Sunday, November 30, 2008

Home They Brought 'Our' Warrior Dead!!

I'm not someone special who spent the most of the past 3 days watching the TV more than ever before. I'm sure people won't have been glued to TVs like this even during the world cup matches where India had played. What happened over the past 3 days is indeed something new that have shaken all of us. It's not that terrorist attacks haven't happened in India in the past. It's not that people haven't heard of more gory things happening to hapless innocent people. But somewhere, I don't know where, this recent incident has aroused something unprecedented. It has waken up a country that is used to be in deep slumber. Our neatly dressed Home Minister, Shivraj Patil is no different than an average Indian - always complacent, always asleep and always most bothered about his own self, his dress, his image, his security. We used to blame him always for his docile attitude and slumber when the city around him is burning. But if I think deeply, that's what most of us have been doing always for ever. We've been asleep in decades of slumber. The most striking thing that I've witnessed over the past three days is that we've finally waken up. But alas, our ministers are fast asleep even now in their safe havens.
When the entire nation has been glued to the TVs ever since the very first time the news of the Bombay Attacks started beaming in the news channels, it took almost 10 hours for the commandos to start their operations. It raises serious questions about the time our ministers take to wake up. Why should the commandos be posted somewhere from where it would take so long to reach a place like Bombay, which is the financial capital of India? Just think over it, what would have happened had the terrorists launched such an attack in some interior place in the Tamang district of Arunachal Pradesh? Why there shouldn't the commandos be posted across the country so that they should be able to reach any nook and corner of our country within 2-3 hours? Does it make any sense if you have to wait in ICU for 10 hours for your doctors to arrive from some other city and start the vital life saving operation? Are the lives of those dining at the restaurants in Oberoi and Taj, or staying in Nariman Bhavan, or those present in the CST terminus or the police officers who were killed not important? Why should we all, who also do our part of our job, not get the protection for our lives. Are we all less important than the Prime Minister and the President of our country? After all they all are selected by us to serve us, and wait a minute, not for free. They are getting their salaries the same way that we all get. They are also doing a job, might be in a much lesser dedicated way than we all do. So why the commandos, who are also created with my money and your money and every ones' money, be used only for the protection of only a few people, who anyway are just a bunch of inefficient and selfish parochial people with the least of sensitivities and moralities. I've lost my sympathy even for Manmohan Singh because indirectly is responsible for the killings of so many people in Bombay. It was he who had held up so many of the commandos in Delhi for his own safety? What do we lose if he dies in a terrorist attack? Is his life more valuable than the life of the police officers who were not sleeping at 10pm in the night but chasing the terrorists with meagre equipments because all the costly equipments have been reserved for the PM and the President? If a PM dies, he will be replaced by another similar or even more inefficient PM. But can we replace the able police officers with more able ones? Can we get the newly orphaned Jewsih kid, whose parents were killed in Nariman House, another set of parents? Can we get back the sole bread earner of the multiple poor Hindu and Mulsim families who were killed in the CST station? No we can't. Are these people less important citizens of India. Does our constitution give more right to life to the politicians? Then why all the security would be reserved for the people in Delhi? Why only now the PM is talking about setting up NSG Commandos in different parts of the country? Why didn't he think of the same long before? Why do we have to spend so much money for the politicians, who are the biggest of the thugs and criminals, in maintaining their lavish life styles and providing security to their useless lives?
Each and every person who had fought for their life are our warriors. There's no one even to provide them the right to live. I salute to all the lives laid in the past 3 days!! And I ask everyone to arise, awake and stop not till we ensure our own security.... There's no one to help us out. We have to do it ourselves....
Yes, enough is enough!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Identity and Violence

I don’t think there can be any more apt title to my article, which I’ve been thinking of writing ever since one Mr Raj Thackeray has been inspiring the Indian Press to popularize a term called “Marathi Manoos”. There is nothing wrong in the term. It refers to the Marathi people. But the context in which the term is being over used nowadays in the media has resulted in seeing it in a bad light. “Marathi Manoos” has become synonymous to violence against the North Indians, specially the Biharis, in Bombay on the statistically wrong allegation that they are snatching the employment opportunities from the localites.

The entire episode stirred several questions in my mind. A similar allegation has been levelled by a much lesser known outfit called “Kannada Rakshaka Vedike” in Bangalore against the outsiders. The first question that came to my mind is what’s the identity of a localite. A further extension of the question is what’s my identity. Am I a localite in Bangalore? Let me try to find the answers to my questions.

