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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The Tapas Bar

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Long time readers of my blog would remember that at a time that the Bangali bhodrolok were cheerleading Didi’s agenda of poriborton, I had sounded what had then seemed to be a discordant note. My contention had been that there would be a poriborton under Mamata Banerjee, but for the worse, a roll-back to the dark old days of the 70s and the 80s, because while she remained pathogenically opposed to the CPM as a party, she fully endorsed the CPM’s strategy of agitation and governance.

A few years down the line, I am proud of my Paul  the Octopussness. The hold of Trinamool Congress over Bengal is absolute in the way Jyoti Basu’s CPM’s once was (Buddha’ s CPM tried to be different, albeit imperfectly, and that’s what led to its downfall). Like the CPM party, the TMC has been absorbed into every organ of the administration, the “government” and the “party” is one and the same. The police, like it was during the darkest days of CPM’s rule, is an extension of TMC, incapable of independent function. The opposition has been decimated, through absorption (many of the CPM’s muscle has just crossed parties), through exclusion (If you are not TMC, you will find it difficult to ply your trade in the state of Bengal) and, as Tapas Pal’s recent video so amply demonstrates, through direct threats of violence.

Again nothing new in Bengal. The CPM had done it for decades. Now it’s TMC’s turn.

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