Darkest Hour at the Oscars

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Whether for good or bad, the Oscars have, over the last few years, become super political. What used to be a few jokes, a few reaction shots, a few fashion flaws, and gush talk about movies that people claim to have seen but really haven’t, has now become almost political theater, with issues of representation, racism, colonialism, police brutality, sexism, harassment, front and center in glittering marquee lights. Some may say that by moving away from being an anodyne apolitical platform, the Oscars have somehow recaptured its relevance, its mind space, that the Oscars are water cooler talk again, even by people who have never seen or will see the Shape of Water, a love story of a human and a fish, one you can see for free at any Bengali lunch.

But I digress.

Given how woke the Academy has become, their decision to recognize, with one of its premiere awards, “Darkest Hour”, a hagiography of British war-time Prime Minister and unapologetic South Asian killer Sir Winston Churchill, is beyond reprehensible. Maybe in the 80s and the 90s, when no one cared, I would not have batted an eyelid, but now, now given the widely tomtommed sensitivity on the part of the Academy to the recognition of marginalized narratives, the fact that the Committee chose to reward a movie that airbrushes Churchill’s role in the genocide of 2 million official (some say it is close to 4 million) in India and Bangladesh, just goes to show that not all marginalized are treated equal,  and that Churchill being the savior of Europe still gives his reputation the immunity from having to answer for his crimes in India.

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Dhulagarh and the Media Narrative

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In this excellent piece in Newslaundry, titled “Dhulagarh Riots: Why did Bengal media ignore it?”, Deepanjana Pal writes:

For approximately four hours, Dhulagarh burned. Shops were set on fire in the local bazaar and looted. The mob attacked homes, looting them and lobbing bombs – crude contraptions that are far more dangerous cousins of the pataka – at them. Eye witnesses say Hindu households were targeted. “You have to understand, everyone knows everyone in places that are this small,” said one reporter. “Hindus and Muslims live in separate neighbourhoods, but together. So when this happened, some of them recognised those who were attacking them and when they didn’t recognise them, they knew these were outsiders.” One temple was attacked and its idol – of Kali, the goddess best known for her all-destroying rage – was broken. There are reports of Hindu families having fled to neighbouring villages.

All this violence took place in broad daylight. In the videos that have been circulated, no one is seen wearing masks. It’s all out in the open and witnessed by locals who tried to get in touch with journalists. From the videos and photographs that were shared, it almost seems like the locals did the actual on-ground reporting. They were desperate to talk and be heard. Unfortunately, few listened and Dhulagarh was barely mentioned in mainstream Bengali news. (emphasis mine)

“What we were told was that since this is a communal issue, we should approach it cautiously and underplay it so that things don’t flare up,” said one journalist.

So the excuse being offered is that because reporting a communal incident might provoke other communal incidents, mediamen refuse to cover communal flareups.

The only problem with this is simply this.

It is not true.

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The Legend of Mem Bou

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There are many privileges of being born Bengali.

I can live in a glorious past. I can appreciate Ray without subtitles. I can marvel at the Ma Maati Manush alliterative chchondo of Didi’s poems, by the grace of Ma Sharda. I can tremble my voice during elocution. I can consider telebhaja to be an industry.

And most of all, I can derive pride from the awesomeness of the new viral meme.

Mem Bou.

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The Bhodrolok and the Trinamool

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“If none of us voted for Trinamool, how did they win?” When I got this message on Whatsapp from a friend, I couldn’t but help suppress a smile. It went on “Everyone I talked to are disgusted with Didi, and yet, how does it keep winning bigger and bigger every time.”

There was a time when those outside the state could not understand its politics, like how it kept voting for a moribund CPM government for over thirty years. Now even those inside don’t quite understand why.

But they should. They should understand it very well.

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Scenes from An Election

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If, like me, you have sat through hours of Bengali marriage videos of others (mostly uncles and aunts), you would be more than aware of the song that always plays in the background: “Laaje ranga holo kone bou go, Aaj mala bodol hobe e raate” (The new wife has gone red with shyness, Tonight the garlands will be exchanged). And if there is any picture for which that song is appropriate, it is this. Politics, they say, make strange bedfellows, and stranger still, is when they have pictures taken like the one above. The alliance between Congress and the CPM is one that is at the same time bizzarre, given their history in Bengal politics, as well as irrelevant, given that Mamata Banerjee will win. If there is any tragedy here it is that of Buddhadeb, arguably the best Chief Minister of Bengal after Bidhan Roy, being brought out of his political crypt and being made to “marry”, like some Kuleen Brahmin senile of a century ago, a man-child, perennially in his political training pants.

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NABC Diaries Part 2

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[First part here]

The next day (Saturday) was my session (or rather the first of the two that I did). So after a lengthy epoch of  “saajuguju” (dress-up), I arrived at the convention center, in an ethnic kurta (what Bengalis call Punjabi) and a six-pocket, a slight variation on the uniform of the internationalized Bangali intellectual, which is kurta-jeans. If I was trying for a more provincial look, I would have gone with a dhoti, but I just cannot say the word dhoti without the song “Mirchi re mirchi kamaal kar gayee, dhoti ko phar ke rumaal kar gayee” popping into my head,  washing away my train of thought in a jetstream of apasanskriti (bad culture), which we can all agree would have a disastrous fallout in the cultural cleanroom I was walking into. Also I can’t tie a dhoti.

Anyways, as I entered the venue, I saw this sign below. This was intriguing because the words “Jatin Pandit”, “free breakfast”, and “lipid tests” normally don’t go together.

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So I trundled off to the exhibition hall, where saris and jewelry were being sold, and though unfortunately the free breakfast had ended, the concert was in full-swing. This was away from the main venue, perhaps because this was too Bollywood for the mainstream. I mean I get it,  traditionalist uncles sticking their nose up at Jatin Pandit and saying “This kind of music is not Bengali”, but then I would respond with even “lipid testing is not Bengali”, but that doesn’t mean we should not have it.

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NABC Diaries Part 1

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Culture is a word most treasured by Bengalis. Pronounced “kalchaar”, it conjures up multiple images in the Bong mind, of harmonium-handling humans swaying their heads in musical cadence to the rhythm of Rabindrasangeet, of the tremulous vocal-chord shaking of a Shombhu-Mitra-style elocution, of post-modern art drawn by a bearded once-Communist, of abstruse verse about a burning tree standing against a bare sky, of the screening of a Gautam Ghose or a Rituparno or a Satyajit Ray, or even the poetic stylings of Didi, though most who consider that high art are now all Trinamool MPs. Away from the homeland, in imperialistic capitalist America,  it is this culture that the Bengali immigrant misses the most. Of course they go back sometimes to this mythical “Bongoland” , for a month or so, but the entire time is taken up by going to State Bank of India renewing lockers, or fighting with real estate brokers and cousins out to grab you off your ancestral house, or  visiting homes of relatives you increasingly care less for, leaving precious little  for a concert or a play or a Charminar or an evening discussing the difference between Derrida, Neruda, Prabir-da and Florida.

The North American Bengali Conference, henceforth referred to as NABC understands this. Which is why every year they bring to the North American Bengalis a veritable cornucopia of culture, flying in top artists from the homeland, both Bengal and Bangladesh, for a carnival of color, chilli chicken and chaa.

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