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The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community review: A people and its contradictions

The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community Sudeep Chakravarti Aleph ₹799

Cataloguing failures and frustrations of Bengalis, their sense of self, culture, and radical and reactionary politics

Portraits of a people are difficult to pull off, unless attempted with love, irony, and aplomb. Sudeep Chakravarti does not fall short on these counts in his whirlwind cultural, social and political history of the Bengalis, a community as notorious for its factiousness, chauvinism, and obstinate perseverance in self-harm as for its tolerance, cosmopolitanism, creativity and intellectual brilliance.

Written with verve, energy, and polish, and drawing on considerable resources, both anecdotal and archival, Chakravarti’s book takes its place beside other contemporary attempts at ‘collective’ portraiture, such as Jeremy Paxman’s The English (1998) and John Hooper’s The Italians (2015). Such attempts frequently founder on the need to both explode myths and sustain them. In The Italians, Hooper quoted Orson Welles’s famous insertion in Graham Greene’s script for The Third Man (1949), to the effect that Italy under the murderous Borgias produced the Renaissance, while five hundred years of democracy in Switzerland produced only the cuckoo clock. Chakravarti is alert to the dangers of such sensationalism, cataloguing Bengal and the Bengalis’ frustrations and failures with as much sympathy and perception as their undeniable record of achievement in the arts and sciences, and in the making of modern India and Bangladesh. The great strength of his account is that it treats the Bengalis, despite their self-imposed divisions, as one people, and accordingly looks at the history of both east and west — that is, both modern West Bengal and Bangladesh.

Literary, other pegs

A sense of history is at the core of this book’s success: the sections I read with most absorption were on the origins of the Bengalis, their mongrel ethnicity, their religious dissensions, their syncreticism and cosmopolitanism, their politics — radical and reactionary — and their formative historical crises, such as the 1943 famine, the Tebhaga land agitation, Partition, Naxalbari, muktijuddho (Bangladesh liberation war) and the birth of a new nation. Chakravarti’s own family, with its roots in East Bengal, and its network of connections across borders and religions, in Bangladesh and India (not to speak of the inevitable diaspora) provides an invaluable anecdotal substratum to the more contemporary passages of this account. So too does the material taken from Chakravarti’s experiences as a reporter, looking especially at Naxalbari and latter-day Maoist insurgency in jangalmahal.

By comparison, the descriptions of gastronomy, literature, cinema and music seem conventional and uninspired — there are the obligatory accounts of the Tagores, of Nazrul, of the modern novelists, of children’s literature, of cinema with its great auteurs, but modern Bengali poets and filmstars are notably absent (no Shakti, no Sunil, no Uttam, no Suchitra). The six Bengali seasons, and the riverine landscape, are poetically noted, but less attention is paid to the physical realities of urban settings and their transformation in the wake of Partition. On the whole these are minor omissions — obviously a single book attempting to portray a community has to leave out almost as much as it includes, or be reduced to the kind of breathless, impressionistic list of ‘Bengali’ attributes that appears on the back cover.

The bhadralok view

But another problem, to which Chakravarti is undoubtedly sensitive, though he fails to resolve it, is that this is very much a bhadralok (‘gentry’) account of the Bengali ‘sense of self’. While Chakravarti is at pains to explain the mixed, overwhelmingly non-Aryan, non-Brahmin and non-Ashrafi composition of the Bengali people, and offers fascinating vignettes of the rise (and fall) of Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Praja Party, as well as of peasant rebellion, religious hatred, and uprisings fuelled by caste and class oppression, the collective ‘subject’ that emerges remains resolutely fixed in its bhadralok status, fenced round by references to art, literature, food and clothes. Given that this species is not only dying, but perhaps already dead in Bengal today, the cultural chronicler needs to break out of the bubble of self-love created by the delusional Bengali gentry, and look more closely at the actual majority of the population. Some unexpected insights might have resulted from such a study, though it is also true that the aura — or miasma — of bhadralok culture is hard to dismiss in its entirety.

