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Straight Bat: 'Bangla' is a province but 'Bangladesh' is a ...

  • Published at 04:45 pm June 21st, 2019
Bangladesh Cricket
Photo: Photo: MD Manik from Taunton

Kolkata babus see Bangladesh as Bengal’s 'independent' part and themselves as the culturally superior locus of the Bengali identity

It is at this ICC Cricket World Cup that Bangladesh (BD) has made their presence felt. They are probably not going to reach the semis, but their reputation as a fighter has been cemented as the Australia (Aus) match showed.  One remembers the Pakistan days when no Bangladeshi was given a team spot. The racist interpretation was that these, “short dark people” ?,  could not do sports. That is less the case now although BD is still looked down upon. Even Afghanistan is admired – particularly in India and Pakistan.  The three are mostly tall and fair- of fabled Caucasoid roots and invaders of Bengal too.  Just joking...

That scene has been changing, particularly in the last decade as Bangladesh slowly grew up, stumbling. Many have moved from contempt to grudging acceptance of Bangladesh as an uppity  “brown power.”  Interestingly, Pakistan—which went through major emotional turmoil when BD beat them during their tour of Bangladesh—have learned to welcome their erstwhile colonized people well. Pakistan probably welcome another threat to India.  However, during the Bangladesh tour —which they lost— a Pakistan TV anchor was so shocked that he said:  “ I am speechless...Bangladesh beating Pakistan.” And he stood there, for several minutes, speechless. That’s over. India continue to accept Bangladesh beat Pakistan and snipe that Bangladesh beat India-; but that is only to be expected from pretenders to the throne. They seem charmed nowadays, except for one part of India.

That one part- “Bangla,” or West Bengal to Bangladeshis, mixes agony and pride. Kolkata babus see Bangladesh as Bengal’s “independent” part and themselves as the culturally superior locus of the Bengali identity. This hang-up has a political history dating back to when Dhaka began to assert themselves in 1905. The Epar bangla /Opar Bangla idea—which has loyalists in Bangladesh too particularly among the cultural and literary types—has since been promoted.  

Just one Sourav?

Watching  Bangladesh play with 11 Bangalis, when none have a place on the Indian team, has moved some to angst in Kolkata. Where are the “Bangalis” who can play? Sourav Ganguly did, but barring him, none are at that level except Wriddhiman Saha who is not “team India” class. However,  here there are not just Shakib Al-Hasan the Cup’s MVP contender—but also Tamim Iqbal , Soumya Sarkar, Liton Das, Mahmudullah, and Mushfiqur Rahim, all captained by Mashrafe Mortaza, another Bangali. It breaks the Ghoti heart.

Anandabazar Patrika asked a few people about it and most said, Ghoti boys are not hard-working, are social media prone, have other interests, yada yada yada.... It cannot occur to this lot that so do we. However, we Bangalis do everything with more passion because we learned to survive British colonialism and Kolkata babus – not to mention Pakistani rule. It toughens you when you are less proud of a colonially-funded cultural renaissance and more of your history of resistance.

One lady did sum up the issue well. “There can be no comparison. We are a province but they are a country.”

Precisely the point. We are not a part of one “Bengal” but Bangladeshis and we share the same language with a province of India, that’s all. The quicker the Epar/Opar Bangla loyalists understand this, their cheers will be louder for the national team there.