Dear trolled-for-the-egg-roll blogger and many other Bengalis (from Kolkata),
The love for Durga brings us together for this conversation and we obviously have divergent views. Given the situation in Bengal, you probably have a greater need to establish a deeper connection with the goddess to calm your angst-filled souls, and us non-Bengalis are not competing.
In your article, you demarcated clear categories of we, Bengalis, us, ours, you and yours. Hence, I offer some uncomfortable truths from a non-Bengali perspective.
When you say, ‘why was a Bengali trolled’, is the emphasis on ‘why’ or on ‘Bengali’?
Can a Bengali not be trolled? The rest of us are trolled all the time. It is sad that some trolls abused Bengalis for their egg roll/meat-eating ways during Durga Puja. This trolling business and forced vegetarianism is part of pernicious politics of removing all traces of diversity within Hinduism.
The trolls never represent the masses nor uphold authenticity in the contest for ‘truth’. However, I am puzzled by so much outrage over trolls on a roll (pun intended). Making generalisations about entire regions and communities over egg rolls is taking the outrage too far.
You Think It Is Only 'Us' Who Voted in the BJP
Your view that – aided by this government – ‘mainstream North Indian Hindus’ are becoming the voice of the nation, is shared by the intellectual elites of this country, of which a vast number are Bengalis.
They believe that it is the Hindi-speaking people who got the BJP government elected in 2014. However, radical Hindutva has a long history in postcolonial India to which Bengalis have made enduring contributions. Additionally, the 2014 elections can also be analysed in more nuanced ways. But, why bother with nuance when convenient scapegoats are available.
You and your ilk have repeatedly reminded ‘us’ that the responsibility to uphold ‘your’ secularism or ‘your’ brand of liberal Hinduism is ‘ours’.
Dear Bengalis, Have You Ever Really Been to 'Mainstream' North India?
Have you travelled to ‘mainstream North India’ and lived among the bigoted who have become “the voice of the nation”? This region is disparagingly called the ‘cow belt’ and still fares poorly on most development indicators. For centuries, this region has been home to many Bengalis and South Indians. The latter may have experienced some discrimination but Bengalis have always held the best of jobs, the highest of social statuses, and had other privileges.
Outside Bengal, the steel plants in Jamshedpur, Rourkela, Bokaro and Bhilai have welcomed “probashi” Bengalis, and local communities have embraced many parts of their culture.
I spent my childhood in Ranchi living with Bengalis for whom Biharis and tribals of Jharkhand were lesser mortals without refined tastes. It was a social hierarchy that we all understood and lived with. Bengalis always speak to each other in their own language, even in the presence of non-Bengalis. You will never find the rest of us gravitating towards instant Bhojpuri or Maithili or Magahi for that matter.
I have Bengali friends whom I admire and from whom I have learnt both their language and culture. Sadly, the same curiosity is hardly ever reciprocated by Bengalis (barring exceptions).
Have You Ever Cared About Our Icons?
Have you ever cared to ‘know’ our icons? According to you, we live on sattu and thekuas; nothing like the refined Bengali cuisine.
It was common gossip in school that Bengali teachers always favoured Bengali pupils over ‘others’. Our Bengali friends imbibed ‘culture’ at home and in their ‘extra-curricular’ activities (singing, dancing) beyond school hours, while we day-dreamed and plotted our future beyond the drudgery of lower middle-class existence as first-generation school-goers in our families.
We had a lot of catching up to do with our ‘cultured’ Bengali neighbours and friends.
Since when have you cared about the ways in which non–Bengali ‘others’ celebrate Durga Puja to assume that Puja for us is havan, mantras, fasting and abstinence alone? And what if we do? What gives you the right to make fun of our piety? We see commercialisation of Durga Puja, Bengali-style but have rarely complained.
Please note I am saying ‘Puja’ not ‘Pujo’!
Of Cultural Hegemony and Arrogant Claims
Your hegemonic and arrogant cultural claims are rather insufferable in pieces like this. Durga belongs to all of us who wait for her every year, observing our fasts and traditional rituals without making any fuss as you do.
