Bengal’s Political Destiny vis-a-vis her Cultural Destiny
The Cyclonic Hindoo or the strange Indian?
Calcutta, London and Silchar, 2008
It can be safely presumed that every successful Indian for next thousand years will remain indebted to Swami Vivekananda directly or indirectly. He was cryptically silent or on undertone regarding contemporary politics and perhaps due to this attitude, like Tagore, he could freely choose his workmen in India, England and United States to build up an organization that had been global, huge and Sangha Extra-ordinary. A century after this lion hearted Sanyasin relinquished his body (Sannyasis never die, they just throw away the material body like we throw away an old cloth ) we have the advantage of time to understand him and his work in more an expansive manner and in doing so we will be encountering paradoxes after paradoxes, the points where history’s angel fluttered its wings more vigorously. Discussions on Swami Vivekananda, due to the very reason of his sponge-like historical position and character that soaked everything that was near its orbit will furnish us with a dynamic portrait consisting of following imageries :
1. Contemporary Bengal seen from the eye of one who has been connected with the tradition of Rammohan as well with Chaitanya.
2. The Indian thread that connects Bengal, North-India and Southern peninsula under the backdrop of India as British Colony and then a re-reading of the ancient Indian Tradition.
3. A much traveled man, with fortune curve of rags-to-riches character, an international prestige that few Indian could ever enjoy and the backing of an organization that stood the vicissitudes of a century.
4. A visionary, who could foresee the development of contemporary scientific ideas and their imminent crisis, emergence of United States as a powerful nation, rise of China and unification of working class on a global scale. Like a sublime man of marketing, he marketed the most subtle, most abstract and the towering Indian offering to the world when India’s most known label was – a poor, impoverished British Colony.
5. Creative genius of such scale that with all handicap, he focused on India’s core competencies to a world which was vibrant and yet untouched by the next two global wars. In this area, he remained a pioneer and a chain followed thereof. The tradition continues still and when in United States we hear success of Indians in business, science or spirituality, it owes its debt to the Sannyasin whose historic address of Brothers and Sisters of America, addressed posterity itself.
6. It has been a tragedy for Bengali language that it could not get the full harvest of his writings in Bengali. While he was writing in Bengali, the language was getting richer but its course of development was not yet clear. His slim Prachya and Paschatya (East and West) itself shows what a genius of a prose-writer he was, with personal gifts as well as the historical direction he pointed to. Loss of Bengali language was gain of world at large when this prose-writer was destined to be Swami Vivekananda.
The light that shines from the lives from great men will always be inspiration for a healthy race. It is only when a race is nearing degradation that it will stop worshipping genius because a genius is not a personality but a homecoming for humanity as a whole. Swami Vivekananda’s Life and Works is a Great Homecoming for all his Brothers and Sisters of the world.
The Pre-Requisite of being a True Bengali: Un-Bengali ?
Under the shadow of this great man in his time and beyond his time, we will enter into some of the paradoxes and his life and those paradoxes can be seen to be connected through a process study of which will provide a more intimate insight into the History of Bengal As a deliberate means to keep a kind of suspended judgment, I will not mark the paradoxes as we go along but my readers may well pick them up or feel them bound up in the very nature of things or as in this case, in the nature of narration itself.
Let me adopt the method of ‘voice without a form’ for the time being and ask the following to my fellow Bengalis, which means all who consider connected to Bengal or Bengalis
“Tell me, ye Bengalis, my brothers and sisters, tell me sincerely, can you cite any major breakthrough made by you for last fifty years, after independence? My fellow citizens of India, can we speak of any major advance made by us in any field that world has been wondering at ? Now just turn back and watch, watch your dear Capital Calcutta, not under self-rule and see with eyes and heart open – A Presidency Professor is demonstrating short-waves and microwave, a school drop-out is preparing to push our language’s evolution for thousand years, A statistician is dreaming of an Institution of global standard, a priest in a local temple is preaching like the Galilean Master – in parables. Some young men are working on a Reformation movement of an intractable definition defying term called Hinduism, a poet is writing blank-verse in a language that he is trying to forge, another aristocrat is giving the English a run for their money in shipping, another aristocrat and prodigal genius is translating Mahabharata, a southern scientific genius has arrived and he will soon shine in full splendour – Professor CV Raman, Dr. Saha is thinking on his formula, we have a procession of characters, Calcutta University is benchmarking itself with the greatest centres of learning in the world, Mr. Harish Mukherjee of Hindu Patriot will become the first Investigative journalist and his writings in Hindu Patriot will explode into a campaign, Rammohan Roy thinking about the fate of civilization and not nation and thinking of an international state, hundred years before Bertrand Russell was born. And finally, with magnetic eyes and athletic feature stands Swami Vivekananda, proud to be an Indian but relentless in attacking its shortcomings, his Wanderlust across India has been a counterpart of Ulysses travel and his Voice (He once spoke – I am a Voice without a Form – like Shelley’s – a chosen instrument of Melody), the deep, humane voice has been haunting us. Bengal, with an unerring insight has proved again a paradox and a lesson that has been forgotten time and again – In this landscape, cultural destiny will always govern political destiny. In a broad manner, Swamiji spoke about India, in a most-compressed way – Religion is the Life-breath of India. It was a theorem like statement and when he was speaking this, ideas of materialism was gaining ground in Europe and he followed it with a warning – If you follow this path of this materialism, within fifty years you will be extinct. Cry Calcutta, Cry for the aristocracy you have lost, Cry for the amnesia you have allowed to pass, Cry for child-like restlessness for being fashionable with the latest political ideal, Cry for your juvenile glee in getting easy and cheap international praise and Cry for the short-sightedness in making খুচরা হিসাব (petty accounting) with History, overlooking the Giant Landscape of Historical Future. My Bengal, Cry and your tears will trickle down to the Bay of Bengal, trickle across the ocean to connect where Indian Ocean flows at our motherland’s feet and where in an auspicious day, one of your greatest sons swam to point your Future and for this Great Country.”
