Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bye Bye, Bengal?


I never love writing on political issues, especially if they are significant. In the course of world events, the change in the name of the state of West Bengal into Paschim Banga is no more important than India losing the numero uno test ranking to England. However, I feel constrained to write about it, because I really wish to know how the politicians get the right to rename a state without the consent of the people who stay there. They should have arranged for a referendum over an issue like that. Ideally, the new government should not have even talked about it; instead, they could have concentrated on washing politics out of the tainted educational campuses across Bengal. Alas, they’ll not do it, not in the next one hundred years at least.

After the state capital Calcutta had been renamed as Kolkata, The Statesman editorial page ran, ‘What’s in a name?’, quoting Shakespeare. Apparently, name matters a lot in India, and perhaps more so in Bengal. [For more information on this, please refer to the short story by Satyajit Ray titled ‘Shishu-Sahityik’ (‘The Children’s Writer’)].

People who still mange to have some time off their daily Facebook quota, and reality show hours, may be aware of the existence of a place called Filmpur at Leicester. This new name had been suggested to attract more filmmakers from Bollywood. Ideally, they should have called it Filmham, perhaps. But, they didn’t. The former name makes more business sense.

It certainly needn’t bother one if foreigners find it difficult to pronounce more ‘Indian’ names. But, it’s perhaps one added advantage, at least from a utilitarian point of view, if a place is better known by its English name. West Bengal has been known as Bengal for more than the last two hundred years. And, apart from a number of mother-fixed GFNs no one had a problem with that name. People feel proud to talk about the Bengal Renaissance, the Bay of Bengal, and the Royal Bengal Tiger. It could have been better to name the state back to ‘Bengal’, as a fitting remembrance of the reunion of the bifurcated Bengal in 1911, if any change had to be made at all. 

Any word bears the trace of its ancestral words. If ‘West’ and ‘Bengal’, these two words are analysed, the past of the state as part of a unified Bengal rushes back to one’s forgotten memory. The part the West [in the case of Indian history, invariably the Brits] played in the final partition of Bengal is also cruelly betrayed. Even today, the Bengali newspapers don’t refer to the people in Bangladesh as Bangladeshis, but as ‘Bangali’ [Bengali]. That shows the relevance of the name of the name of Bengal even today. The name should not be forgotten. Bengali speaking people still don’t think of their trans-Padma brethren as citizens of two different lands, but as merely two sons of the same mother, one called Ghoti and the other, Bati.

Very clearly, the empowered ones have no Will, nor do they care for the Will of the People [pun intended].