Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bengali Ghetto-ism: A non-resident bengali's perspective

Before I commence writing on this topic and series, let me introduce what is a resident Bengali and a non-resident Bengali. Well, the definition is simple, a person with mother tongue a Bangla, who has been born, brought up and a domicile and resident of West Bengal, is termed as a resident Bengali. A non-resident Bengali or Probashi Bangali is one who has mother tongue as Bangla, may or may not be born in Bengal, may or may not be educated in Bengal, and definitely not a resident of West Bengal for a long time. In short the definition of a non-resident bengali is parallel to the definition of a non-resident Indian. Yours truly, for an example, was born in Kolkata, but educated in Madhya Pradesh and is a resident of Madhya Pradesh and therefore a non-resident Bengali.

Before I proceed to say things, let me produce some things before you, which are very general:
(1)It seems that Indians in general believe that “If you can't beat them or understand them, hit them” instead of the well known English saying “If you can't beat them, join them”. Stories in support of this statement would be coming soon.
(2)The sample size which I use to produce this article is too small and it is therefore difficult to make or derive any public opinion out of it. This article is therefore only a perspective view and thus not intended to harm or cause embarrassment to any group or individual.

When I took admission to the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, I had the privilege to listen to the senior professors and the director of IITK. One of the important statements that Prof. Sanjay G. Dhande made, was to go across regional boundaries and to interact and mix with other cultures.

Let me go back to my childhood days, when I was in Jabalpur. Owing to the geographical location of Jabalpur in India, it holds tremendous importance in terms of defence. As a result, the city is a mix of cultures from all regions. Aptly therefore, the city is also called “Sanskaardhaani”. Although, I was born in Kolkata, I was educated in Christ Church Boy's Higher Secondary School (now called Christ Church Senior Secondary School), one of the popular schools in Jabalpur and St. Aloysius College. I did my mathematics post-graducation in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department of Rani Durgavati Vishwavidyala (RDVV), Jabalpur. In short I have spent most of my life till date in Jabalpur.

Bangaali baabu... sari macchi khaabu... (Bengali clerk, eats rotten fish)”, “Sari macchi ... pulpula bhaat (Rotten fish and fermented rice)”, were some of the regular phrases which I, as a child, had to hear often from my schoolmates, apart from the occasional “Chashmukdeen... ghorepadeen, gharee mein baj gaye saare teen... (Hey specko, the one who farts like a horse, it is half past three) !” owing to yours truly being a specko. Interestingly enough, as a side observation, the people who often said this, had their roots in UP and Bihar. On a probe, it was found out they had an opinion that Bengalies are super-intelligent and their intelligence is spurred by their voracity for fish. Many people have even asked me “Macchli khane se to dimag tez hota hai, tum kaise bangali ho? (You develop a sharp brain if you feed on fish, why kind of a bengali are you?)” owing to the fact that I am a vegetarian.

Let me go further back in the early 50s of the last century, when a decision was being taken in the Parliament regarding the national language of the country. There was a major contest between English and Hindi, which obtained equal preferences in the Parliament. The then Hon'ble President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad used his veto power to vote Hindi as the national language of India. The people from Bengal and the south were mostly in favour of the English language. As a consequence (which I feel was devoid of common-sense, rationale and intellect), there were sad jokes spoken about the then Hon'ble President.1 (Also refer to pt. 1 which I made in the second para of my article!) The lack of financial support from the centre to West Bengal and the south might have been an after effect of this incident. Interestingly Southern India has been able to self-sustain their development. Comparatively, the situation of West Bengal is well before the reader's eyes.

I have full respects for Hindi as a language, and I often feel surprised that how a renowned educationist and academician from West Bengal (name withheld owing to lack of reference), who held an important academic post for more than two decades, could say that he did not want to learn that language in which the moustache was a female gender!

As an aside, I would also like to tell you that most of my acquaintances who reside in Kolkata, have strongly believed and still believe that anything outside West Bengal is “dirt”. They often use words like “Khotta”, “Khotua”, “Mero” and “Maowra” for Non-bengalis and non-resident bengalis like us. Resident bengalies have even often accused us of being non-cultured and being lesser intellectuals. But alas! They seldom realise that they have never studied the likes of Makanlal Chaturvedi, Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala', Mahadevi Verma, Ramdhaari Singh Dinkar, Munshi Premchand, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Subhramanyam Bharti, Kabeer, Raskhan, Tulsidas and the list continues...! I often wonder, how many of them have even heard these names. It seems therefore, that the resident bengalies have never attempted to see beyond their roots and make a propaganda on the negative points without even evaluating the others' cultures. Further, to my dismay, the people from Orissa who are referred to as “Oorey” by the people from West Bengal, are considered to be either cooks or nincompoops by the resident bengalies. “Oorey choley maatite paa ... (here 'Oorey' can refer to flying, or an oriya guy)” is a puzzle with intended pun, often asked to Bengali children.

Let us now talk and reason about the typical accusation of bengalies forming a “ghetto” at educational institutes. I will try to reason this out. Firstly, there is a famous English proverb, “Birds of the same feather, flock together”. Come what may, we bengalies love our mother tongue, and love to chat in the language which comes naturally to us. Secondly, whenever an Indian goes abroad, whom does he search for? Obviously other Indians! He does so because he seeks support, love and also loves to talk in a language which comes naturally to him. So, if a guy from UP, Bihar or any other part of India for that matter, searches for other Indians when abroad, why can't they realise that the same scenario prevails when a Bengali from Kolkata arrives at these institutes? Thirdly, bengalies practice Adda, a so-called intellectual discussion session, where all decisions, ranging from personal to national level, are taken, regardless of the case whether sufficient knowledge about the matter being discussed, exists or not! In an interesting incident, I remember a resident bengali gentleman frowning at my mathematics post graduate degree from RDVV without having the knowledge that the Mathematics Department was among the 10 nodal centres of National Board for Higher Mathematics, Department of Atomic Energy.

Further, given the fact that bengalies are jeered at, using phrases like “Bangaali baabu... sari macchi khaabu...”, “Sari macchi ... pulpula bhaat”, it forms reason enough to be ignorant about other people and form a group.

Fortunately or unfortunately, one or two non-bengalies who enter the group, are forced to learn or adapt the bengali language because they are often communicated to, in Bangla. In the colony where I live in Jabalpur, there has been several instances where a bevy of bengali ladies have enriched the Bangla vocabulary of non-bengali women! I have often heard the term “Boudi (sister-in-law)” being used by them to address my mother. In another interesting case, one resident bengali who came to visit my father when he was seriously ill, started talking to a rickshawala in Bangla arguing about the fare and the destination, and kept on continuing the discussion until it was loud enough to seek my attention, and I had to save the embarrassing moment for my family.

I do not know about other people, but my bengali parents have always taught me that whenever I am in a group, I should converse in the common language which everybody knows. They have taught me the first rule of communication, “If you have to converse with a person, converse in the language that the other guy knows.” After all, if I have a joke, I can make everybody laugh by sharing it with all. I still haven't been able to realise why most of the resident bengalis don't seem to understand this fact.2

I often cherish the bright smile on the face of some of my Telugu friends, when I say some Telugu words!