Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | October 7, 2008

Love thy home

An interesting incident happened the other day. We just got into the bus and asked the driver for tickets. The driver, a middle-aged Kiwi wearing a Ray Ban (it is quite common here), looked at me and greeted me in Hindi by saying : Namaste. I was quite surprised and asked him in English whether he has ever visited India? To which he again replied in Hindi : Nahin. Dost ne seekhaya thora thora (Meaning No, my friend has taught me a little)

Impressive isn’t it? I was impressed not because he knows Hindi and he made me remember my home but I was impressed seeing the virtue of acceptance of something new not out of compulsion but perhaps out of interest.

Here corruption and governmental scams are talked about in newspapers though I find New Zealand ranks number one in the index published by Transparency International. Isn’t it ironical that they haven’t taken corruption for granted despite their apparent global acknowledgment?

I do not consider myself privileged to leave my home Bengal though I love New Zealand. I feel my home did not nurture me well enough to sustain me. I had to take recourse to this alternative of moving away. Some of it is my own doing perhaps since I don’t recall contributing to making it a better place to live in, but much of it is certainly not mine.

The other day, I was watching a video on Kolkata that is posted on the CNN-IBN website. It was not a special video as such but it moved me to such an extent that I was in my tears. When I was growing up in Bengal and my parents exposed me to Vidyasagar, Tagore, the Bandopadhyas of Bengali literature, Ray, Uttam Kumar and many others I did not know that I shall ever be out of the city. Yes, I love India but since Kolkata is my home, I love it much more than any other place. However, over time I have not found enough reasons to sustain this unconditional love that was not reciprocated.

In an attempt to track back what exactly was the city’s contribution to my development (keeping in mind that my parents would have given me similar kind of exposure / training, even if I was born anywhere other than Kolkata), I started demarcating what I love about the city out of sheer emotional reasons and what were the most cherished practical learning from the city. This is not easy since I guess many would say quite truthfully that it is difficult to find “reasons for love” but I feel there must be.

It is undoubtedly a tough exercise since I love Nandan, Coffee House, Peter Cat, Flury’s, Birla Museum of Science and Technology, Daker’s Lane, Metro Rail and many other places out of sheer emotions but I cannot attribute any constructive practical benefits that some of these places have provided me with. I thought a little more and here is my very brief attempt to list a few things that I owe to the city. Trust me, this can be absolutely a wet blanket for everyone because I am trying to be as practical as one can perhaps hope to be.

First, I do feel Calcutta University’s Economics course that I studied was perhaps one of the best in the world (undoubtedly in India to my mind). It is unfortunate that college infrastructure and examining procedures are bad but if one wants to love the subject by just exploring the books in detail, the course is really good. It has helped me to study Economics in Kolkata, despite the fact I had not been able to extract the best out of the available set of teachers.

Secondly, I owe my love towards newspapers largely to Kolkata. I do feel that most of my reading habits have been inherited from my father (which I would have inherited even if I was not brought up in Kolkata) but I always felt Bengalis are curious by nature and that is why newspaper is such an addiction in Bengal. I don’t regret the fact that I still like to read a newspaper, though out here they are really boring. In Delhi, reading a newspaper was a painful exercise. I have not read a Kolkata paper (other than the online editions) for ages but I do chrish the Voices initiative of The Statesman Kolkata  despite being a long loss- making establishment. I do feel reading newspapers (even the online editions) are a very important part of my life.

Thirdly, even though it may not be as evident because normally we overlook the goods but I do feel Kolkata having a Jew dominated Sudder Street, an Anglo-Indian community dominated Ripon Street, an Armenian Church and a Chinatown has made me open minded. As a college going student, I always felt amused to meet Jews or Chinese in these places. Though lot is said about how everyone comes and settles in Delhi or how Mumbai accepts everyone, let me tell you at least in Delhi that acceptance is not common to the city. In Kolkata, the acceptance of different culture is much more though we may have variety of reasons to argue. Bengalis are branded as parochial but they have been generally open-minded. I do feel despite lot of ills Bengalis have been able to isolate caste, dogmatic cultures, domestic opressions to much greater extent than any other regions in India. It has helped me to adjust in different places and with different people. At least when I was growing up the open mindedness was prevalent. Bengalis love everything that is their own but they don’t necessarily hate / envy everything that is someone else’s. If one has stayed in Delhi, like I have, perhaps one shall understand what I am trying to say. This open mindedness which I believe generally exists much more in Eastern part of India have been cause of much envy all across. I feel since I grew up in such a society, I love everything that I consider is mine to an extent of becoming a bit possessive about them but I don’t necessarily hate things which are not mine. I love this inheritance from Kolkata.

Fourthly, I feel Kolkata has made me opinionated. Bengalis are known to shout and have an opinion on everything howsoever irrelevant that may be. This has plagued the state for long but this has its benefits too. To be honest, I do not want to talk on the general benefits of this trait but being opinionated helps my quest for knowledge. I self-introspect since I even have an opinion on my actions. This at times leads to sadness but trust me I do appreciate that at least by self-introspecting I can give myself a chance to correct the mistakes that I made.

Since, I assume some have taken the pain to read this I would not extend their burden of reading more. This was not an attempt to resurrect the image of much maligned Kolkata – but have we ever wondered we find it so easy to criticize yet it so difficult to appreciate?

It has been days that I have seen a nice thing being reported by the Indian media. It is hard to believe that other than cricket and Indo-US nuclear deal nothing worth mentioning is happening in India. It is actually true that we have passed the buck to some non-existent else to highlight the goods that we possess. We find it easier to criticize than to take a pause revisit our strengths and work on them.

I criticize too – most of the times. Probably even now I am doing that, but at times I feel I am the biggest hypocrite doing that all the time. It is like being one of those young lads from Kolkata who say that they hate arranged marriages but indulges in perpetual self-pity while meeting every woman, in his quest of a “self-arranged” love and marriage. While just criticising we forget our strengths and mistake our limitations as our ideals.

Therefore, while all of us go on ranting about the state of affairs in our own home, let’s take a pause for some time and without really criticizing other cultures I thought let me try listing down what home has given to me? A day of acknowledgement wouldn’t do any harm.

Tomorrow can be another day of doing social benefit by highlighting areas of improvement. You know where it hurts – since all of us are so busy criticizing (and it has become a general tendency) nobody bothered to make us look better. If we don’t remain ugly then on what shall we talk about?

In Auckland Library Bergman, Kurosawa, Antinioni are all well represented but Satyajit Ray is not. Most of us on a normal day would say, Kiwi’s are unfortunate not to have him in their library without realizing it is our responsibility to make him known. I shall donate my collection of Ray films in all probability and feel that I have done a small decent thing.

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