Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shubho Nobo Borsho!

Reflections on Poila Boishakh, 1417.


Twice a year Anandabazar Patrika dutifully publishes a list of restaurants planning to serve a selection of dishes showcasing the best of epaar Bangla-opaar Bangla cuisine to celebrate Bangaliyana: On the eve of Poila Boishakh and on Shashthi, the day before Durga Puja begins. Till about a decade ago, Kolkata’s leading Bengali newspaper would have carried interviews with noted personalities, asking them how they planned to celebrate Poila Boishakh or Durga Puja. Feasting at home on traditional Bengali food would feature prominently in their replies.

Presumably, Bengalis do not cook Bengali food at home any more. Twice a year they eat out to rediscover their cultural roots. The last Bengali wedding I attended, I was horrified to find chholey-kulchey and shahi paneer on the menu, along with chilli chicken and Amritsari fish. I haven’t bothered to attend any Bengali wedding since then.

The cultural decline of Kolkata’s Bengalis has been precipitous. Its impact is now visible in the districts of West Bengal. When Bengali women take to wearing salwar-kameez, discarding and disowning the graceful taanter sari, and Bengali men snigger at those who still wear dhuti, then there’s something horribly wrong with the way Bengalis look at themselves.

On my last visit to Kolkata I was saddened to see Bengalis reprimanding their children for speaking in Bengali. Abaar dekha hobey (we will meet again), the traditional parting statement used with relatives and friends, has now been replaced by phir milengey, thik hai! The diction is laughable; the repudiation is contemptible.

The cultural degeneration of the Bengalis has a lot to do with the degeneration of politics in Bengal. The Marxists made deracination fashionable; perverse and twisted cosmopolitanism has killed what remained of Bangaliyana. What survives of Bengali culture is because of Bangladesh: Bengalis across the river have not given up their roots. It's because of Bangladesh that Bengali is the world's fourth largest spoken language -- or third largest, depending on which statistics you choose to grade spoken languages.

Today, as a new Bengali year begins, Bengalis would do well to reflect on what they have lost, and how to regain the cultural and, by extension, intellectual, space they have ceded. That could yet lead to a new beginning.

Shubho Nobo Borsho!


Manik Ghoshal said...

A very very 'Shubho Nobo Barsho' (Shubh Naya Saal) to you and your family from Jhuma, Rahul and me in Manchester! Also from many other freinds and relatives here. May you have a wonderful year ahead of you. Take care mate and be safe!

Crusader! said...

Your words echo the same repugnance against 'the rulers of Bengal', what my father has to say. It is society as a whole which is to be blamed for the collective degeneration of society itself.

A certain Jyoti Basu may have championed the cause of Bengali education at the cost of English language and 'Bangaliana'.
But even today, you can take the Bangali out of Bengal (both sides), but you can't take the Bengal out of the Bangali.

Though it is sad to see the way things are, there's always a tomorrow! As the saying, "emor door bhaga desh jadero korecho opomaan, opomane hote hobe"....

on Poila Boishakh, 1417, Shubho Noboborsho to Bangaliana!

Manik Ghoshal said...

Today, on the occasion of ‘Shubho Nobo Borsho’ may I refer back to your article on the ‘Language of Culture’ and the interview with P K Varma? You have mentioned how some Bengalis are saying ‘thik hai, phir milenge’ in Kolkata instead of ‘abar dekha hobe’! Do you remember we used to talk in Bengali to each other in the seventies in Jamshedpur, Bihar? Even then our language was inportant to us!I wonder what present day Bengalees are doing in Loyola?

Unfortuanetly, people who speak Hindi at home have become so selfish and emboldened they don’t wish the effort of learning a second-language, English, which they are therefore abusing as a colonial language. And is Hindi the ‘language of culture’ in India then? Please refer back to the comments on the article- ‘English cannot be given primacy!’ Here is my last comment from there:

The Anonymous before me has made a very interesting argument (I wish I knew his name). Hey! Guys like me can speak fluently in English, Hindi, Bengali, also in Assamese (I did my PU from Shillong), Oriya (I worked for P & G in Orissa), Arabic (I worked in KSA for 3 year).
But let’s get two so called ‘smart guys’ together face to face for a debate- one a Bengali who can speak no other language, and a Bihari who knows only Hindi- now what is the 'Language of culture’ between them- although individually they do have very strong ‘languages of culture’? Should the Bihari learn Bengali or Bengali learn Hindi? Or should it be a fair deal and both learn a third language, an easy neutral International language-English (along with their native languages of course)? That is my argument. Let’s see some responses!
My mother had three choices when I was 3-4 years old. She could have prepared me for a Hindi school, a Bengali school or an English school (and make the whole world my hunting ground). Guess which she chose! Oh Ma, tusi great ho!

