Things were never meant to be any other way. The much talked-about trust, cooperation and mutual respect marking the India-Bangladesh now was at the very core of the way the two countries were to have looked up to each other right from the day they became householders to neighbours. With families, friends, associations, memories and legacies on either side of the border, the man on the street would never have wished it any other way. Plenty has been reported and debated in the media of both countries regarding the beginning of a visible warmth between the neighbours --and not everyone is happy--but the roots of the people-to-people ties go down much deeper.
Political bonhomie is a moody, fickle minded mistress--the equations rest on delicate threads and remain a sum of convenient gives and takes. One moment she's there, next moment, she's gone. The optimist in me (buoyed further by my personal experience in Bangladesh) makes me believe that the ordinary person is smarter than to be swayed by the political soothsayers alone. Few of my friends in Delhi remarked in all their earnestness that as Indians, we should have gone to Dhaka in these times rather than during our actual tenure there about five-six years ago when the perceived mood between the two nations was strained. I thought of my days there. And replied, with a fair degree of confidence, that 'now' may not be much different from 'then'.
I should know. I spent a good four-plus years there. Even during those supposedly hostile days, I felt as much at home at a Bangladeshi friend's place as I did at an Indian's; nationalities never came in between any interaction we had to allow the other a peep into the warmth, faith and reassurance that one was just like the other. The result was a host of dear lifelong friends from among the Bangladeshis. Did the India-bashing by the vocal voices in the seats of authority then determine the warmth between my friends and me? Unlikely, for the smoked Padma Hilsa prepared especially for us during home visits tasted just as divine as it's always meant to be and their sofas which would have me sunk in with my shoes kicked off, just as inviting as my own. And yes, we felt just as comfortable barging into a Bangladeshi friend's house unannounced as we did into an Indian's.
People in India perhaps fail to appreciate the purport of my sentiments - some call me a 'Banglaphile' in jest - but it's true that there are invaluable things I learnt during my stay there: pride in one's language, in one's nation, and an even greater pride in one's cultural moorings. Post Dhaka, we spent a couple of years in Kolkata, where we longed to relish the Bengaliness we had got so accustomed to in Dhaka. Only to realise, that due to its growing multi-cultural demographics, the collective conscience of Kolkata is fast moving beyond its Bengali roots. After having participated in the Pahela Baishak fervour at Ramna Park and at the Institute of Fine Arts, I missed the infectious enthusiasm of an entire city in the throes of celebrations on the Bengali New Year. Dhaka University taught me the priceless message, as subtly as it could, that it is possible to strike a happy balance between one's religious affiliations and whole-heartedly celebrating someone else's. My first trip to the campus in 2003 during the Saraswati Pujas left me moist-eyed and totally overwhelmed. Not because I was overjoyed to see a supposedly Islamic state celebrating a festival belonging to my religion with such gusto, but because it was the very first time I was seeing such unflinching tolerance and mutual respect from close quarters. And on that grand a scale. Every subsequent year, until I left back for India, I went there without fail, only to reinforce within myself this ethos of oneness. Thanks to it, I know I am a far better human being today now than I was seven years ago.
A substantial space in the Indian media gets devoted to harping on the close bond that exists between Indians and Pakistanis, despite the political hostilities. It's both a fad to cash in on, and a necessity to diffuse the high levels of volatility hovering around the issue. That the Indians share a similarly intimate cultural tie with Bangladesh gets missed. Perhaps, the former fetches them heftier revenues than the latter. But even so, the discerning Indian knows better than to go by just what the media decides to throw its spotlights on. Professor Yunus is respected in India (with a sense of endearing 'south Asian' ownership--if I may add) just as much as he is there, James has the same drooling effect on the audience here in Delhi that he has in Dhaka, and women across the nation flaunt that one treasured Dhakai in their wardrobe, desperately praying for the next one. And we didn't need a couple of recent political visits to establish these equations, did we?
(R) thedailystar.net 2010