It is a foible among many Bengali young men to speak on every subject in the world, even on those they do not know anything about. But in doing so, they invariably commit howlers. Of course, such howlers do not matter much when they are made in tea-stalls or drawing rooms. In the examination papers of schools and colleges, howlers are not uncommon, and they provide ample fun for examiners. When this writer was a schoolboy, he read an article by Parimal Goswami, who was at one time the editor of the famous Bengali literary journal Shanibarer Chithi (Saturday's Letter). The article, included in a collection entitled Sapta Pancha (Miscellaneous Writings), provided numerous illustrations of howlers gathered from Calcutta University Entrance Examination papers. Each of them was amusing enough, and this correspondent, in his later years, shared the fun with his friends and acquaintances by quoting some of the howlers before the latter.
Mature politicians too, are perhaps not above committing howlers. In 1980, there came in a report that then Union Home Minister, while addressing a gathering, had referred to the diversity of India and said, "In Punjab, they speak Punjabi, in Andhra, they speak Andheri." The Home Minister, however, later denied having said this. There was no TV channel to demonstrate what he had really said. Mr Buddhdeb Bhattacharya, in the late eighties of the last century, once proudly declared that his government—he was then the minister for information and culture, not the Chief Minister, of the West Bengal government—had given recognition to the Alchiki language. Mr Bhattacharya perhaps did not know that Alchiki was not a language, but a script of the Santali language, and for this howler, he was taunted in a small book advocating the case of a separate Jharkhand state. But Mamata Banerjee has perhaps surpassed all records. Shortly after becoming the Chief Minister of West Bengal, she, while addressing a gathering at Sido-Kanhu-Dahar (formerly Esplanade East), informed the audience that there was a martyr of the rebellion named Dahar and asked if any of Dahar Babu's descendants was there. Actually the word 'dahar' is the Santali equivalent of esplanade, and that can be well understood even by a layman who knows the names of Sido and Kanhu. Another howler committed by Mamata Banerjee and presented to the people was the grotesque invention that when Gandhi broke his fast in Beliaghata, Kolkata, against Hindu-Muslim tension, it was by accepting fruit juice from the hands of Tagore. The fact is that Gandhi went to Beliaghta in August 1946 after three days of horrible rioting and consequent destruction of both Hindu and Muslim lives in large numbers. Tagore died five years earlier, on 7 Ausgust, 1941.
Another of Mamata Banerjee's remarkable discoveries came to light a few months ago when she, referring to Tagore's Nobel-winning collection of poems, Gitanjali (Song Offerings), taught us that when Tagore went to London, he was composing Gitanjali and he had good relations with the literati of this period of Shakespeare and Keats. Shakepeare, born in 1564, was a playwright of what is called the Elizabethan age. Keats was a poet of the age of romantic revival, the time gap between his period and Shakepenre's being about two hundred years. Tagore was born in 1861, and Gitanjali was presented to the English literary persons of eminence in 1913. This is, to say the least, is common knowledge. Most of the original poems of Gitanjali were put into English by Tagore himself during his stay in his country estate, Shilaidaha, in 1912, and when he sailed for England that year, he added to the translations on the boat. This is also common knowledge.
There is a question, however. Mamata Banerjee has tried to display her all-round wisdom, but is this wisdom shared by Mamata loyalists like the painter Jogen Chaudhuri, Professor Saugata Ray, ex-Naxalite Purnendu Basu, the members of the WBCUPA (the TMC-led teachers' organization), economist Sugata Marjit, river expert Kalyan Rudra etc? If the answer is in the negative, they should express it publicly or speak to Mamata Banerjee.
A Reader, Kolkata
Vol. 48, No. 3, July 26 - Aug 1, 2015