A Dab of Bengali Chemistry
Shah Husain Imam
Pratapaditya Seal, administrative officer, Archeological Survey of India was attached to Syed Hassan Imam, a prominent cultural personality and myself, a journalist from Dhaka. We were two among the 22 invitees from Bangladesh to the Indian part of the joint Indo-Bangla celebrations of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary being staged in New Delhi.
On a lighter note, Hassan Bhai and I thought maybe a resemblance in our names had to do with the organisers' grouping and placing us into the hands of Pratapaditya to guide us through the elaborate series of programmes.
Hassan Bhai reminded Pratapaditya on our way from the airport to the hotel that his name-sake was one of 12 Bhuiyans (Baro Bhuiyan) who ruled in Jessore-Khulna-Bakerganj area (around 1612AD). Baro Bhuiyans were known for their spirited independence vis-à-vis the Mughal rule. To this, our guide's reaction was blandly mundane: “Delhi'ites find it difficult to pronounce my name, they call me Pratap. It's a compound word but Prakrit in origin, which to my modest knowledge Hindi shares with Bangla.
Pratapaditya is one of the most remarkable men I have come across in my long journalistic career. It has to do with his passion for anything Bengali. Not surprisingly, his Bengali fervour comes from living out of West Bengal. Having been permanently settled in New Delhi, perhaps he feels nostalgic for his inherent Bengali connection.
That is, of course, not where I found him unique; he basically comes through as a dedicated professional wholly given to providing service to people placed under his wings. Being in his company for about three days, we were highly impressed by his manners, punctuality, sense of duty and above all, forbearance.
Pratapaditya is neither from West Bengal in the sense he doesn't have a home in that Indian state, nor indeed, has he visited it. His parents had moved to New Delhi in the pre-partition days and since birth he has been living in the Indian capital. There was no occasion for him, even to holiday in Kolkata, or to try and trace his roots in West Bengal.
Nor is he of Bangladeshi ancestry, something many West Bengalis would pine for at the very first exposure to a Bangladeshi. So, what kind of a Bengali is he? Educated in Hindi-English medium, he is extremely well-spoken in Bangla. That is simply because his parents stuck to the mother tongue and passed it around to their progeny.
His Bengaliness is unalloyed. This is how: the story of his dramatic trip to Bangladesh in the immediate sequel to the country's birth bears testimony to his love for Bengali. Whenever he hears a Bengali word it's music to him; he is at once drawn to the speaker and feels at home, says he. He was vacationing in Agartala when he suddenly discovered Bengali being spoken just within the hearing distance of the border with Akhaura in Bangladesh.
His imagination in flight, realising how close he had gotten to a Bengali speaking country, he decided then and there to get a passport made and a visa obtained to embark on an odyssey to Bangladesh traversing a good many cities of the new country including its capital Dhaka. He says, he bears the memory of the intimate hospitality and generous goodwill he had received from all manner of people he came by on that memorable trip.
Seeing me off at the airport after an extended checkout time at the hotel, he was at his courteous best, or shall I say his professional best. For, as I tried to tip the driver (I wouldn't have dared hurt his self-esteem by recognising in kind the invaluable service that he gave us), he stopped me saying the government forbade it for it will pay the driver.
I left Delhi with an impression of a country where management, hospitality and service were on a level with India's growing economic status on the world stage.