It is well known in the rest of India that “Bengali”s are mad.
Never mess with a Bengali in an argument about the political situation in Peru or about the 15th century Japanese poet Suzuki. He has sharp opinions about such matters and will argue continuously till the next Durga Poojo to make his point. Then he will begin another interminable argument about Economics, Statistics or Political Science. You cannot win. A Bengali in the throes of a pointless argument is a terrible thing to behold.
But the real no-go zone is Tagore. The same National Anthem guy with the beard we aren’t allowed to forget even for a second.
Don’t you dare express ANY opinion about him, good or bad, because, if you’re not Bengali, then your argument about Tagore is asinine and absurd by definition and must be contested via poems, songs, debates, strikes and so on.
You get my drift?
In this dangerous place, you can make it worse by speaking casually about Shantiniketan. It is a Sacred Place. Culture, Music, Poetry, Samosas, hartals – everything emerged from here by the grace of Thakur da, who lived in Thakur Badi in Kolkata, a shrine of the cultured Bong nuts.
I happened to run into my good friend Dr. Mookerjee and in a quiet moment while he was resting between two hartals, he shared his impressions of his latest pilgrimage to Santiniketan.
Please read this at your own risk.
Shantiniketan: An abode for lunatic poets
It was wonderful staying at the run-down guest house at Shantiniketan. The rooms had no doors, the walls had fallen apart years ago, and there was no water supply. But there was a Trade Union Flag on top of the ruins. We settled into our wall-less and ceiling-less abode. All the mattresses were full of bedbugs and assorted used poems. I had come to Shantiniketan to desperately do some research into the effect of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems on the tribes of Inner Mongolia, all of whom died shortly after listening to them. I had a lump in my throat!
I strolled through the campus taking in the sights. The place was filled with weeds and the corpses of assassinated poets. At the southern edge, a strike was in full swing – the workers were demanding rosagollahs, TA/DA, less crazed poets and more incomprehensible prose.
There was also a counter-strike where the workers were threatening to work; a horrific possibility.
At the Northern border, some guys were disguised as Baul singers and were discussing how to steal the fifth copy of Tagore’s Nobel Prize; there was no point trying to prevent its theft, as I learned. In fact, trying to steal the medal had become the latest tourist attraction.
In the central courtyard, the faculty of the music department was on strike demanding something or the other, probably some tragic, new “Robindro Songeet” lyrics.
Elsewhere, painters were hurling paint at each other, upset by the political situation developing in Mauritania.
The Vice-Chancellor himself was on strike, demanding that he be suspended.
I felt a thrill of nostalgia; I was living and feeling history. I had a lump in my throat.
I went to the Library – almost all the books had been stolen and I leafed through a Xeroxed copy of Gitanjali, the only book left. The Library staff were on a hartal demanding TA/DA. It must have been just the same in Tagore’s time.
I again had a lump in my throat.
Someone told me about Jiban, a sculptor no one had heard of, including himself. I drank plenty of tea and ate one month old rosagollahs and went to visit Jiban. It was really dark. I climbed over the broken walls of this Institute for Culture, ran across verdant rice fields in pitch darkness. I was told he worked only at night; he couldn’t stand looking at his own work in daylight. I finally reached his hut, only to find that he was on strike. I asked him why but he had no answer. I took away some of his work; Jiban paid me to take it away, it was so bad. I’m glad I was wearing dark glasses at night.
I visited the house of a colleague at 2:15 am. He apologized profusely for sleeping at that hour. His wife said he had been writing incomprehensible poems non-stop for the past ten days and was exhausted. I understood. She gave me more rosagollahs. I saw the portrait of the Great Man peering down at us from the wall asking me if I had stolen his medal.
I promised to come back. My colleague wept, asking if it was really necessary to do so. To know and savour the taste of real Santiniketan one has to stay there, go on strike and steal the medal.
© Dr Mookerjee
I hope you see the point. Bengalis take these matters very very seriously. We cannot understand, because, according to the Bongs, what they say today, India will understand only tomorrow. So I’ll have to wait till tomorrow.
Meanwhile, let me get going with a spontaneous demonstration against the imperialist forces in southern Chile, while munching on Rosagollahs, writing a sad, sad, sad poem and listening to some mournful Robindro Songeet.