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New Delhi, I love you

  • Published at 06:12 pm June 19th, 2017
New Delhi, I love you

It would be rather disingenuous of me if I were to claim that no part of my cultural and psychological make-up has been influenced by the powerhouse that is Indian culture.

From the childhood memories of 90s Bollywood to the more contemporary dances at holuds, I have partaken in Indian culture in many instances as if it were my own.

Masala dosa

From the moment I was born, my eyes had glued themselves to the constant influx of Hindi serials and films which the kaajer meye consumed with a vociferous hunger. And I, too, did the same.

From the melodramatic drums of Sanjeevani and Kasautii Zindaggi Kii to the classic romances starring the Khans, I revelled in the musicality of what made Indian culture so mesmerisingly appealing to a starry-eyed, impressionable child in the 90s.

I grew up loving Shah Rukh Khan and his reverberating voice; I lay shocked with my head in my hands when I found out that the actors were not, in fact, the actual singers. At 13, watching Kal Ho Na Ho in a theatre in Ahmedabad, I wept tears of joy and sorrow.

To say nothing of the times I actually visited the country. The food was exquisite and, every time I went through Kolkata, it was an extravaganza: I dipped crunchy dosa into sambhar (how did the South make vegetarian food taste so good?) and devoured the spicy chicken rolls next to New Market.

I went up the Eden-like mountains of Darjeeling and came down to the gritty suburbs of Mumbai. I traversed across the breadth of the sub-continent in a 36-hour journey by train spanning a dozen states, passing a multitude of languages and cultures the likes of which I hadn’t experienced within the span of a singular country’s borders.

And through it all, I was not at home, but I could function thoroughly, for the constant barrage of Indo-linguistic entertainment, I could speak my mind, for I was fluent in Hindi.

Which language is mine?

My fluency with the language came about largely because of my cousins, and, by extension, many of my friends -- the people under whose influence a young teenager might find himself functioning.

So, if someone had asked me at the time whether or not I loved the country of India, I would have said yes. Why wouldn’t I? What did the teenager in me know of border killings and Teesta, of pockets of no man’s land and cultural hegemony? What did I know of India’s dominance as a nation state over the slowly dying nation of ours?

Anyone growing up here receives an education in three languages: Bangla, the mother tongue; Hindi, the language of television; and English, the language of schools.

By the time we were coming out of the illusion of Hindustan as the go-to place for cultural superiority, society had already been divided by such linguistic means.

Even with the international wars which are selfishly raged between our two nations, I could not, unlike many of my contemporaries and peers, find it in me to hate

Which language, then, do we call our own?

My mouth found a home in Bengali, while my writing found the most comfort in English. English, with its simplistic Roman characters made it easier to find patterns and nuances, whereas Bangla was complex, its letters interwoved, its multiple letters for the same sound confusing. Where could we then place Hindi, a language we at once loved and hated?

Loved because I cannot indulge in nostalgia without revisiting Baadshah; hated because -- why exactly?

Even with the international wars which are selfishly waged between our two nations, I could not, unlike many of my contemporaries and peers, find it in me to hate.

Though hating India and Pakistan (for different reasons) seemed to have become the staple for any hot-blooded Bangladeshi.

After all, I had met Indians and enjoyed their company, eaten their delicious food, danced to their (now “khaet”) songs with merriment. Even if I hadn’t, was hatred for an entire nation and its people something I could muster?

This was a hatred that hadn’t been sanctioned by state or society, but existed, and still exists.

Mauka mauka

There was an article last week about how India’s “Mauka mauka” campaign during the 2015 Cricket World Cup, where they mocked the other nations, was instrumental in cultivating the hatred for the Indian cricket team and, subsequently, the nation.

Though I’m sure the campaign didn’t help, I remember hating the Indian cricket team for as long as I have been watching cricket. I have consistently enjoyed India’s losses more than I have enjoyed Bangladesh’s wins.

And so, when India lost on Sunday to Pakistan, and that too, devastatingly, I, with the rest of the country, was overjoyed.

Why?

Because of the arrogance, the sick nationalistic pride, the egotistical fans, the face of Kohli.

But are we any different? Or have they made us become the same?

Bangladesh’s luck and talent were instrumental in them reaching the semi-finals, and this was worth celebrating.

But how much of this sport is used to cultivate certain sentiments, both of patriotism and hatred, which keep us inundated in our respective cycles of life?

Growing up, sports was something that brought the neighbourhood together. It seems that sports (and politics) had torn the neighbourhood asunder. Not without cause, of course.

But, through the hatred of specific people and their specific policies, now one feels like an outcast when one appreciates a certain kind of music of a certain culture, or expresses the beauty of a certain country’s landscapes.

Bangladesh is beautiful. And so is India (and Pakistan, I’m sure, though I’ve never been). Can’t we leave it at that?

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @snrasul.

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