I was born more than some three decades back in a place, which no longer exists. The name of my birthplace has been changed. Officially there’s no place called Calcutta now. So I don’t know what’s the official status of my ‘birth place’. My mother has inherited the knowledge of spoken Bengali from her parents. So from that point of view officially I can claim that my mother’s tongue is indeed Bengali. To make things simpler my father’s mother tongue also happens to be Bengali. So there’s no confusion with regards to my mother tongue. So that makes me a Bengali speaking, by birth. I started speaking Bengali at home. As a matter of fact I still speak Bengali at home with my wife, whose mother’s tongue also happens to be Bengali. So apart from being born a Bengali speaking, I’m also a surviving Bengali speaking person. But then I was never a permanent resident of any place within West Bengal. I never paid any tax in West Bengal. I voted only once in West Bengal. I’ve been staying in Bangalore for the past eleven years. I paid more than 95% of my total income tax till now in Bangalore. I’ve regularly voted in Bangalore for the past eight years. I own properties only in Bangalore. I own cars registered only in Bangalore. My passport has my Bangalore address as the permanent address. My PAN card, Voters ID card, Ration Card everything has my Bangalore address. Apart from the mention of the now non-existent ‘Calcutta’ as my birth-place in my passport there’s no other reference to my connection to any place other than Bangalore anywhere in any official document.  So what’s my locality? Do I belong to Bangalore or I still belong to Calcutta?

Unlike most people in Bangalore, whose mothers’ tongues happen to be a language called Kannada, I don’t speak the ‘local’ language. Wait a minute, what’s the definition of local language? Is Bengali the local language of Calcutta? Or is Kannada the local language of Bangalore? Well, officially not, but unofficially yes. The constitution does acknowledge Bengali and Kannada languages as major languages spoken in India, but there’s officially no reference to tagging Bengali to Calcutta or West Bengal and Kannada to Bangalore or Karnataka. There’s no discrimination between the Kannada spoken in Deshpriya Park in Calcutta and that in Bangalore in Karnataka. I understand that the rights of people speaking Kannada at home in Deshpriya Park are exactly same as that of the majority of the people speaking the language in Bangalore. In Deshpriya Park, if an entire ‘para’ or locality speaks Kannada, then the children there can surely grow up with the idea that their local language is indeed Kannada and not Bengali, though the later might be spoken by more people around – outside their ‘para’. Till now my kid of six years has encountered more Bengali than Kannada speaking people in his life. In his world he still knows that ‘majority’ of the people around him speak Bengali in Bangalore. He has been to Durga Puja where he has seen thousands of people speaking ‘his’ language. He is yet to see such huge crowds speaking any other language. So there’s no wrong if he feels that he speaks the language that’s spoken by majority of the people in his locality and that language is Bengali. So you see, there’s a difference in perception of the ‘local’ language between him and myself. So the question remains – is there any definition of a ‘local’ language? Yes, there’s always a statistical definition of the majority language in any city or state or locality. But I don’t know how to define a local language.

The survival of any language or religion or tradition doesn’t depend on who speaks the language or who practises the tradition. They survive naturally as long they are required to survive. Despite royal patronage, Sanskrit or Pali couldn’t survive because they were no longer required by the people. The survival of Kannada doesn’t depend on whether 100% of people staying in Karnataka speak or respect the language. Even if majority of the people in Karnataka stop speaking Kannada it might still survive if it’s really required to survive. Just by enforcing people to use Kannada can neither ensure the survival of the language nor impact the growth of the language. From this point of view it makes no sense to make the knowledge of any language a necessary or sufficient condition for association of an individual with any locality.

So coming back to my original question: Where do I belong? I don’t speak the majority language in Bangalore and I don’t stay in the place whose majority language I speak at home. Physically, financially and economically I’ve been connected to Bangalore for more than a decade. So which one takes precedence? What decides where I belong?

Well, truly speaking, there’s absolutely no necessity to find out authentically where I belong because none of my official work or identity requires that. Constitutionally I have the same rights irrespective of my belonging to Calcutta or Bangalore. So why the hell am I bothered about finding out if at all I belong to Bangalore? Well, I shouldn’t bother at all. There’s no statehood or cityhood in India. The reference to Calcutta, my birth place, is just a matter of fact that’s mentioned in my passport. There’s no special status or identity attached to this matter-of-fact. In the same way my residential address of Bangalore is also mentioned as a matter of fact in my passport. My identity would have been the same had my place of birth been some nondescript place in Ladakh and my permanent address some unknown hill-top in a tribal village in Coorg.

