Just this morning, I get a frantic call from a leading national news channel.
‘Madam, you know Imran? Imran Khan?’ the voice on the other end crosschecks, sounding terribly flustered.
I am in the midst of a work mail. ‘He was an adolescent crush. I observed a Roza for him a couple of years when he was captaining the Pakistan team... cried buckets when they lost,’ I rambled on, absentmindedly.
‘Really? Have you read the news about him, Ma’am? Twitter?’ I sense a pronounced Bengali accent.
'Tweeter'. Just the way the babu shonas are trained to say the damn thing.
'Why are you asking anyway?'
So, here’s the deal. Pakistan Prime Minister — and the sum total of my hormonal imbalance — Imran Khan posted a quote by the man who is worshipped as a Thakur (God) in almost every Bengali home, Rabindranath Tagore, on his official Twitter account, something that he attributed it to Lebanese writer and poet Kahlil Gibran! Khan posted the inspirational quote that read, “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”
He captioned the quote, saying: “Those who discover and get to understand the wisdom of Gibran’s words, cited below, get to live a life of contentment.”
Not Gibran, Imran: The name is Tagore. Rabindranath Tagore. (Source: India Today)
The original quote, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy,” however is by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Maybe he should have just stuck to cricket.
Or, making heads swoon when rumours like his alleged saucy affair with a Bengali star once leaked. Something that we lapped up — going green with envy!
But no — this is insufferable.
We don’t like our Tagore mixed with Gibran, and that too by a man so many of us (read the buxom, sexually charged, big bindi and jamdani-flaunting, full-blown Bengali woman the collective male psyche nurses a fetish over) owe our bhari jawaani to. We’re sensitive people!
But this isn’t a post on my coming of age (it’s what we called 'teenage' back in my time, silly).
This is about the state of my home state that’s caught up today in a savage political crossfire even as I write this. And, as the reporter who had struck up a fine camaraderie with me over Imran Khan called again, more frantically than the last time, telling me that the shoot they had wanted to do with me was abruptly cancelled, thanks to the gory and escalating post-poll violence in Bhatpara, again.
One person was killed and four more were critically injured when bombs were thrown and bullets were fired in a neighbourhood in North 24 Pargana district, which has already grabbed national headlines with bloodied clashes during the national elections just last month. News reports claim that all five had sustained bullet injuries — with one of the victims perishing at the spot. The news of the horrific violence was only a grim reminder of the resistance between the ruling party, Trinamool Congress, and the BJP for quite some time now, mostly since the announcement of the election results.
Bengal of Bombs: Bengal is bleeding and there is nothing cultural about it. (Source: India Today)
As I flip TV channels, everywhere I find the same footage being flashed — police force with state armed police and rapid action forces marching at the spot. Locals claimed that police also fired a few rounds to bring the situation under control. Senior police officials however denied such reports.
‘Everything is this BJP’s fault,’ my best friend’s aging father, who promises to treat me to pork vindaloo and beef bhuna over this weekend, scoffs, adding belligerently, ‘Even that doctors' strike... all staged... they want us to leave this city first... then, this country. Slowly...’.
A pall of gloom instantly descends on our conversation.
His daughter and son-in-law already migrated ten years ago. Like almost two-thirds of a fast-vanishing community in a fast-vanishing city that only comes alive when a ten-handed Goddess descends from a mountain called Kailash Parbat, to slay a demon God.
What if the festival that commemorates the immemorial victory of good vs evil is now being fought out in a gnawing amphitheatre of regional politics — in dust-laden villages strewn with telegraph polls and interspersed with verdant paddy fields? What if the poor are simply the spectators — those who vote because they want someone to win? Someone else, that is.
What if their fate is inexplicably linked to a grease-lined packet of mutton biryani that comes stuffed with one boiled egg and one potato?
Also, a cycle or the promise of a concrete, covered toilet...
We get it: She doesn't like hearing Jai Shri Ram. But is that Bengal's biggest issue today? (Source: India Today)
What if the polarisation of political muscle power that we are witnessing in the state, that is being slowly solemnised to saffron, also involves a very basic human divide — Hindus, Bengalis, us. And the Marwaris, Gujaratis, Sindhis and a few of those who, like my best friend’s father or communities like the Armenian and the Chinese who once called Kolkata their address, but now are the illegible, smudged ink blots on a piece of paper — a nook. A corner. A crevice. A sort of safety. A belief that a right-wing party that bans beef in most Indian states and decrees the cow as a mother must mean their swansong.
‘Yaar, why are Bong men so thanda — is it because the women are so so sexy?’ a guy friend makes a joke in a Whatsapp group. There is a joke circulated just before that — a meme, something about the Chief Minister chasing out a bunch of those who sloganeered Jai Shri Ram, like it was a sin. The way now saying Dugga Dugga or Jai Bheem or Jai Ma Kali is suddenly acceptable even in the Lok Sabha. The way the CM believes everything, like her past fix with the Maoist guerilla forces, is a by-product of the BJP.
And so, the soul of my Shonar Bangla bleeds.
The state of Bengal is similar to the state of Devdas: Wasted, at war, worried. (Devdas still; Courtesy: SLB films/Red Chillies Entertainment)
Like the colour of our tears as we consume and are contaminated by the vitriolic violence that shakes a land once identified with Devdas — a wasted drunk who loved a woman who dumped him, even after she had long left him. Who found succour in the colourful arms of a nautch girl who nursed him when he spewed blood.
Which is pretty much the state of my people.
Wasted. At war. Worried.
Forced to chose a party.
A Deccan Herald news report in June quoted Mamata Banerjee as saying ten persons, including eight TMC workers, were killed in West Bengal in post-poll violence. Apart from the slain Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers, two BJP workers also died in these attacks.