In a sense, the Bengalis are what they believe themselves to be, and their aspirations are closely identified with the image of itself that an educated, upwardly mobile class started peddling to the world from around the 19th century onwards. History is cruel to such delusions, and Chakravarti records with sympathy and intelligence the enormous traumas produced by cataclysms like the famine, Partition, peasant uprisings and labour unrest. But what of those labouring masses, those refugees and small entrepreneurs, shopkeepers and vegetable sellers, hustlers and dealers, farmers and craftspersons, first generation schoolgoers and dropouts? They are Bengalis too, but not as easily identified by the cultural clichés common in Bengali bhadralok parlance (Rabindrasangeet, film clubs, fine cooking, literature, and so on). To do Chakravarti justice, he is unremittingly aware of these cracks in the Bengali self-portrait, and his account is politically aware and historically faithful, even though he never quite makes the (very Bengali) transition from amra to ora, ‘we’ to ‘they’.

The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community; Sudeep Chakravarti, Aleph, ₹799.

source: / The Hindu / Home> Books> Review / by Supriya Chaudhuri / November 18th, 2017

Danish tavern decked up to start second innings in Serampore

Kolkata :

The double-storey Denmark Tavern, which was in a shambles till a couple of years ago, will soon turn into a lifestyle stay. The edifice on the banks of the Hooghly in Serampore will be Bengal’s second government-backed live-and-conserve endeavour after the St Olav’s Church project, which was restored last year and is in back in use for prayers and religious ceremonies.

Come February and CM Mamata Banerjee will open the doors of Denmark Tavern that has risen out of debris after being painstakingly restored by the National Museum of Denmark (NMD) in tandem with the West Bengal Heritage Commission. The NMD has funded the Rs 3.5-crore restoration and the state tourism department is paying another Rs 1.2 crore for the finishing. It will be running the cafe-by-the-river, which will have six overnight-stay rooms.

The Serampore riverfront, which looked picture perfect during the Danish rule, fell on bad times and the majestic structures were left to rot for decades. In 2012, things started changing with Serampore Initiative, the grand revival of the former Danish colony. The Denmark Tavern restoration is part of the big plans to bring back the old glory of the former Danish colony.

“We are extremely excited about the completion of the Denmark Tavern, which was the most challenging of the restoration work we have done in Serampore,” Bente Wolff, curator, National Museum of Denmark, told TOI from Copenhagen. Over last several months, Wolff has been flying in and out of Serampore to supervise the restoration work.

“This is the first public-private partnership in the heritage sector at this scale. This will give a fillip to the CM’s pet project of river cruise linking all the heritage towns along the Hooghly,” said Manish Chakraborti, the project’s conservation architect
Clearing the morass and rescuing the tavern was the most formidable task ever, said Suvaprasanna, chairman of the commission. “The challenge was in connecting history with architecture. For instance, the exact location of the tavern was not known. Finally, we found documents showing it was next to the SDO’s residence. It took one-and-a-half months to clear the debris,” he said.

“Denmark’s interest in reviving the remnants of the buildings first started in 2008 at the ethnographic department of the National Museum of Denmark,” added commission member Partha Ranjan Das. Archival and field studies were carried out between November 2008 and April 2009 by restoration architect Flemming Aalund and historian Simon Ranten, who produced an elaborate, report.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Ajanta Chakraborty / TNN / November 21st, 2017

Veteran Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi passes away

Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi

He had been in coma since 2008.

Senior Congress leader and former Union Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi passed away on Monday at a private hospital in New Delhi. He was 72.

Mr. Dasmunsi suffered a massive stroke and paralysis in October 2008 and slipped to comatose. He was treated in Apollo Hospital in New Delhi since 2009. “He breathed his last at 12:10 pm. He developed chest infection last month and it worsened his condition,” sources in the hospital said.