By us, I mean people from all the different parts of India and also non-resident Indians and other South Asians who celebrate the earthly visit of Ma Durga in their own way, with meat, with vegetables, with maybe nothing.
The rest of India does not celebrate Durga Puja because she is Bengal’s daughter and this is about ‘your’ Goddess coming home.
Quick fact check: Durga, the Shailaputri, is Himalaya’s daughter, whose permanent abode is the mountain.
If Bengali homecoming was so wonderful, widowed mothers and daughters of Bengal would not be languishing in the spiritual abodes of Vrindavan and Varanasi, abandoned by their wonderful Durga-loving children.
We have heard enough of your ‘mama’r-bari’ stories of the Puja. Media outlets from Kolkata carry daily instructions about the perfect ‘puja look’ and the chic wardrobe updates and accessories reflecting the latest haute couture.
How can we match your ‘Saptami’ morning looks or the ‘Ashtami’ evening ensemble or the more traditional ‘Dashami’ outfits sourced from the country’s best fashion design houses?
For Us, Pujas are More About Introspection
Our pujas are indeed less carnival-esque; a time to self-reflect. For us, Durga Puja is a memory of shared piety and escape from patriarchal routines. Unlike our Bengali friends who never tire of tales of their new wardrobe acquisitions for each day of the Puja, our are sombre affairs of fasting by mothers and grandmothers.
It would be a few days of respite from the ruthless demands of patriarchy; a powerful female deity to be celebrated and something for the women and girls of the household to look forward to.
I also recall many women in the neighbourhood, subjected to domestic abuse the year round, seeking refuge for a few days in the loving embrace of the divine Mother; some found Durga within themselves. You write that ‘your mother’ is not a submissive ‘cow’. This simply reflects ignorance, prejudice, and unnecessary provocation.
If you must know, cows are remarkably perceptive animals and they also know when to lead the charge. In any case, the ‘cow belt’ women are hardly submissive, or at least not more or less than your Bengal tigresses. It is just so easy to caricature ‘us’.
Bengalis Need a Crash Course on How the Rest of India Celebrates ‘Pujo’!
Our Durga is more than just a demon-killing, badass woman. She is also the meditating Brahmacharini, the benign Maha Gauri, the fierce Kaalratri, and the all-embracing Siddhidatri. Among her earthly activities this year, she is going to comfort those whose lives have been affected by the devastating floods in Bihar.
She is prepared to be reduced to a controversy yet again in Jharkhand, where communities are divided over the stories of her origins.
Dear Bengalis, you definitely need a crash course on how non-Bengali India celebrates Durga Puja, how she visits areas beyond Bengal (and Bengal is not just Kolkata, please).
Navratri is celebrated in other parts of India in their own distinct way. Nothing can match the creativity of the figurines displayed in the Bomma Golu (doll festival) in Tamil and Telugu households. The Gujarati Garba and Dandiya during Navratri is equally charming. Himachal and Uttarakhand have their own unique celebrations.
One trolling incident does not give us the complete picture. Radical Hindutva and the current dispensation has nothing to do with your general contempt for us – the ‘lesser mortals’, and by your logic, more bigoted ‘Hindi speaking North Indians’, as you address everyone who does not do ‘secular’ or ‘liberal’ Hinduism your way.
Playing by your rules, this generalised response was necessary to challenge your unacceptable cultural appropriation. As we say, anything for Durga.
On that note, I wish you and all Bengalis a very joyous and peaceful Durga Puja carnival. I am happy to fast, go vegetarian, and return to much-cherished moments of piety. You must have an extra egg roll on me, avoid those nasty trolls and remember to say hello in case our paths cross. Durga would not want it another way!
Swati Parashar (From the mainstream Hindi-speaking North Indian cow belt.)
(Dr Swati Parashar is a senior lecturer at the Peace and Development Research School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She tweets @swatipash. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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