The Lebensraum Struggle across Civilizations
When Swami Vivekananda was in France, it was La Belle Époque for France, still to be bled white in Verdun and Flanders. Paris was the centre of Europe and this european leadership of France was genuine, although it was ephemeral like any great balanced and beautiful moment of history. After one hundred years, while we look at our times, I would like to call this time of ours as The Halting of Civilizations. In science, after eighty years from the formulation of quantum mechanics, natural sciences is thirsty for a new leap, a new look forward. Literature, confused and lost lots of its non-literary flab. Politics, globally is following a very cautious and timid approach, very much outward activity but everybody seems to be in a mood of not caring about their long term significance. Perhaps, they have none, only full of sound and fury. Human Civilization, on a global scale is in a mood of halting, in the exact sense an Operating System goes into a halting condition under certain situations. Global economy is pushing towards a situation where collective ownership is replaced by singular or group ownership, with collective activity. Europe, with its keener sense of history and diversity is also halted but about its direction, we need to only study European History to find which direction it is moving. Asia, with the weight of ancient civilizations is showing a notable phenomena – earlier, the aristocrats were the first to imbibe European ideas and manners and now, with cheap network television and Internetworking, it is the plebeian who imbibes Western culture more and old aristocrats searching for lebensraum in the traditional cultural space. The Platonic world of brand finds its immediate shadow in the cultural space. Materialism, in the greatest irony of history is becoming an ally of Conscious Origin as genetic technologies are maturing to provide us a world where without Consciousness, the whole framework is becoming inconsistent. Old is casting its usual darker shadow on the present and on the Future, its shadow is becoming more darker and hence, we may conclude, stronger in influence. Our world is losing its bearings in providing a consistent explanation in all spheres of life ; a hitherto unknown expertise is matched against a pulverizing mesh of uncertainty. Rules of conflict has changed and so changed the game. Communities are having a high transnational content, in demographic calculation as well as in the domain of ideas, we are forced to have switched lives and so crisply noted by Italo Calvino : We are living our lives, switched between being an oppressor and exploited. We are opening up our old chests and vaults to search for pictures which may resemble what we see of ourselves in our trusty mirrors. But the trouble is this : In clearing the house for the then-new, we have thrown those to such distant and to-be-forgotten corner that we are finding it difficult to find where we have thrown and in more acute cases, whether we did throw them at all. Collective Remembering and repetition have proportionately aided in putting the memories in the corners and hence, in the long run, we as a civilization is suffering from a loss of memory, what inhabitants of Macando suffered in Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The Imaginary Timeship Journey
From the imaginary space of One Hundred Years of Solitude, we are approaching Bengal, with our dashboard clock showing a date somewhere in 1960s. Freedom is a twenty years old adolescence and showing all signs of delinquency. North-West Frontier – where Indic Civilization’s decisive strategic interest will always lie as long as something like geography exists, is becoming disturbed. China, so near but so far except once a genius from this land connected this land with us – Buddha, we are back some two millennia. There are still a huge industrial base by Ganges but the direction of time is ominous. The Political Party that went into Indrapratstha is becoming less and less creative and falling back onto imitation of what predecessors but did little understanding at that time that a different Trans-Atlantic power is emerging. Communism, approaching the iconic status of a new religion whose deeper theoretical aspects are too arcane but about its plebian part, everyone can understand fairly well. By that time, in Bengal, the idea of communism was a new religion and an icon – a land so full of imageries, icons and religious emotion. It was only after a decade, from another halt in its history, Bengal shot into Contemporary Headlines with two events which had more influence in world history than in Indian History. The Naxal Movement with its Romantic virtues and vices and later the terrible excesses made it clear that in 1990s, all potential likes of Murthy, Premji, Mittal from Bengal would be in the grave and secondly, one of the greatest refugee exodus would pass through its recent border, consolidating the forces that were in the wings. 1970-1977 – these seven years in the history of Bengal is a payback time to the historical account-book of ideas. In these seven years, Bengal shook itself from its colonial attitude, aligned itself with the most-fashionable ideologies of the time, with a usual but unusually passionate youthful energy, it announced that it knew the present and since it was all a deterministic social world – the future too. The price has been heavy. The last aligning with European ideas in 1800s was a necessity and a gradual process and it had given its advantages as well as baggage, but the alignment with Communist ideology with the hegemony of then-USSR, the process was neither gradual, nor with a creative shrewdness but like the whims of fashion. Fashion dies too young and hence its excesses are generally forgiven but a Community cannot calculate its strategy in fashionable terms. If it does so in a moment of fancy and whims and if it gets the backing of real talent and courage, society adjusts itself, cries for the loss of genuinely talented ones but clears the burden of the avant-garde. Bengal, always ready to sacrifice if a certain stability is provided by the ruler reacted in the exactly same way it did with Mughal Rulers, Company Bahadur, Queen Victoria’s Government, Indian Congress and Communist Party. It was a noted historian who spoke about this counter-production of revolution : All revolutions finally consolidate the power of the state. French Revolution gives a Napoleon, Russia – a Stalin, Naxal Movement – a Jyoti Basu. Here I would propose to apply the fundamentals of two theories to cross-check the excesses of the seventies – the theory of Malthus and a literary theme from Thomas Mann.
