Idols are constantly being built in this city where tradition and culture are dearly held. Pandals always emerging on roads that you didn’t think had any extra room, and people are always in preparation for a festival; for a day of Bhagwan (God).
“What were you doing at MG road?”, asks my friend when he hears that I bought fruits from there at 9 p.m. My uncle advises me to take the train home as opposed to the metro, to avoid the musholmaan (Muslim) area. I, on the other hand, a probashi Bangali, am simply glad for the opportunity to converse in Hindi outside the home, which is seen only as another means of disregard for Kolkata’s culture by the other; consequently, a hatred of the other.
Hatred for the other has been entrenched in our society since independence. This is not something exclusive to the xenophobes who cannot tolerate the presence of the other and are willing to take active action in brutalising them, but is rather something that has become an inherent part of our cultural upbringing. Its prevalence in stereotypical jokes, day-to-day conversation, and ‘reasonable’ concern, is what boggles my mind.
Even the ‘hardly religious’ educated youth are not far from it. In an argument with my landlord hailing from Bangladesh, he talks of how Muslims have always persecuted Hindus and I try in vain to show him that generalisation is problematic and that there exist enough examples of unwarranted radicalism on either side if that’s an argument he wishes to engage in.
How does one begin to reverse the tendency of small talk in the nuclear Bengali household, which revolves either around the weather, the puja, or the hatred of the other? A family member once told me that it’s justified since Calcutta was one of the most adversely affected and actively involved places during the freedom struggle.
He told me that divide is only natural given the centuries of compressed hatred; that this active avoidance of one another is the highest degree of peaceful outcome possible. The problem is, active avoidance and greater concretization of religious and ethnic enclaves, is simply a powder keg waiting to erupt.
This systematic construction of society and all its ancillary facets in favour of segregation is bound to make points of interaction prone to conflict as opposed to giving way to integration. Integration seems to hold a demonic connotation in the orthodox Indian household, for the implications it bears on identity. However, integration isn’t intended at a dilution of identity to achieve an undefined common, but rather at a willingness to recognise the differences that exist, as opposed to existing in seclusion of them.
In a city where idols are always being built, where traditions are never forgone and the Coffee House er Adda does still exist. In a city where the yellow taxi, the hand pulled rickshaws and trams will perhaps never disappear. In a city where identity is something which is always perceived as under threat and therefore religiously, yet often mechanically, clutched on to. In a city where stillness is not just of the photograph but is a stagnation misappropriated as heritage; is there room for new thought to break through?
Will the quintessential philosophising ever materialise in action, or will the always-active protesters evolve in their demands and strategies? Somehow even clamouring against the system has become a symbol of stagnation and not change. Perhaps it’s time we forgo the so-called values we claim are our right and reconstruct the ideals we uphold to stop this hatred of the other.