Part IV: Sentimental Fog

Dec 2012

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Part I | Part II | Part III

In the 1970s and 1980s, as West Bengal stagnated, people looked back in fondness at 1971 as the moment when they transformed world history. From Senator Edward Kennedy flying into Dum Dum Airport to review the refugee camps, to Indira Gandhi invoking for the world the crushing financial pressure of refugees, Kolkata was at the center of events. Every family had a story to tell— of giving succor to a Mukti guerrilla in their home, and if a Muslim, then even more proof of the war’s syncretic character: “Jano to, amader ranna-ghor obdi dhukte ditam” (You know, we even let them come up to our kitchen). (26) West Bengalis participated in fundraising, writing, and performing poems and songs, and then finally were offered a glimpse and a pranam of Sheikh Mujib in 1972. When legendary Tagore singer Suchitra Mitra passed away in 2010, Kolkata TV highlighted her rendition of “Amar Sonar Bangla” (My Golden Bengal) at a 1971 fundraiser, with tears streaming down her cheeks as she sang.

But along with this deification, there was also a rebellion by some West Bengalis against the sentimental view of 1971. The same East Pakistan refugees, viewed as a danger, helped the leadership of the local branches of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) to become right-wing opponents of “illegal migration.” West Bengal’s Leftist politicians invoked the same refugees for their pro-people politics. Even Trinamool Congress stalwarts claimed that seeing refugees in squalor at Sealdah Station made them enter politics in order to build a prosperous state. As researcher Udayan Chattopadhyay pointed out, “All of those sentiments about Bangladesh were wishfully imposed during the war by people in West Bengal removed from the conflict itself and unaware of the reality. Fast forward to now, and they ask themselves, ‘Where did that spirit disappear to?’” (27) The West Bengali utopian aspirations projected onto 1971 have led to a lingering disappointment that energizes a counternarrative inside India. These have contributed to a continuing erosion of the India-Bangladesh relationship.

Footnotes

26. Udayan Chattopadhyay’s recollection, author interview, July 2011.

27. Ibid.

This is the fourth essay of a multi-part series “Waiting for a Real Reckoning on 1971″ by Naeem Mohaiemen. Part I | Part II  Part IIIA version of this essay appeared in the edited collection Lines of Control: Partition as Productive Space (2012). 

Naeem Mohaiemen is a visual artist (shobak.org) and a PhD student in anthropology at Columbia University. He is the editor of Chittagong Hill Tracts: In the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism (2010) published by Drishtipat/Maunsher Jonno Foundation in Dhaka. 

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One Response to Part IV: Sentimental Fog

  1. Viktorija on Jan 2013 at 1:06 PM

    I am glad to see how great work has been done so far on this website, its very imsvpsiae and collective approach to bring positive impact of Pakistan, and showing the world real inside of the country, not like showing by Inner Media and international perception to take terrorism and extremism.I believe on one that , extremism in any thing like individual is not good for anyone, especially when we living in 21th century and word become to small inside the global Village and social Networking.Regards,Abdul M Chaudhary

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