22 Aug

More of Identity Crisis

Long years back there was a time when the saying was ‘what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’. That age is gone. Alongside, the age of the Bengali ‘bada babu’ is also gone. The last batch when a few bongs got into IAS together has reached the fringes of senility. And when I look back at my own university and my own city I can see the reason why. Certainly, partly so. Maybe I will discuss them, but maybe some other time. I shall tell rather tell of an intersting event that happened to me. An incident that confirmed my pity for my Alma Mater.

Those days I was working as a copywriter in Bangalore, and the Mains results had just come out. Preparation for the interview of the Civil Services can be very rigourous, and there you can get a question out of anywhere, or nowhere. Preparing your own background is very essential – background means anything with which you are associated or anything from which you derive your identity. So, you are a Arya Samaji? You should know your Arya Samaj. Are you a Radhasoami? Better know how that is different from mainstream Sikhism. You are a civil engineer? Tell me, why did you join Wipro then when you could have joined L&T and done greater justice to your education. Achha, you are from Kolkata? They tell me that the story of Job Charnock as the founder of Kolkata is all bullshit, and that a prospering and flourishing town had already been in existence when Charnock, by accident, found it? Is it true? You better tell and satisy them properly. The old men and women sitting in Dholpur House can be very fincky. Heard of that recent topper from Orissa who had to give a live Odissi performance to satisfy the curious gazers in the interview room? [Well, this is an Urban legend]. I am just assuming that you get the idea…


That spring of last year, 2006, was a legend in self discovery for me. For the first time I tried to know about myself, my past, the meaning of my name, about my caste and its history, about my birthplace and its story under the sun, about the schools I have studied in, places I have stayed in, about Bengal, about being Bengali, about Bengali culture, about Rabindra Nath and Rabindra Sangeet, about developmental economics and where Amartya Sen fit in….long list that! Now, a student of literature, especially if he happens to come out of the portals of JU, has a stiff upper lip, a thin skin and a long nose. Even if for the purpose of throwing around names of books and authors, he must read them, or make a pretence of having read them. I remember the previous spring how I had read The City of Joy in anticipation of getting called to Delhi…[of course, I was never called – that year]. One year after and a somewhat more busy with a job of my own now, I wanted to read a few stuff on Kolkata. Now, keep in mind that teachers in JU are not just teachers. They are also enlightened citizens and most of them have their own pet areas, areas where they are acknowledged experts. Many of them have written their books and research papers on them. Kolkata also happens to be the expertise of someone in my department. But if you know the rules of existence in JU, you must be knowing that there are students and there are students. And yet, I needed to get some material on Kolkata. However, not much time back I had my tryst with my own identity about which you can read here…and once bitten twice shy, I did not want to venture into the same folly. As Bush is fond of saying, “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again“. So, I wrote a mail to a rather close relative of this gentleman, a lady who is herself an illustrious faculty member, and who, I had reason to believe, knew me by name at least. I knew from other people that this lady uses her email as other people have also written to her on this email. As you have second guessed me, I did not receive any reply…


Now, you must be wondering what is the big fuss about not getting a reply on email. After all, so many emails go unanswered – there are the questions of being net savvy or not, having proper access, server jam, etc. Probably, the mail got lost in transit, a phenomenon I have not heard of so far, but probably technically feasible. Probably, her spam filter deleted my mail before it was scanned by her eyes. Probably there was some mistake – her mouse accidently got clicked while it was hovering precariously over the ‘delete’ button. Probably her inbox was full [yeah, let’s assume that she had filled her 1 GB or 2 GB of inbox, which would mean she was very much net-savvy, or else she won’t be getting so much mail in the first place]. Well, as you can very well see in this paragraph there are too many probabilties we are relying on. I very much fancy a much simpler explanation. The mail reached her email. It did not get deleted accidently. She read it, all right. And she did not reply. Chances are that she was receiving a letter of this kind for the first time. In Jadavpur it is not everyday that a student gets called for the UPSC interview. And I would have expected that my email would find a rather welcome reception and some importance.

Now, as luck would have it there was not a single question on Kolkata. If there were, I am sure, I could handle it easily. I had done my own reading. I never bothered to collect much of knowledge or wisdom while I was in JU, but once when I did try to collect a little bit of it, while I was out of JU, I had this curious misadventure. As you may well expect, it left a bad taste in the mouth…

It is not a surprise why so few make it from this province. Why the IISWBM IAS coaching centre was wrapped up – no successful candidates. Bengal deserves this drought.

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