The Argument

28 Comments

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.

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28 thoughts on “The Argument

  1. Well,
    some of my batchmates from andhra thought Vivekanada was a gult… after I explained to them that it was probably not the case, their liking for him reduced significantly

  2. @Joy…no kidding. Prad (the other Bong of course) is witness to this amazing discussion.

    @Shivaji, Just goes to show the universality of Vivekanand(a)’s teachings—everyone thinks he belongs to them (somewhat like Kabir(a) )

  3. Any forceful attempt to establish ‘bengal’s intellectual supremacy’ (???) would end in self-defeat like Shivaji said “liking for him reduced….”. All true wise great bongs including Tagore, Vivekananda would not have approved of such attempts.
    @all: I’m very eager to read “atmaghati bangali” by Niradbabu and reviews on that as well. Any free references on the internet will be gratefully acknowledged.

  4. @Akash..didnt get you. I dont think the guys who were trying to establish “Bengali supremacy” got self-defeated in this case…exactly the opposite.Of course we didnt win by the strengths of our arguments but because our opposing team made a monstrous boo-boo.

    Of course I know great bengali/Indian saints would not approve of our arguments (and we were being very silly—we are allowed a bit of it arent we?)

    Oh and there was no “forcible” attempt going on….we were numerically outnumbered.

    And Shivaji said that once his Gult friends found out that Vivekanand was not one of them, they no longer liked him as much…I didnt understand how that fit into the tone of your comment.

    As to the other point, alas…I wish Indian writing was available online free of cost.

  5. @greatbong: It is unfortunate to know how critically I have failed to deliver my point. What I wanted to bring home is that such belligerent postures as evoked in your post to have assumed by the warring sides, will draw a blank for all of them. The purpose of the whole debate sounded so much like hurting the pride of the other language group by somehow convincing them of the ‘supremacy’ of your own intellectual treasure over theirs. Such attempts, very likely, end in self-defeat, that is, you can never ‘win’ in making them understand and appreciate your intellectual wealth from their hearts uness you yourself, are also respectful of theirs.

    About this ‘forcible’ part, I’m sure you understood that I did not refer to the numerical strengths rather the force of arguments driven by egotism. I never say such arguments are illogical or technically incorrect. But as long as there is an undertone of disrespect for others, I bet, you weaken the larger image of the community for which you are fighting.

  6. @Akash…abs true. But sometimes, younger and less mature (this was in 99 a looong time ago)…the desire to “rub” your friends is accomplished by personal/regional attacks….and in case you missed the point, noone was seriously arguing the issue—it was all done in good humor…the desire being to provoke one another in losing his cool.

    I am sure all of us have had such arguments….right?

    Just as an aside, when our Gult friend P got married…all the friends invited (and it was a very close family-only affair in NY) were exclusively Bongs…and P is still one of my best friends.

    If we were really engaging in cultural chauvinism, I am sure none of us would have really tolerated the other…far less maintain a friendship for so many years.

    Incidentally also, it was P who gave me the moniker “Greatbong”

  7. greatbong: Oh yes. I can well imagine the impish spirit (of course no malice whatsoever) of the whole debate you guys often lock your horns in. And you bet, this is the case with each of us. A nice lazy evening. It’s raining outside quite heavily. And some of your good buddies came over and you felt a bit naughty to pull the legs of the one who is the most dearest and trusted to you (your gf is probably the best choice). I would always take the opposite side she takes, irrespective of what I believe truly in my heart. And no doubt, the more the debate hots up the more is your closeness with her.

  8. @ Greatbong, I was ROTFL, till the debate between u and Akash stopped me in my tracks. Just wasn’t necessary to spoil the fun. Anyway, debates, more than being just timepass and fun can be quite intellectually stimulating, as in your case. Ki Bolish!?! Uttishthata jagrata Maratha, prapya boreno nibodhata ROTFL.

  9. its me again bangabandhu
    why is it that most bongs are so ferociously trying to potray bengal & bengalis as the be all of indian culture? In short most of the bengalis are very regionalistic? A bong friend of mine claims that bengalis own india in terms of art culture music spirituality food sports women patriotism contribution towards freedom struggle & yes the debate continues when i come up with my own bag of gavaskars, naralikars,mangeshkars.

  10. @Priya…just wanted to make sure that noone thought I was seriously parochial or anything…thats why making everything crystal clear.

    And yes I wish I could remember the blow-by-blow account of the regional stereotypes we constructed to have a go at each other.

    And the last line of your comment
    :-))

  11. @The one who calls me bangabandhu,

    Firstly, let me repeat I am not parochial and neither were any of the other people mentioned in the post.

    Secondly, its a gross generalization that most bengalis are regionalistic. I have seen a whole lot of Tams who like to call Chennai as the cultural capital of India…I have seen Marathis who, in spite of the presence of a non-Marathi in their presence, will keep on talking in Marathi among themselves…….just like I have seen regionalistic Bengalis.

    Thirdly, whether “we rule” is of course a matter that can never be resolved, but yes we do have a significant (and if I may say so) inordinately large number of freedom fighters and men-of-letters (in comparison to other parts of India)…..and at the same breath I have no qualms accepting that we have an inordinately minor role in commerce and that work-ethics in Bengal are much poorer than in Mumbai/Chennai.