I’ve only one identity and that’s I belong to the sovereign socialist republic of India. Any locality can have any majority language or religion or creed or ritual or tradition. That has nothing to do with the identity of the people of the locality.

Alas!! There are many people who have absolutely no regards for our constitution. They commit the criminal offence of distorting and disrespecting our constitution and thwarting self-claimed identities to the people of India. Calling an Indian by any other name, be it the name of a language or religion, is itself showing disrespect to the very idea of ‘India’. More than a nation, India is a symbol of pluralism, an epitome of a civilization of humanity where all other identities and traditions and rituals and religions have amalgamated into just one identity – that’s of an Indian. No other identity can bear our true identification. The only commonality that ties each and every Indian is this very identity of Indianness, something that the people of the whole world have identified us with forever. For centuries and millennia, the people throughout the world have always found this striking commonality among all of us. It’s not for no reason that we all have been always identified with India or Hindustan or Hindi or Hindu or Sindhu or Indi what so ever similar names irrespective of the fact that we always spoke so many languages and followed so many different traditions forever. If we could retain our identity since time immemorial, why should we change that and identify us with some other names now? Any other identity of an Indian will just lead to violence and nothing else.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Don't Divide Us Further

This is with reference to the recent euphoria about conferring the status of Classical Language to Kannada and Telegu languages.

It's really shocking to see that many so called non-political literary people were involved in demanding classical status for their languages. As if, without the official status the fate and status of these languages would have been questionable. Technically, culturally and emotionally, each and every language in the world is classic in it's own way. The development of a language is perhaps one of the most fascinating things about the human race. Each language shapes up over so many years to express the feelings, emotions, love, technology and above all the culture of a race or creed. This evolution itself qualifies each language, irrespective of it's age and usage, to be classic in it's own unique way. So it really sounds so gross to attribute some special status to a particular language. It's also another way of further dividing our already divided country on another basis.

Linguistically, the present form of any language, be it Tamil or Hindi or anything else, is way different from what it used to be thousand years back. Each language has undergone tremendous changes over the years. Majority of the Indian languages have come from the Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan and the Austric group of languages. Both the Dravidian and the Austric groups are much older than the Indo-Aryan group. Apart from Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, languages with Dravidian origin are still spoken in far off places like Baluchistan (Brahui) and Bengal (Malto). Most of the tribal languages of the Santal, Kol, Bhil, Mundas etc are derived from the Austric family, which is as old as the Dravidian group. Apart from this, most of the modern day major languages of Indo-Aryan group like Bengali, Assamese, Gujarati and Marathi can be traced back to 10th century AD. Manipuri language can be traced back to 3rd century AD. But none of these languages resemble much the primitive forms that existed thousand years back. The fascinating thing is that there have been so much amalgamation between all these languages that it's really hard to isolate the unadulterated nascent forms. This very amalgamation has created, in Tagore's words, the "ocean of the super humans of Bharatavarsha", on the pure banks of which he aspires his mind to arise - "He Mor Chitta, Punya Tirthe Jago Re Dheere / Ei Bharater Mahamanaver Sagar Teere". Let's not speak of Bengali or Tamil or Hindi. Let's realize that we all speak only one language and that's the language of Bharatavarsha. There's no division, there's no special status, there's no rivalry. As mentioned in Upanishads, "Srunvantu Vishve, Amrutanshya Putrah", we, all Indians are the children of immortal bliss. We all are equal and for God's sake, let not the politicians divide us further!!

