Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Re brishti dhore ja, nebur pata koromcha...
"This land of rivers is a land of floods, of great movements of water and the breaking and desolating of banks: Jibanananda Das wrote of the sad green river-shores of Bengal. It has been, well into a period of living memory, a land of famine, natural and man-made. Particularly within living memory, it has been a land of conflict and uprooting and helpless suffering for millions -- more millions than ever in human history on a comparable area of the earth’s surface. (This is statistics not rhetoric.) Much in Bengal’s past is of a piece with its recent predicaments. It was that past which, not so long ago as historical time goes, refashioned a harvest festival in the light of a singular combination of myths to create the unique worship of an eminently protective, eminently affective mother-goddess. That worship has so far retained its vitality, as social though not religious ritual. (The priest is one of the most poorly-paid functionaries at Durga Puja, below the image-maker, and far below the lights technician.) Not all the canned music and electric gimmickry, appropriation by political parties and gut-level street vulgarity, has been able to dispel the latent meaning of the exercise, simply because one must enact it if one goes through the exercise at all.
Durga Puja thus articulates that peculiar vein of sentiment for which the Bengali is marked, not to say stigmatised, by the world and by himself. It can, and often does, degenerate into banal sentimentalism; it induces unproductive stances and ineffectual scruples that prevent it from asserting its place in the world, or from doing any good to oneself or others. But it proves to be a compelling legacy that makes one look at the world in unusual lights, and from time to time makes possible some unusual gift of service or insight."
(Picture of crow at Kumartuli by Amit Datta of The Telegraph, Calcutta, in a rainy September, 2005; words by Sukanta Chaudhuri in The Asian Age, in a rainy October, 1999.)