    Fourthly, many Bongs take the agressive way out because we tend to be picked out in a crowd of Indians. In many of my cosmopolitan interactions with fellow Indians…its they who made me out to be a Bong first and Indian next….ergo I am always the surrogate for abusing Sourav Ganguly.

    In conclusion, when it comes to parochialism I dont consider Bongs to be any worse than other Indian communities.

  12. this is nice though i wud like to say a few things

    I think rabindra sangeet is treacherous waters for me, for i have little or no knowledge of that

    Being a non bong myself and hanging out with way too many bongs, i think they are sweet and nice people, alike punjabis and dont spare anyone if u mess with them.

    But they are rooted to their culture way too much and have little tolerance for others, for example, there were bulleshah, baba farid and amir khusro, whose teachings and verses are relevant to our lives today.

    i think somewhere down the line, people lose the plot. For they think bengal or punjab, is another country, albeit in cinema or lit. u cant take away from the fact that without the states a lot of charm goes outta our country

    My point is that people from all walks of life and communities have made our country what it is and will continue to do so, a strong case for this is the leaders, Manmohan singh and APJ, who have risen from minorities to attain exemplary iconic status.

    But ur little feud was fun, i wish i was there to watch it and mayb give it a punjabi angle, with influences of my culture.

    PS: dont shoot the author, he is hot headed as u all r or have been

  13. a tangential remark (once again :-)) on bengali intellectual pride. i am bengali and suffer from the same complex at times. but let us not forget that many calcutta intellectuals, including brahmos like keshab sen, became disciples of a person who could not even write his name on a piece of paper. the tremendous reverence that they had for sri ramakrishna is perhaps testimony to a wider truth – that the search for a law of living may begin in the head, but must eventually progress to the heart. indeed, it is this deeper human connection that spiritual leaders in india have always emphasized, and is the reason why someone like vivekananda has such wide followership. those bengalis who have truly broken through the barriers of language and race, are the ones who have not cared about embelleshing their cultural resumes, like too many of us do, but have instead always sought for a common human ground of compassion, love, and most of all, service (which is why it always alarms me to hear someone refer to swamiji as a “thinker” – what a disservice). for them, intellectual headgames on the level of “i am better than you in such and such respect” have never held any attraction. let us follow their example.
    rudro

  14. and bangabandhu once complained of not enough people leaving their comments on the blog.

    ps: Maharashtra has a somewhat large number of “freedom fighters” than bengal imho

  15. @He-who-calls-me-bangabandhu,

    Yes and now let me thank God’s bounty.

    @bengal vs maharashtra wrt freedom struggle…let’s not even go there….so imho your PS is the other way around.

  16. Regional chauvinism is present everywhere in India more broadly in the whole world; somewhere very deep and somewhere not so much. However, the common factor to this evil tendency is neither geography nor climate nor the color of the skin. The common element is the lack of awareness (quite consciously I refrain from using the terms ‘illiteracy’, ‘lack of education’ albeit, such problems are, in general, inextricably associated with ‘lack of awareness particularly in an Indian context). Cultural and regional pluralism have been cultivated in India for a long time and so much deeply rooted in the society that it is difficult to separate the influence of one from the other. One very simple and telling example of Indian tradition of a pluralist society is the growing number marriages between persons from different language groups. There are plenty of such examples that warn you on bashing the other community as this may bounce back to you ironically. However, there were attempts, still present today, by the politicians with vested interests to whip up sectarian prejudice to achieve narrow gains. But I believe that such sinister attempts may have some immediate effects but will eventually die down with growing awareness.

  17. greatbong…your discussion with friends has now been officialy termed as a sinister attempt in the comment above…
    But I do wonder if we sometimes overdo the political correctness bit…Is it wrong to accept that the skin color of a black person is actually black…that a bengali like me actually speaks bengali at home (or should i say i speak an indian language at home)…just as lack of awareness can lead to misplaced chauvinism, it also leads to not giving credit where is due….Some of us educated people need to loosen up and smile or cry sometimes in our lives…

  18. shotti this is hilarious loke actually bhabe vivekananda bangali noye??? my god …..n i think bongs arent all that regionalistic really specially when it comes to backing one of our own …i mean look at the marwaris or gujjus or all south indians for that matter who inspite of differences of opinion back each other up…..but ur post is really funny …each community has its share of steroetypes n truthfully speaking its a lot of fun laughing at them (n yes “them ” includes bong steroetypes as well)….btw very funny post 🙂

  19. YOURFAN writes:
    @GB:In one of my earlier comments I wrote to you that I honestly wish that I could read some of your earlier posts (when I was not a reader of your blog). I just got one day completely to myself and here I am. So don’t be surprised if you see so many comments from me on different posts on the same day.
    Fantastic as usual. But I had the same experience – the big difference is that I won’t be able to write or narrate fantastically like you. One of my neighbors (a Marwari) asked me whether I have read any novel by a Marathi writer called Saratchandra whose novel was made into a movie called Parineeta !!!!!

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