“I just received the news of sad demise of former Union Minister, former West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee President and our beloved leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi,” State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury stated in a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

“Our deepest condolences on the passing of respected Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, our veteran Congress leader and former union minister. He will be greatly remembered for his contributions, especially to Indian Football,” @INCIndia, the official Twitter account of the Congress tweeted.

Mr. Dasmunsi served as the president of the All India Football Federation for nearly two deacdes. A West Bengal strongman, he represented Raiganj from 1999 till he fell ill. He was the I&B Minister during Monmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government. It was during his term Fashion TV was briefly banned for showing “obscene” content.

Mr. Dasmunsi was the West Bengal State Congress president from 1970 to 1971.

He is survived by wife Deepa, a Congress politician, and son Priyadeep.

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> States> Other States / by Staff Reporter / Kolkata – November 20th, 2017

Kolkata hosts conference and live workshop on colorectal diseases


The next few days the city will witness a series of brain storming session on the updates, insights and latest treatment modalities on colorectal diseases. Colorectal surgeons, gastroenterologists, radiologists, and oncologists from across the globe have already arrived in Kolkata to exchange knowledge and through hands-on workshop and conference. Organised by CK Birla Hospitals – CMRI, Gastrocon was flagged off on Friday.

“We are increasingly seeing diseases that were relatively uncommon in the past. Colorectal diseases are one such spectrum, where doctors have had to evolve in their knowledge to cope with increasing demands. This conference attempts to gather doctors from different disciplines under one roof to try and provide a holistic approach to colorectal diseases,” said Dr. Sanjay De Bakshi, Senior Consultant.

The third most common malignancy across the world is colon cancer. It accounts for nearly 1.4 million new cases and 6, 94,000 deaths per year. The high incidence rate is possibly due to the modern lifestyle and unhealthy diet. Through Gastrocon the hospitals also aims to create awareness about the disease available diagnostic and treatment options.

“As we are a research oriented institute we are continuously deliberating and coming out with the best possible solutions for our patients. With Gastrocon, we aim to create a common platform of knowledge sharing between the medical community and our patients where we intend to spread awareness and in turn educate them on how to deal with all kinds of colorectal diseases,” said Uttam Bose, CEO. CK Birla Hospitals – CMRI.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Sumati Yengkhom /TNN / November 17th, 2017

The Indian in the Yasukuni Shrine

Plaque in Yasukuni Shrine, northwest of Tokyo’s imperial palace, features a large black and white photograph of an Indian judge: Radha Binod Pal (1886-1967).

To the northwest of Tokyo’s imperial palace, the Yasukuni Shrine is a 148-year old complex of memorials and cherry tree-dotted grounds, commemorating those who died in the service of Japan between 1869 and 1947.

It has emerged as the symbol of Japan’s fraught relations with its neighbouring countries and its own uncomfortable relationship with its Second World War history. Among the two million people buried there are 1,068 convicted war criminals. Fourteen of these are categorised as ‘Class A’ criminals, found guilty of a special category of “crimes against peace and humanity” by the 11-member team of justices from Allied countries that made up the 1946 Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Visits to Yasukuni by senior Japanese politicians are viewed by neighbouring countries, in particular China and South Korea, as provocations, tantamount to a denial of war crimes. Japanese nationalists believe Yasukuni visits to be a justified exercise of sovereignty, indicating a moving on from what they consider to be an overly apologetic stance to the war. On the day this correspondent visited, there were scant traces of these bitter recriminations. A series of memorials dedicated to military horses, pigeon carriers and dogs charmed camera-wielding tourists. But the plaque attracting the tightest knots of visitors featured a large black and white photograph of an Indian judge: Radha Binod Pal.

In Japan, this Bengali jurist elicits the kind of recognition and reverence that other countries reserve for the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Biographical mini series about the judge are aired on Japanese TV, memorials to him have been erected in Tokyo and Kyoto, and books debating his legacy are published every few years. The average Indian would be hard-pressed to identify Justice Pal at all. Until the war, he was best known for his contributions to the Indian Income Tax Act, 1922. His international profile comes from his participation in, and eventual dissent from, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Twenty-five of Japan’s top wartime leaders were convicted by the tribunal of the new category of ‘Class A’ charges. Going against the grain of Allied judgment, Pal issued a 1,235-page dissent in which he rejected the creation of the ‘Class A’ category as ex post facto law. He further slammed the trials as the “sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge”. And he argued that the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should also be counted as major war crimes.