Ragu Kattinakere said...

This is the curious case with all things Indian. While there this nothing wrong with following a trend, contempt for cultural root is a serious case of misinterpreting progress as denigration of the past. Your highlighting of this attitude is very timely. But I do have a doubt that you will be labeled cultural fundamentalist by those claiming to be cosmopolitan but actually ignorant of their roots. Those who do not pay enough attention might say(incorrectly) you oppose "change"! Thank you.

Truth Always Wins said...

I am not Bangla but a Kannadiga but I sympathize with you. Salwar Kameez is a Persian dress and I hate it. I love to wear a dhoti and its makes me feel proud and I am just 37. Mughlai food which we so proudly call Indian is from Central Asia (Mongol food), Kulcha and Naan are Turkish food and the food that is really Indian which we eat during festivals, domestic functions and poojas on banana leaf is lost or relegated to only these events. Its a real shame.

Aapko, Shubh Nav Varsha ki kamnaye aur apeksha ki India phir Bharat ban jaye.

Anonymous said...

Shubho Nobo Borsho to you Sri. Kanchan Gupta !

Interesting observations.

In the Gulf country where I live Durga Puja conducted by Bangladeshi Hindus are so traditional & authentic unlike Kolkata.In fact , most of them don't earn much at all to start with."Blue collar skilled workers" as one would label. They are encircled by extremely hostile Indian , Bangladeshi , Egyptian muslims in that particular notorious area.

Amazingly , they don't solicit funds asking anyone here. Serendipitously I came to know about their existence to start with followed by being invited to their Durga & Kali Puja. The pictures of our Gods & Goddesses there brought back my forgotten childhood memories. They are not kitschy like many being sold today in India.

Alas I am no Kanchan Gupta to describe the beauty & grace of those people.Potted marigold plants , bael leaves , holy water , conch shell , traditional hymns . And the Bhog was simply HEAVENLY. There was plenty of everything for everyone. My heart melted on knowing they bore all the expenses by pooling from their own wages.

After the Pujas , they held a cultural programme which was so captivating .

In fact the only unwitting mistake they made was letting a local Indian Karnataka-Tulu organization to pitch in with their presentation of mythology.Who came up with kollywood style bump & grind gyrations revealing their bellybuttons.

Hold your breath , they routinely hold Bhagavad Gita recitations & discourses in the sandy beach as they can't afford any auditorium here.

Whatever words of adulation I had they responded with " All Ma Durga's Krupa".


sunaath said...

Not using one's mother tongue is in practice in Karnataka also.Why blame Bengal only?

Somnath said...

I agree 110%. We bengalees have always been susceptible and vulnerable to outside cultural influence and the current dominance of "Hinglish" culture, manners & etiquette shows.

Coming back to Calcutta, no longer feels like coming home. Seems highly ironic that While Calcutta strongly retained its identity, Kolkata is failing miserably.

Funny you should mention Anandabazar, their spellings always gets me. :)

Anonymous said...

While reading your article,one question came in my mind : why do u not write this type of article throughout the year for the shake of Bangaliyana? the degeneration of bengali culture may be in hurry due to the absence of such a powerful thinking as shown in your present article.Do you think yourself a little bit responsible for the degeneration of Bangaliyana?

Anonymous said...

While reading your article,one question came in my mind : why do u not write this type of article throughout the year for the shake of Bangaliyana? the degeneration of bengali culture may be in hurry due to the absence of such a powerful thinking as shown in your present article.Do you think yourself a little bit responsible for the degeneration of Bangaliyana?

Anonymous said...

This is an Indian-wide phenomenon result of colonial slavish mindset. People discarding their culture for others. Bengalis adopting northy food, dress and langauage at the expense of Bengali things.
As a northy I can tell you same is happening in North. There, people are giving up northy food for pasta, pizza, burger or indochinese, no party or marriage dinner is complete without these things. Jeans for salwar kameez.
Of course everybody is aware of the status and pathetic level hindi has been reduced to. Only hindi you encounter is mish-mash of street level trash, Hindi newspaper leading the way. You would be hard pressed to find anything written in sophisticated intellectual level Hindi.

M. Patil said...

Very eloquent and timely article.

Every European I met is very prould of his/her language, and not being able to speak 'Mother tongue' is considered uncultured. Here in India among some sections it is considered 'cool' to not speak Mother tongue. Go figure.