Thanks & Regards,
Sudipto Das

Saturday, November 1, 2008

My grand mother

I've been always waiting for this day to write something about my family. In school we had to write essays on family. I still remember how much I hated all those days. It used to be the most boring thing to do. Days and years have passed and then suddenly I felt the urge to write something about my family. I don't remember what exactly I used to write in the essays back in school. But I'm sure I never wrote what I'm going to write now.
I'd really love to write a novel some day about my family...
Let me start with my grand mother, my father's mother, Saraju Bala Das. She had died in 1986, when I was just 13 years old. I never spent much time with her. But I grew up with fascinating stories about her since my childhood days. Her life is one of the most enchanting ones I've ever heard.
She had lost her parents at a very early age and was brought up by her maternal uncle. This part of her life is least known to anyone in my family because perhaps she herself never told anything to anyone. None of her children had ever seen or heard about any of her relatives. The only time that she went to her uncle's home after her marriage was when her uncle had expired. She had taken my eldest aunt, then a toddler, with her and this aunt happens to be the only one who had seen at least a few of my grandmother's people from her maiden life. From the very fact that she was kept illiterate till marriage - and she remained so till her death -  we all could deduce very well that she didn't have a good life with her uncle's family. She was married off to my grandfather, who had been already married twice by then and had four children three of whom were even older than my grandmother at the time of her marriage. The first marriage of my grandfather had been sometime in the early childhood and the first wife had died even before he became an adult. The second wife survived longer and bore the four children. After the death of the second wife people had advised him to marry once again just to have someone to take care of the family. It was an arrangement, that my grandmother's uncle had done in lieu of some financial benefit, that my grandmother got married to Rajendranath Das, my grandfather when she was still in her early teens.
My grandfather never had much time to spend with my grandmother. He was a practicing Ayurved and stayed away from home for most of the time. My grandmother adapted herself into his family. All his three daughters, all older than my grandmother and already married with children, did welcome her into the house and called her 'Ma', something which even I remember. Very soon she engrossed herself completely into the various household activities. She became famous for her culinary skills and very soon she used to be invited to cook for the whole village in marriages - something that she kept on doing relentlessly.
Gradually she had six children, my father being the second youngest one. Her kids never got much of her time as she used to be always busy in work. My father was raised by one of her step-sisters, the youngest one from my grandfather's second marriage.
Gradually her kids grew up and got married. My the middle of 1940's the eldest two kids, one son and one daughter were married and settled in Calcutta. The other four kids were still in our ancestral village of Gaila in the Barishal district of present Bangladesh, when it was getting more and more clear that staying in Bangladesh would become difficult in coming years. The political unrest had already begun, communal riots were getting more and more common. People were hearing harrowing stories of Noakhali riots, where Mahatma Gandhi himself had to go in person to calm down tension. Finally when the partition happened it was decided that my father and his elder brother and sister would leave for India for good leaving behind their parents and new born toddler youngest sister.
I still remember how many times I wanted to hear each and every details of the last day at Gaila. My uncle, father's elder brother, remembers each and every minute detail of that day even after sixty years. After that fateful day my father and his two siblings never met their mother for the next seventeen years and their father ever. My grandfather had decided to stay back in Bangladesh despite the threat to their lives because he preferred that more than the ignominious life at relatives' place or refugee camps in Calcutta. But he didn't want his kids to risk their lives. But there was no one to take the three young kids - my father five years old, his elder brother and sister twelve and nine years old respectively - to Calcutta. So finally they sailed off on their own, banking just on their fates, to India on an eventful and never ending journey on steamers and trains amidst all unknown and hostile people and fear of getting killed anytime. I believe my father was too young to understand the enormity of the events. My uncle had a much tough time because he knew where they were headed. He knew very well that he might not see his parents ever in his life. At the tender age of twelve my uncle seemed to grow up a hundred years just in a few days.
The days in Calcutta were full of hardship but filled with life and hope. The next decade, when India was also struggling through its infancy after birth, shaped the life of my father and his siblings. Away from their home and parents, they were raised by their elder sisters. Finally by the mid sixties my father had become an engineer from Jadavpur University and his elder brother joined the shipping corporation in Calcutta. That was when my grandfather had expired and my grandmother came to Calcutta along with her youngest daughter. My father saw his mother and sister after almost eighteen years. It's beyond my imagination how my father would have felt when he met his mother after so long. I never asked him about this. Neither did he ever say anything about the day.
After that my grandmother survived twenty more years, saw each of her kids getting married and settled in life. She had seen all of her grand-sons and grand-daughters and also a few great-grand-sons and great-grand-daughters in her lifetime.
Till the last day she remained illiterate. But she never lacked any maturity. All her kids used to always seek her advises in most of the family matters till the last day of her life. Even I never felt that she couldn't write her own name. She knew most of the mythological stories to the finest details. She used to enthrall us with so many stories with moral values that I kept on wondering what actually she would have lacked in not getting a formal education.