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Reader’s chit

Indian Bengalis: Roots In Bangladesh

Indian Bengalis love the rich Bengali culture, hospitality and patriotism of Bangladeshis along with their food, music and apparel. In turn the Bangladeshis have a passion for Bollywood movies, Indian music, apparel, cuisine and TV channels.

It's heartening to see that despite the frequent chill between India and Bangladesh on a political level, the people of both countries are closely connected by their common history and heritage.

The Daily Star spoke to some Indian Bengalis who have their roots in Bangladesh about the good old days of yore and their views on Dhaka. Here's what they had to say:

Madhobi Chatterjji
The octogenarian Madhobi hails from the zamindari family of Murapara village. Her memories take her back to her sprawling ancestral home in Sutrapur, Dhaka. A 20-room mansion with a large courtyard, inhabited by an extended family, she recalls a music room (baithak khana) that would reverberate with melody every evening. Among the famous names that would frequented the musical sessions, she says, were tabla player Therekwa and musician Nathu Khan Sahib. In fact, her maternal uncle Rai Bahadur Keshab Chandra Bannerji was one of the greatest tabla players of that time.

Madhobi herself flourished in this cultural ambience. A talented singer, she took the stage at numerous music competitions organised annually in Calcutta. Plaudits came her way as she bagged a prize for best singer in Bengali and gold medals for her rendition of bhatiali, bhajan, kirtan and light classical music.

"I greatly miss those days in Dhaka. We (my cousins and I) had the freedom to play till late but followed a strict routine of fixed hours for meals and home schooling. I also recall how horse drawn carriages would take us out to places like Ramna Park," says Madhobi. However this childhood idyll came to an end as Hindu-Muslim unrest built to a crescendo. Finally in the late '30s the family left Dhaka for Calcutta for the education of her five older brothers.

After her marriage Madhobi moved to Delhi where her younger daughter Probhati Mukherjee lives with her. However her links with Bangladesh continued as her elder daughter Purobi Mukherjee lived in Dhaka along with her husband Deb Mukherjee, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh. Her last visit to Dhaka was in 1993.

Probhati Mukherjee
Madhobi's daughter Probhati is a French teacher and music practitioner in New Delhi. She paid her first visit to Dhaka in 1978 to catch up with her sister Purobi. She is greatly impressed by retail outlets such as Aarong and the intrepid women of Bangladesh. In their ranks, she counts figures such as designer Bibi Russell, Lubna Marium and educationist Niloufur Mansur. These women, she says, have taken the lead to ameliorate the condition of Bangladeshis in fields such as industry, education, health and the arts.

Dr Sreeradha Datta
Datta, research fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, harks back to her family's roots in Dhaka (Tikatuli and Dhakeshwari). Her paternal grandfather was a teacher at Dhaka Engineering College and her father PK Datta, a retired bureauract, attended Nobokumar Vishwavidyalay in Dhaka.

Sreeradha's mother Krishna and uncle Dipankar Ghosh went back to the Tikatuli family home around 10 years ago. While the original structure of the house had been maintained, the Bangladeshi family who then resided there had added several floors. Now, she says, the building has been demolished. "Like their other compatriots, the family was extremely warm and hospitable," she says nostalgically.

The links with Dhaka have continued. Early 90s Sreeradha's brother Prasenjit Datta took over as country manager of SmithKline Beecham in Dhaka. He received tremendous support from his Bengali friends while his landlord was a father figure for him. "He never missed home," she says. In fact there was tremendous bonding between the two families. To an extent, says, Sreeradha, the landlord visited her in Calcutta when her child was born and even played host when she came to Dhaka for a conference.

For the last six or seven years, she has paid annual visits to Dhaka. Any changes? "I see more bearded people and women in burka," she says. About the areas of friction between the two countries, she has a firm opinion. In her words, "It is possible to bring about harmony between the two sides. If both countries address the common concern of security, it will be easier to navigate other tricky issues such as unmanned borders and the huge trade gaps."

By Kavita Charanji

Meaning of this life

I have always searched for the meaning of my life. Ever since I was 5-6 years old I have asked myself why I was born. I cannot be just another being in this world. There has to be a reason for God to send me to this world.

I am now 31 years old, and I have a daughter, a husband, and a job. It seems life is perfect, and yet I search for a deeper meaning. I am glad that I still feel I need something more. I have not yet passed 50 years of my life looking for the purpose. I have finally found it. I finally found the purpose of my life.

My purpose is to be a better person in every possible way I can be. I need to give smiles to strangers, I need to run a marathon, I need to cry for forgiveness, I need to swallow my pride, I need to want less things in my life, but give more. I need to ask fewer questions on why it is this way, and why not that way, but try to make the best of what God has given me. Be thankful more for little things. Be patient with life and achieve as much as possible from this life, and yet be thankful and ready to give everything I have. I have finally got my happiness and joy. I now know the reason for my existence. It is to be an example of God's greatest creation, the “Human Being”.

By Iffat Zia


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