With such an attitude is it any surprise that we are sorely lacking in originality and creativity?

Anonymous said...

Let us not go overboard turning into fanatics.

Salwar Kameezes are being worn by many as jeans etc for a lot of practical reasons. I don't want to launch on them.Today pace of life is much more frenetic.

It is perfectly ok. Having been exposed to diverse cultures , my grandmother , mother , mother in law like many women around would gladly cook Bengali , Kerala , Andhra dishes along with Tamilian.

None of us have or had any problems with that. When children demand trendy burgers & pizzas no sane mother would give them a discourse on culture then. The more one is denied the irresistible becomes the craving for them.

Women are so resourceful. Thanks to Internet where a lot of recipes & information on nutritional cooking can be swapped. We are constantly improvising & coming out with homemade burgers etc etc. Purists may frown but nevertheless.

Intermingling of cultures is a given. I don't really write off the young generation of today.

Today women are not denied education. I personally know of some men who are willing to take care of household management including cooking letting their wives be the breadwinners.

Thank God , we have moved away from those days when a perioding woman was sent off to a cockroaches & mice infested tiny cubbyhole of a room denied bathing till the fourth day.

Westerners have willingly embraced a lot from our culture. Why can't we ? Every individual has the freedom to choose & decide.

The older generation also have a lot to learn from their own offsprings & adapt amicably.

Anonymous said...

Chauvinism of any kind is reprehensible . That includes languages too.

I am CERtainly not anti ENGLISH .

The way our education system functions is faulty. Like artificially hastened ripening of mangoes , everything is at such a horrendously frantic speed & pace. For what ? So that we stagnate & rot in leisure bemoaning 'i could have done this that... today kaliyuga...youth all misguided.. blahblahblah...'.

No wonder idiots called psychiatrists have proliferated bludgeoning everyone with antidepressants. And children recoil avoiding the fuddy duddies.

Because I personally suffered a lot in school for not knowing English & hence not being able to understand anything at all , I was determined to ensure my child studied ONLY in English.

I have absolutely no regrets.

One's self regarding sentiment does NOT depend on debating skills, padmashris/kalaimamanis won or mastery of any language alone or whatever our folks with tunnel vision procalim.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Kanchan babu,

Shubho noboborsho to you.

I share your angst entirely. My lifelong experience has been particularly poignant, since I have been a teacher of English who loves his Bengali, and hates to see fellow-Bengalis speak pidgin English mixed up with wretched Bangla. As I keep telling my pupils, tora Bangla-ta bhule gechhhis, ar ingiriji-ta shikhis ni!

More power to your pen...

Anonymous said...

I reread your article and sharing some more of my insights.

I no longer celebrate Pongal, Divali , Navarathri etc the way my friends & neighbours do. For a good reason.

There are no Temples here atop hills to climb or with awesome prakaras to circumambulate around.

With everyone constantly monitoring cholesterol , sugar & blood pressure no one really wants those ghee & sugar laden sweets anymore.

The Divinity that shapes our ends shapes our middles too !!

Strictly speaking , the Sun does not rise or set. Sun God , the most visible & powerful manifestation of Brahman is to be worshipped throughout , every nano second not just on one day called Pongal. Ditto for all Dieties.

I grow turmeric rhizomes along with Tulsi , some flowers etc. I am quite sure I don't need to uproot those turmeric , pluck tulsi , hibiscus & " show " them to Sun as a gesture of gratitude. That would be the most egregiously cruel & stupid kind of 'worship'.

Anonymous said...

শুভ নববর্ষ আপনাকে আমি বাংলাদেশের বাঙালী ব্লগে ব্লগে ঘুরতে হঠাৎ করে আপনার এ ওয়েব সাইটে চলে এলাম আপনার কাছে পশ্চিম বঙ্গে বাংলা চর্চার বেহাল অবস্থা জেনে খুব খারাপ লাগল বাংলাদেশে শিক্ষিত সমাজে কিন্তু বাংলা চর্চা পুরোদমে চলছে এমনকি তা এই নেটেও কমিউনিটি ব্লগ বাংলা ব্লগ নামে এক নতুন ধারনা বাংলাদেশে চালু হয়েছে নিচের ওয়েবসাইট গুলিকে গেলে কিছুটা ধারনা পাবেন

Rakesh Singh - राकेश सिंह said...

For last 10-15 years I am seeing the drastic change in the attitude of Bengali people particularly the way they started hating their own great culture. Cultural degradation is clearly visible in Bengal compared to other parts of the country.