Procedural flaws

The Indian judge tends to be valorised by Japanese nationalists and historical revisionists who seek to deny Japan’s wartime culpability. But in fact the jurist did not absolve Japan. His intention was rather to highlight the flaws in the legal process of the trial. Since all the judges were appointed by victor nations, the Indian justice thought the trial to be biased and motivated by revenge.

In his 2007 book on Pal, Takashi Nakajima, an Associate Professor at Hokkaido University’s Public Policy School, criticises right-wing supporters of Pal for relying on out-of-context quotes from the dissenting judgment. Pal’s dissent ran to a quarter of a million words, but Prof. Nakajima says that only a handful of quotes tend to be used by historical revisionists as ballast for their agenda.

Back at the shrine, a Japanese tourist gazed at the Pal memorial, silently mouthing the words written on the plaque: “When Time shall have softened passion and prejudice… then Justice, holding evenly her scales, will require much of past censure and praise to change places.”

(Pallavi Aiyar is an author and journalist based in Tokyo)

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Tokyo Despatch – International / Pallavi Aiyar / November 18th, 2017

Policing feather in city girl cap

Millie Banerjee


Calcutta-born Millie Banerjee has been appointed the new chairman of the UK’s College of Policing.

Actually, she has been interim chairman since November last year so her appointment was today made permanent by the home secretary, Amber Rudd.

“Working with Millie over the last year I have been impressed by the insight she brings from her time leading other public and commercial organisations, including the British Transport Police,” Rudd said on Thursday.

Millie’s responsibilities are highly sensitive – keep an eye on “standards in policing” across the 43 police forces in England and Wales; developing knowledge and “what works”; and assisting with education and career development.

It is possible she will want to exchange notes on policing in Calcutta.

“Millie” is really her nickname but it has come to stay as she has become part of the great and good in Britain. She was born Urmila Ray-Chaudhuri in Calcutta on June 30, 1946, and is friendly with a number of prominent figures in the city, among them the physicist Bikash Sinha.

Millie, who was honoured with a CBE on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2002 and was High Sheriff of Greater London in 2012-13, was chairman of the British Transport Police Authority for seven years and spent 30 years in the telecommunications and satellite industries. This included 25 years with BT in senior positions.

She is currently the chairman of NHS Blood and Transplant and a board member of East London NHS Foundation Trust.

Reacting to her confirmation, Millie said: “I have spent many years in policing and it has been a privilege to witness the dedication and compassion of officers and staff to protect the public. This is evident when I see that public approval for police has remained high despite officers and staff being faced with ever more complex crime, a reduced workforce and greater demand.

“We are dedicated to providing access to the best knowledge and skills which sits behind the bravery, dedication and compassion shown by police on a daily basis. We have ambitious plans ahead and I intend on working with people across policing to continue building a professional body that supports all officers and staff.”

source: / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / Home> Calcuttu / by Amit Roy / November 17th, 2017

Alumni Mentor IIT Kharagpur Students for Social Entrepreneurship

Kolkata :

Alumni of IIT Kharagpur have come forward to mentor students of the esteemed Institute to encourage them pursue career in the area of Social Entrepreneurship. The activity is part of the Students-Alumni Meet organized by the Students’ Alumni Cell (SAC) of IIT Kharagpur.

The event was organized in collaboration with the alumni association at the Kolkata campus of IIT Kharagpur. The alumni shared their experience in the domain of Social Entrepreneurship.

“Few young people are aware of the opportunities in this area which is actually blooming keeping in mind the government schemes such as Standup India and Startup India in place,” said Vishal Singh, General Secretary of Students’ Alumni Cell.

