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 Abaar dekha hobey (we will meet again), the traditional parting statement used with relatives and friends, has now been replaced by phir milengey, thik hai!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!