What happens when you have an argument on issues? Most of the time, it ends in a detente— with one or both sides running out of time and/or steam (ie have their lives to get on with) with the opposing sides agreeing to disagree (See my political posts on Guantanamo and University politics as examples of such arguments).
But has it ever happened to you that during the course of argument, one side has totally shot himself in the foot and thus brought an end to the ignominy by virtue of a “knock out” ?
It happened to me. Once.
Coming from Kolkata, my friends in school and college were naturally all Bengalis. Coming to Stonybrook, I first found myself in a cosmopolitan atmosphere (after all this was US—the melting pot) by virtue of my apartment mates consisting of a Mallu, a Gult, a Konkani from Mumbai and two Bongs (me and a classmate from JU).
As you can see, still no “foreigners”.
One of our favorite past-times would be late-night “debating” sessions where we would launch into many a politically incorrect, vituperative argument where nothing would be out-of-bounds.
One night, things turned ugly. Our Gult friend (P) remarked that Rabindranath Tagore’s international acclaim was because he kissed British ass. (A somewhat watered-down, more intellectually “nuanced” but no less outrageous analogous argument was made by Girish Karnad when he came to Stonybrook for a guest lecture) .
Of course that was the proverbial red rag in front of the “Great Bong” who replied, obviously not totally rationally and correctly, that in terms of culture and intellectual contribution to India, no place comes close to Bengal. (My actual “dialogue” was much more colorful and provocative principally because disrespect to Rabindranath always gets me hot under the collar). [Before I get flamed as being parochial and deluded, I am *not* supporting my point of view in this post]
I also said that Tagore’s patriotism was at a much exalted level than Gandhi’s and talked about Tagore’s intellectual attack on Gandhism in “Ghare Baire” (which led to a falling out between them) ( about which a subsequent post maybe in order) . [This I *still* maintain]
However thanks to my incendiary statement, the argument (as such shouting matches are wont to ) became centered on “Not every great Indian is a Bong.” This soon evolved into discussing regional stereotypes and mutual name-calling—-a standard occurrence in K1154 (our apartment number) where the philosophy was —“Leave your feelings at the door”.
The argument then became Carnatic music vs Rabindrasangeet —-according to non-Bongs, Rabindrasangeet was boring and Bongs made love while it played in the background—which as you can see was a thinly veiled attack on our love making style. And a horrible attack on Rabindranath.
I, of course, did a Tanananana parody of a Carnatic vocal….and the temperature was rising.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, T, our Konkani friend (an amazingly fun person who would come from school, take a bath, do Pooja and then watch “Sex and the City” ritualistically) said:
“Stop stop it Arnab. So all “thought leaders” of modern India are Bengalis eh? You’r sure”
My silence was inflammatory.
“Well what about the great Maratha thinker, Vivekanand ? uh Huh….Vivekanand….does that sound Bong enough does it ? Mixing ancient Hindu thought with modernism…..”
My Bong friend and I looked at him with disbelief. My gult friend was gesturing him to keep quiet.
I was silent thinking that there must be a tangential argument coming out of somewhere( Example: Nirad Chaudhuri not putting Bidyasagar in the list of great Bengalis because Bidyasagar, according to the-man-who-wore-suits-in-India-and-dhoti-in-England, was “not a Bengali” as he lacked the traits of the typical Bengali man).
But there was not.
I replied “Does Norendronath Dotto (intentionally “o”-ized) sound Bong enough to you?” T turned to P who was shaking his head sadly for a confirmation of what I had said. The deafening silence confirmed his fears.
We all went to bed in 2 minutes.