System Phenomena, as evolutionists and sociologists now agree, proceed in a direction without any pre-set plan; it’s only urge is like an organism unlike a mechanism. We react not exactly in a completely pre-set manner as otherwise we would have been unable to cope with new situations. This explains why Dinosaurs are not there in the world whereas we are. Now, all students of science has been taught some time other that if a system in equilibrium in certain sense is disturbed a little bit, it always tends to return back to the original equilibrium configuration. Although this law cannot be applied to social sciences in toto, but it can aid us in understanding a part process of system phenomena. But if the change from within or outside is beyond a limit, the social system settles into another new configuration, tending to again attain equilibrium. According the theory of Malthus, which is on a grosser plane says that Nature maintains this equilibrium by doing automatic changes in demography so as to maintain a resource base vis a vis Population. The theory of Thomas Mann is a restatement of the Greek hubris or ahangkar of Indian where a price needs to be paid for an unusually creative period. Nineteenth Century Germany exploded in creativity – we witnessed a procession of luminaries with projects that were ubermensch level, Twentieth Century Germany sang Deutschland Uber alles and gave us Hitler and Nazi Germany. My dear readers of Bengal, these themes were discussed by one of our greatest polymaths – Buddhadev Basu in 1960s, in his Collected Essays and when he was writing this, referring to Thomas Mann, he was perhaps knowing or half-knowing that similar phenomena will be confirmed in Bengal after twenty years. Naxal movement and subsequent unrestful years removed a considerable population in terms of potential and later the vacuum was filled by a gang whom Nature chooses to call as a statistic – in short we call as mob. 1971 – the emergence of Bangladesh and the refugee exodus changed the demography and aristocratic content of the Civilization of Bengal. A Bengali, quite naturally is very much land hungry because in very few places in the world we can find a land of such fertility. Secondly, it is a rare place where all seasons play their tone, thirdly, its agri-products has been feeding and inviting trouble from invaders. The massive refugee exodus exploded in a massive re-structuring of lands and hence the tradition of Permanent Settlement or bandobost came to an end. Calcutta, till then a city where Bengalis had a basa (place of habitation) and a bari (home) in some village changed its face. The Village home was no longer there, no longer was the ancestral land. For a considerable section of aristocracy, the dual address became a single one and that was Calcutta where the scion of a noble family fought for a clerk’s job at Writers along with a first generation refugee from East Bengal. Calcutta’s horoscope was crowded – so many people and they all searched for lands, for a place to stay and in the East, one of the worst genocides had just come to its bloody end.
It is fitting to note at this point of the solidarity of Bengali People. Bengalis, like all communities are not known to be very fair to their own kind in Bengal. But in 1970s, while Hindus and Muslims, alike started the Great Push towards West, Calcutta opened its arms. Congress Government of Bengal sought Central help and it was given. The brotherhood of Bengal, at large was apparent. It was the cultural thread and linguistic common belt that provided the unity. Bengalis from East Bengal, with the gift of colonizing changed the demographic face and with time, the demographic calculations in the ballot-box. After some ten years, this population will become the strongest champion of Communist Rule and more settlements will follow in border areas. Now just imagine – West Bengal had anticipated that a huge refugee population would overburden its resources and civic amenities, it closed its “borders” and not allowing any refugee entry. Why this did not happen owes to origin, first to a deliberate policy and secondly – the very cultural make-up of Bengal and Bengalis. This discussion is critical to again highlight our primary hypothesis that in this land, Cultural Destiny will always govern the long term political destiny.
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