that Bengal had thrown up little from its soil since decades that the Bengalis could look up to and be inspired by. All heroes triumphed outside her soil. The only area was sports. Swapna Barman comes to mind. Witnessing her grit and triumph at the Heptathlon in the 2018 Asiad is a high point of my life! Her story is already legendary. For those of my generation Sourav Ganguly ‘s unabashed arrogance is what we loved most. The Indian team needed that regal aggression to pull it out of the dumps. Maybe there are more, surely there are, but such is the overwhelming sense of chaos, violence, strife, hopelessness, suffocation, misrule and high-handed dictatorial governance that emanates from its soil it’s a pity we don’t applaud those who make it despite the system.

12,000 rupees may not be a small sum or salary in a country like ours but when you hear the taxi driver on our way back to the airport talk of life being “set” for a section of the young educated Kolkatans for that sum under an employment scheme one is hit by the sheer lack of drive of the youth. Why don’t they think big? Aspire to grow. Soar high with confidence and ambition, free themselves from this gloomy resignation to the basic, the “cholchhe choluk” (chalta hai) the mundane.

Bishwambhar Rai, in Jalshaghar is the decadent bhadrolok the Bengali has learnt nothing from. With every snuffing of the candles of that Chandelier there died an era and a lifestyle that had outlived its relevance. Instead of wallowing in sweet nostalgia of an era of which the current lot have retained naught but the vain arrogance it’s time the establishment was challenged and done away with and a new Bengal arose.

For there is no state in India that has better role models to emulate.

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