Bengali Bhadrolok, for sale or for hire: Chawm Ganguly

chawm“If Money is lost: nothing is lost, if health is lost: something is lost, but if character is lost” and here, our elders would pause, seizing our response, before stressing “everything, is lost”. Growing up hearing the same ditty repeated over and over, we too learnt the importance of being a “bhalo chele” (a good boy) in order to reach the pinnacle of Bengali aspiration – of becoming a “Bhodrolok” (a gentleman).

In life we had to be Spartan, in competition we had to be Olympian, in etiquette we had to be British. Winning, to us at least, was never an end in itself. A means to an end, perhaps; a by-product of the process, most likely; but never, the all pervading, all consuming end that justified “any” means. Perish the thought. It was more important to be appreciative than successful. We were encouraged to read “bhalo” (good) books; appreciate good films; enjoy the essence of music; encourage sportsmanship over victory. Life was about enjoying the journey, reflecting on the finer nuances: rather than focusing on the destination. We were taught to celebrate brains over brawn; the beauty of creation over brute force; the application of intelligence over mindless achievement; Saraswati over Lakshmi.

Eutopia? Perhaps. But it worked perfectly, as the person one dealt with generally ascribed to more or less, the same world view, having got similar values inculcated into him. Not anymore. Today, “Bhodrolok” is a “dirty” term that is bandied snidely, with all the mirth we underachieving failures deserve. People joke about the Bengali gentleman who wrote to a British Managing Agency “learning from the Burning Ghat about the sad demise of your head clerk, I offer my humble self, for appointment as a pen-pusher in your esteemed organisation” deriding our desperate desire for a mere “Chakri” (steady job). Risk averse, un-ambitious and a sloth to boot, we “gentlemen” of yore are the “Boka-logs’” (stupid people) of today.

We cannot stoop to conquer. We haven’t learnt, leave alone perfected the art of tripping our opponents to victory. Worshipping Mammon, over all else – to the extent of making it the raison d’etre, too, is way beyond our grasp. And being a pachyderm to shamelessly hoard in pursuit of material gains, is still somehow, to us at least, insanely inhuman as an activity. We don’t break queues; jump traffic lights; burp or belch in public; fight for loose change with the beggar; cheat out of habit; grovel shamelessly to get things done; seek to bribe our way out of any situation; think of buying justice; or, change colours so consistently that even chameleons are put to shame. Naturally, we are total misfits. Devoid of the ferocity to chase our dreams at any cost, we are condemned eternally, to be hired by someone else to help shape their’s. That, the one hiring us is the epitome of everything we were taught to detest and has reached the top by mauling every one of the “finer feelings” we consider so central to our very existence, is stuff that Greek Tragedies were once made of. It is as if, we are damned by some divine design. Bustards in a family reunion, pimping our souls to keep our stomachs from grumbling.

“Life ij not about playing the game” the upcountry industrialist (read real estate broker masquerading as an industrialist) was telling me between spits of Paan Masala, “it ij about winning or loojing. And you win by beating ebryone else. There ij no second way. Fore that, if you habe to break some rules, break them. The world remembers the winner, not all thoje who rane the race fairly.” Seeing my bewildered expression he changed track: “You Ban-galij are like rasogollaj – you are very good and chweet and educated and all that, but note the main course. The main course of life ij money and money alone.”

“Your Satyajit Ray made so many filums, how much money did he make? But Look at Manmohan Desai – he made filum’s that made money” he said triumphantly. “Dhirubhai Ambani istarted life aj  petrol pump attendant and look at Reliance now. How much haj your Amartya Sen made with all hij knowledge? Even Harshad Mehta made more than him.

By this time I did not know whether to feel hurt, helpless or offended, sensing which, he delivered his Coup de grace “Your Kafka and Camus and Culture are all bakwaas. Faido ki hogo, bhayo? What good ij it all, if it cannot be tranch-lated into money? Babu, Ban-gali intellectual bahut dekh liya, ab thora intellijent banke, piso banana ko Scheme socho.” And with that he brushed me away, like some leper and drove off in his swank chauffeured Mercedes.

Off, to buy the next ailing jute mill that he planned to “lockout” so that he could “free” that land and “develop” his next show-ping mole. Three car loads of bankers followed him with the money bags, as did two carloads of leaders of the political party which I had once thought would lead the likes of us to socio-economic and cultural deliverance. Nobody seemed to notice (or bother) that the EMI’s for the car he was riding was long overdue and that 13 hapless workers – smithy’s who had once made Bengal proud with their skills – had taken their lives being forced into abject poverty by this single man’s ability to “control the environment” (le de ke mamla salat lena) and his criminal refusal to meet their “just” dues.

I wrung my hands in glee. Another heritage jute mill’s liquidation would finally mean work for me. “The Man with the Midas Touch on a Mission to transform the economic horizon of Bengal”, a “Corporate Samurai” who has taken the vow to build “socially sustainable, eco-friendly” high rise bustee’s; in the process “creating wealth” by unlocking the “Nation’s resources, lying locked and dormant” in “terminally sick” units of yesterday – my mind was working overtime, churning out the cliches that adorn Corporate Releases.

May his tribe increase. And may the “Babu’s of the day” never deprive us – right, honourable, educated Bengali Bhadrolok’s – the “right” to lick their boots the way the British had done by “giving” us Freedom. The soul may die a hundred deaths, but even us, Bhadroloks need our victuals.

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