Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself has been pushing the Bengal-for-the-Bengali-speaking agenda to stop the phenomenal rise of the BJP in the state.
Kishore Bhimani, one of Kolkata and Bengal’s most illustrious sons, passed away on Thursday at 81.
While the family is originally from Mandvi in Gujarat’s Kutch, where a clock tower still stands proudly in his grandfather’s name, Kishore’s father Manu Bhai came to Kolkata before Independence. Manu Bhai used to help freedom fighters with money. He also supported Forward Bloc, led by Subhash Chandra Bose, during the nationalist movement.
Kishore was born and raised in Kolkata. He graduated from St Xaviers’ College and went to study at the London School of Economics.
He then joined The Statesman, worked as a beat reporter for about two years, and then switched to sports reporting. This shift ultimately shaped his destiny as one of India’s finest sports writers and commentators.
And as a distinguished Kolkatan and Bengali.
In the current political climate in the state, this will inevitably invite a question: “Was Kishore Bhimani a Bengali?”
Yes, he was.
He loved his city and the state. He spoke the language like his own, brought pride to its people, paid taxes there, voted, lived, laughed, breathed in the same smell of earth.
His passing away is an occasion for Bengal to introspect about decades of othering meted out to so-called ‘non-Bengalis’. Disparagingly addressing resident Marwadis as ‘mero’, Biharis as ‘khotta’, all Nepalis as ‘bahadur’ show how the river of cultural brilliance lost its way in the sand of shallow chauvinism.
Four decades of communist rule also contributed to this exclusionary pride and animosity. Not only did Bengalis lose their vibrant entrepreneurship of Dwarakanath Tagore to Amar Bose in the Bolshevik blight, but they also started resenting Marwadis and Gujaratis for creating and respecting wealth.
Even a towering intellectual and filmmaker like Satyajit Ray fell for stereotyping Marwadis as crassly money-minded traders in Nayak or Paras Pathar or the evil smuggler and treasure-grabber Maganlal Meghraj in Feluda.
This xenophobic strain has mutated under Mamata Banerjee. TMC cheerleaders like Garga Chatterjee started petty outfits like Bangla Pokkho (on Bengali’s side), which bullied people whose mother tongue is not Bengali. Garga and others even tried to stir up a Chalo Paltai (let’s change) movement to push for Bengali language supremacy in Assam. His comments on Ahoms ultimately backfired so badly that he was booked, and had to issue a grovelling video apology on social media.
The chief minister herself has been pushing the Bengal-for-the-Bengali-speaking agenda to stop the phenomenal rise of the BJP in the state. It has not got much traction as the BJP, which was so far known as ‘the party of non-Bengalis’, has made deep inroads into the Bengali household.
But politics apart, it is tragic and unjust to disown a vast section (around 15 percent of Bengal’s 13 million population) of extremely talented people living in and contributing to Bengal just because their mother tongue or origin happens to lie somewhere else. Along with Kishore Bhimani, Bengalis will be disowning the Birlas, Goenkas, Khaitans, Agarwals and Dhakukas who had made Kolkata a formidable economic engine.
From these billionaire families to the rickshaw pullers and taxi drivers and a million others in between are as Bengali as anyone else.
It is rare that an extraordinarily rich intellectual culture co-exists with some of the world’s finest business minds. Bengal is extremely lucky; Lakshmi and Saraswati do not always co-exist. The two streams of Bengalis coming together can unleash the state’s sleeping giant again.
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