Wednesday, August 31, 2011

West Bengal or Paschimbanga ?

Paschimbanga. I should have no problem with this name for our state. Nor would have an average Bengali . After all, we use this name often enough in Bengali correspondence or in our conversation though 'Paschim Bangla' is used at times.
The name also contains the historical as well as the geographical memories of Bengalis. It reminds us that Bengal was once undivided and there was an eastern part and western part each with some distinctiveness - within the overall cultural umbrella there were differences, in dialects and food habits. We had the 'Bangals' of East Bengal or Purbabanga and 'Ghotis' from the west or Paschimbanga.
And of course, the name also reminds us that there was a partition, a traumatic event in the life of Bengalis associated with the birth pangs of the new nation, India, that is, Bharat. A name like 'Banga' or 'Bangabhumi'  would have ignored this history and might have led future generations to forget the historical perspective.
Some of the objections raised by non- Bengalis of the state, as I find from articles in the newspapers, are not really valid. Paschim is not an exclusively Bengali word, it is in fact Sanskrit and used in Hindi as well. To say that Non-Bengalis will not be able to pronounce this word is unacceptable. They can very well pronounce Uttar of Uttar Pradesh. Why not Paschim of Paschimbanga ? As regards 'Banga', the word 'Bong' (rhymes with Bond) has often been used by non-Bengalis to refer to Bengalis in their conversations. In fact, I came across this word about thirty years back when a public school product, in the instant case a Bengali, used this in a derogatory sense to refer to a Bengali not well versed in the english manners i.e not very sophisticated with forks and spoons and in the dance floor. Now however the word has been brought mainstream by Anjan Dutta in his film 'Bong Connection'. Well, Anjan might have also picked up the expression in his own Darjeeling public school and later at the Park Street restaurants. Be that as it may, Bong is easily pronounced, so Bong-o should not be difficult.
Some one, now settled in the States, wrote about the emotional disconnect she will feel if the name of the State she grew up in was changed from ' West Bengal' to Paschim Banga'. I don't know what she would have felt if she had grown up in Bangalore or Bombay. I think this emotional thing is a bit exaggerated.
If some one talks about Bengali chauvinism in this name change game, I am not prepared to accept that either. Bengalis are undoubtedly chauvinistic in the sense that they are proud of their language, literature , culture and heritage but this chauvinism has never spilled out on the streets and has not affected their secular and cosmopolitan outlook. We should remember that an'Amra Bangali' movement someone tried to start years back in Kolkata never could take off.
Do I then support this proposal to change the name of the state from West Bengal to Paschimbanga? No, I don't. I don't because West Bengal as a name has the same connotations as Paschimbanga has. May be the words are in English, but so is the name of country.  I don't think the change is necessary and will serve any useful purpose. On the other hand it will entail  some the senseless work and expenditure involved in this change of name game - in changing govt. stationeries, car registration numbers, even the drop down lists of online forms and who knows what else. The justification being given for this proposal has no basis in reality. Going up two three steps in the alphabetical list of the states of the country will not fetch extra central assitance for this state not alter its economy in any way as some newspaper reports have shown. By changing the name of the state, you don't change the wretched condition the state is in. Why do it then? That is not the 'Change' people voted for and brought the new government in with a such a massive mandate.
While I hope there is a reconsideration when the proposal is placed in the Assembly, I find it interesting that this proposal got the blessings of an all party meeting. All party meetings are a rarity in this state torn so long by political rivalries and conflict. Should not such meetings take place more often and come to some consensus on the real and intricate developmental issues confronting the state ? If the Chief Minister succeeds in bringing that about, she will indeed be ushering in some real change.