Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Oh! Calcutta

Speaking of Calcutta, here is a rather gushing rave about Calcutta written by Hindustan Times editor Vir Sanghvi for the paper's 2004 Durga Puja 'special'. I have long been an admirer of Mr. Sanghvi's work and find myself agreeing with his position on most matters, including almost all the sentiments that he expresses in this article. Although, the article was emailed to me by the previously mentioned Very Special Lady (let's call her VSL), I have since found numerous links to it on Google. The popularity of the article shows that it obviously struck a chord with Bengalis everywhere and it is easy to understand why. It struck a chord with me too, but for a different reason.

I have absolutely no scientific or empirical evidence to back up what I am about to say, (which is why I am posting it on a blog), but it occurs to me that most gushing raves about Calcutta have a couple of things in common: a) they are written by people who have lived in Calcutta but are not Bengali and b) who have since moved out of Calcutta. Prime examples, other than Mr. Sanghvi, are Jug Suraiya and Bachi Karkaria.

Here's my theory - even though theorizing without data is a capital mistake according to Mr. Holmes: Non-bongs, or Hon-bongs, who have moved out of Calcutta feel slightly guilty of having done so, almost as if expecting Bengalis to accusingly say, "See, I told you they would not stay! They didn't really love the city." So, in order to prove themselves holier than the Pope, more Bengali than the Bengali, they periodically come up with a nostalgic, slightly romanticized account of how great the city is and what fun they had when they were there, before they succumbed to the lure of fame and fortune in points west. Thus, they feel compelled to wear, their fondness for all things Calcutta on their sleeves (the "even though I left, I still love you" move). Not only must they be fond of Calcutta, they must be seen to be fond of Calcutta.

The Bengali on other hand couldn't care less. To him, (or her), Calcutta is the greatest place on God's good earth, he knows it and doesn't give a flying fuck whether anyone else does or not. If everyone else thought Calcutta was shit-hole, it wouldn't make any more of a difference to him than if everyone else agreed that it was the greatest place on earth. He is secure in his knowledge of the greatness of Calcutta, that's all that matters and he has no need for affirmation, flashy displays of affection... or even gushing raves in Durga Puja specials.

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