The students organized a competition where alumni and students were grouped together into teams of 5 each and were given a problem statement related to Social Entrepreneurship to discuss and debate amongst them and come up with an implementable business model.

Under the guidance of the knowledgeable and experienced alumni in each team, the students came up with innovative ideas and talked about the necessity, economic stability and sustainability of their solutions. This also led to a healthy debate among the crowd about the pros and cons of the model and how it could be improvised.

Students in consultation with Alumni presented on various Social Entrepreneurship models on areas like Eco Tourism, Resource sustainability, Growth and development of villages using natural resources etc.

The group leaders have been asked to further work on the subject and send an executive summary of the proposed social Entrepreneurship model for circulation among Alumni so that they can suitably contribute for execution / sustainability of the model.

“We will review the projects and approach alumni who are experts in these domains to mentor the students on the project proposals to develop business models. Some of the domain experts were present during the event and several of the other alumni we will help the students connect with,” said Siddharth Roychowdhury, Secretary of IIT Kharagpur Alumni Association Kolkata Chapter.

The guest speaker of the event was IIT Kharagpur alumnus Shri Amitava Bhattacharya who is also an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and the founder of, a social enterprise in the socio-cultural domain. He mesmerized the audience with a talk on his life journey and how it led him to found his successful venture His conceptualization and perception gave a new insight on the idea and notion of Social Entrepreneurship to the audience. Through, Bhattacharya fosters inclusive and sustainable development using culture based approache for protection of rights of women, children and indigenous people.

“We have several other well-known social entrepreneurs from IIT Kharagpur like Dr. Harish Hande of SELCO, a Magsaysay Awardee, Shri Vinayak Lohani, Founder of Parivaar, a humanitarian institution, National Awardee for Child Welfare, Shri Dipak Basu, founder of Anudip Foundation, a nonprofit company dedicated to improving livelihoods of rural poor in developing countries through training in information technology and entrepreneurship.

These people have achieved more than personal success. Through their ventures they have brought significant changes in the world around. Through this initiative we are striving to inspire the students to explore opportunities in the domain of social entrepreneurship,” added Vishal.

SAC held similar events at Mumbai on ‘Make in India’ and Bangalore on career guidance. Similar events have been planned at Delhi and Hyderabad during the winter recess. “The Students Alumni Meet serves as a platform to encourage students from IIT Kharagpur look beyond the narrow idea of career for a livelihood and find a passion which they can use to impact the world.

The talent which the students of the Institute foster in the 4-5 years of study is much more than internships and placements and the alumni serve as just the perfect guide to open the realms of their passion which they can pursue as successful career” said Bharat Chandra, another student lead of the Cell.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News> Schools & Colleges / November 16th, 2017

Sweet victory: Bengal wins bitter battle over rasogolla

Kolkata :

It was a bitter battle but, in the end, victory was sweet. Bengal has won the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Banglar Rasogolla, a sweet the state has almost been synonymous with, beating Odisha in a hard-fought war. The win came on Tuesday which was, ironically, World Diabetes Day.

The verdict comes after a two-year-two-month-old battle that the two states fought in the intellectual property wing of the ministry of commerce, which confers the tag. The war over the ubiquitous sweet was, by no means, simple: each state submitted reams of theses supporting their respective claims, drafted by historians, food technologists and even bure-aucrats. In the end, the first use of chhana (curdled milk) in making Bengal’s best-known sweet clinched victory.

The GI website mentions Banglar Rasogolla as “registered” for the coveted GI tag. The item was applicant number 533, and was registered as the 308th item to win the tag.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is in the UK now, expressed her joy in a tweet. “Sweet news for us all. We are very happy and proud that #Bengal has been granted GI ( Geographical Indication) status for Rosogolla,” she wrote. State higher education minister Partha Chatterjee, too, was ecstatic.

“We had applied for the GI tag in 2015,” said food processing secretary Nandini Chakraborty. “Rasogolla — under the name Banglar Rasogolla — will be registered under the Food Processing and Horticulture Development Corporation Ltd.”

