[Unrelated to this post but congratulations to Abhinav Bindra for getting us a GOLD. At last.]
Many years ago, on the walls of Sealdah railway station, I saw the following poster put up by a Bangali revivalist organization called “Amra Bangali”.( We are Bengalis) It said:
Bangali gorje otho ! (Translation: Bangalis Rise up and Roar !)
Below the bold red font, someone, with a delicious sense of irony, had scribbled in miniscule letters, with the size no doubt reflecting the feebleness of the Bengali tiger:
Somehow I was reminded of this “roar” when I read the following article.
It’s a catastrophe in Indian classical art. At least 105 priceless paintings of masters like Rabindranath and Abanindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy lying practically in tatters thanks to state apathy and callousness – specifically of West Bengal’s culture department, headed by art aficionado chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee himself.The paintings from the famous collection of the Bengal Masters at the Rajya Charukala Parshad, a wing of the state information and culture department, are in a shambles, with rows of dust laden frames leaning on one another, desperate for a breath of fresh air. A single painting of Abanindranath, art dealers say, is worth Rs 40 lakh, for Rabindranath it is Rs 25 lakh while a tempera of Roy is Rs 5 lakh. [Link]
It is at times like this that I wish, deep inside, that these priceless treasures actually get stolen, like Tagore’s Nobel Prize was a few years ago. If only for the reason that anyone who takes the risk of stealing them, (nominal though that risk be considering the fact that these symbols of our cultural ethos are kept with the care and respect usually reserved for cheap wedding presents given by distant relatives), is giving these works of heritage at least some respect. Hopefully once stolen, they will be sold to people who have some understanding of their value and who having paid a premium for them, will not keep them stacked one upon another if only to guard their “investment”.
And the most important reason why they should be stolen: a culture that does not respect its heritage does not deserve to have it.
Which is why when I read this a few days ago, I thought “good riddance”.
A national treasure trove of rare books, manuscripts and letters associated with Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Sarojini Naidu may have been stolen from Kolkata’s National Library.
Worse, there’s no way to know what exactly is missing, since the register containing records of the library’s Rare Books Division itself is untraceable.
The rare collection contains Tagore’s early works, letters of Netaji, manuscripts of Sarat Chandra and Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhaya, besides many valuable books from the 18th century and earlier. In fact, at least 40% of books and documents requisitioned by members from the entire library were reportedly not found, sources said.
Imagine my dismay when I read this a day hence.
Rare documents relating to Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and other great historical and literary giants are intact in the Kolkata-based National Library, the government clarified on Tuesday.
R Ramachandran, director-in-charge of the National Library, said: “No such documents relating to Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Sarojini Naidu are missing or stolen from the library.”
Of course we have only the director’s word for that. The truth is that even if a large percentage of heritage works indeed vanished (if they have not already), not many would notice. Or even worse care.
And why do they not care? Some of you may be a little surprised why we Bengalis, who always take supreme pride in our heritage and culture and love to take to the streets at the drop of a hat, are not enraged enough to hold the government accountable for their vandalism through negligence.
The explanation is simple.
It is true that we Bengalis are passionately concerned about or culture and our language—except that what really rocks our boat is whether Sourav Ganguly stays in the team, or whether Shahrukh Khan speaks a word in Bangla, or whether “local boy” Aneek beats Raja Hasan in a reality singing show and most importantly whether our state has been hard-done by the “others”—be it the Center or the BCCI.
If however it is Bengalis themselves (like Buddha-babu’s minions) who are destroying Bengali heritage, then all we do is utter a weak “Haloom” between sips of tea and busy ourselves watching Sanchita Bhattacharya, Bengal’s pride, performing on Zee TV’s “Ek se badkar Ek”.