Bengali life

more than 70 years after Partition

While thinking of the Partition, the first things that come to mind are communal violence, the dislocation of millions on both sides of the border, and the destitution that they faced thereafter. The trauma of forced migration and the enormous struggle for survival that was the lot of the refugees have nowhere been more eloquently articulated than in the Partition films of Ritwik Ghatak, an East Bengali refugee himself, who never accepted the fact of Partition.

The human dimension of the Partition and its aftermath in Bengal also found expression in a rich body of literature spanning several decades, right from Narayan Sanyal’s Bakultala P. L. Camp in 1955 to Mihir Sengupta’s Bishad Briksha (‘Tree of Sorrow’) in 2005.

Kolkata Literary Meet, 2018 | With Mihir Sengupta, Samim Ahmed and Aparajita Dasgupta

In that entire literary corpus – as indeed in real life – pain, loss and longing on the one hand, and a resolute re-fashioning of identity on the other, have defined the post-Partition experiences of Bengalis. But there have been other narratives too …

Every Bengali woman’s wardrobe invariably has a prized ‘Dhakai’, a muslin that originates from and is a speciality of Dhaka.

To this day, during the monsoons, Bangals (East Bengali Hindus residing in West Bengal) swear by “Padma’r ilish”, saying the hilsa of the Ganges (that are predominantly available on this side) are no match to it.

When the popular Indian folk-singer/composer/scholar Kalikaprasad died an untimely death in 2016, he was equally mourned on both sides of the border.

One of Kalikaprasad’s most popular compositions in his own voice |  Bisorjon (2017)

Fabric, food, song – there is still much that binds the two Bengals in everyday life, though it has been partitioned for 71 years. They represent the quiet continuities in Bengali life, as opposed to the rupture of the political division. That division has been richly documented: in literature and cinema (as just mentioned); as also in history writing. It is about time that the continuities are emphasized, too.