Bengal perhaps never imagined that it would one day have to stake a claim on the rasogolla, but a claim made by the Odisha government, on the day of Ulta Ratha, 2015, saying the day should be declared as Odisha’s Rasogolla Day, made it sit up and take note.

Soon, Odisha applied for a GI tag on the rasogolla and Bengal’s science and technology department, prodded by thousands of rasogolla fans, lodged a counter-claim. In September 2015, the state prepared a dossier containing all sorts of proof — documents, historical texts and analogies — in support of its claim that the rasogolla was native to Bengal, and had been invented in two stages in two completely different historical time zones. The claim was registered by the GI registrations office and separate investigations were launched to authenticate the respective claims.

The Bengal government consulted sweets researcher Haripada Bhowmick for the historicity of the rasogolla, while the Odisha government got Jagannath cult researcher Asit Mohanty to look into its claim. Bhowmick’s book ‘Rasogolla — Banglar Jagat Matano Abishkar’, has been used as part of the material that was submitted to the GI office. Odisha evoked its gods and temples while staking its claim, replete with references of how Lord Jagannath used the kheermohan, the precursor of the rasogolla, to appease his consort goddess Lakshmi. And why mythology alone, even ancient history — from the time of the Dandi Ramayana, an adaptation of the epic by Balaram Das of the 16th century — has been used as reference. Bengal, too, has argued that it can trace the roots of the rasogolla to the times of the Bhakti movement of the 15th century and how Mahaprabhu Sri Chaitanya might have taken the sweet, in its formative stage, from Bengal to Odisha, when he started residing in Puri. Food writers who have been watching this space said the two states agreed on the antiquity of the sweet, if not its place of origin.

“We stand vindicated today,” said Mohua Hom Chowdhury, representative of the state science and technology department, who had coordinated the process with the GI registration office. “There should not have been any debate in the first place. We were rooting for our Banglar Rasogolla, which should not be confused with their kheermohan or their pahala rasogolla, which might be later variations, but are completely different sweets.”

Bengal has explained that the art of rasogolla-making lies in the use of chhana (Bengal-style cottage cheese). “Bengal is the only state that uses chhana, which is curdled milk, to make sweets. The process of curdling is considered ‘unholy’ by most communities including Odiyas, who never offered any sweet to Lord Jagannath made of chhana. The temple records that contain details of the food that can be served to the Jagannath does not mention rasagolla anywhere. To prove its point, the Bengal dossier quotes liberally from historical texts, records and literature like ‘Nadia Kahini’ by Kumudnath Mullick, proceedings of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, translations from the ‘Chaitanya Charitamrita’, ‘Chandimangal’ by Kabikankan Mukunda, etc. Kheermohan is made of kheer or concentrated milk and pahala rossogolla, a variant of Bengal’s original sweet, is yellowish in colour, less soft and much more sweet.

“Odisha should apply for kheermohan and pahala rasogolla separately,” Hom Chowdhury added.BoxGI tag : What does it mean?It is a name or sign used on certain products which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin (town, region, or country)

Use of GI may act as certification that the product has certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical originWhat will happen now?Any sweet maker can apply to the state science and technology department for the Banglar Rasogolla GI tag. There will be an investigation as to whether he is using the right ingredients, in the right quantity and following the specified manufacting process to be worthy of the tag.What are the advantages ?The tag is a proof of authenticity and someone who has been awarded the tag is definitely superior to one who is still selling rasogolla but doesn’t have the tag.Other Bengal items with GI tagThere are 15 items from Bengal with the GI tag now, some of them are :

Darjeeling tea (drink), Lakshman bhog, fazli, himsagar, baluchari sarees, dhaniakhali sarees, Joynagar moya, Bardhaman Sitabhog, Bardhaman Mihidana, Gobindobhog rice, Tulaipanji rice, Banglar RasogollaGI tag awaited Sarpuria and Sarbhaja.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey / November 15th, 2017