Twenty Six years ago I was born into an Anglo-Indian family in the great city of Calcutta, the commercial capital of Eastern India located in West Bengal. Calcutta and Bengal in general, have long been known for its literary and cultural heritage which has been enriched because of the potpourri of cultures found here. Calcuttans have always had a special appreciation for the traditions of the myriad communities that have called this state ‘home’ for decades and are known to be inclusive and welcoming in their ways.
In an attempt to step away from western culture and eliminate any traces of a colonial hangover, the anglicized name ‘Calcutta’ was unceremoniously dropped and replaced with ‘Kolkata’ in the year 2001.The altered name was seen as an innovative move on the part of the Government to give the city a more recognizably ‘Bengali’ identity. The change however, was a difficult one to get used to. This most peculiar distortion, though effortless for the Bengali community to pronounce, took a lot of getting used to. Even today, non Bengali speakers find themselves slipping back into the old familiar comfort of referring to their home as good old Calcutta.
Lately the internet has been abuzz with drastic reactions pouring in from across the globe. The bone of contention this time is the State Governments decision to rename West Bengal as ‘Paschimbanga’, the Bengali alternative for the original name. The decision to make this sudden change was taken over a hushed weekend meeting where thirteen members of the State Government ‘unanimously’ decided FOR the ninety million people of the state.
The people in power claim that the name change was envisaged to gain strategic governmental advantages, a claim that has been rendered completely redundant in this morning’s Telegraph.
The thing that gets me most riled up about this entire situation is that, our leaders don’t seem to understand that this move has cost the people so much more than that which meets the eye. They have shown marked apathy towards the feelings and sentiments of the people and utter disregard for the opinions of the non Bengali communities. I am led to believe that these powerful futurists were unable to fathom the far-reaching ramifications of their decision and the inconvenience and displeasure it would cause for the people who live and work here.
In my opinion, a great injustice has been done to communities such as the Anglo-Indians, the Chinese or the Parsis of Calcutta. In their rush to make superfluous changes, the feelings and views of these people (who may I add, feel isolated from the general community in spite of their long association with the state) have been categorically ignored. The government has failed to use this as an opportunity to unite these communities and include them in such a critical decision that will affect them and their sense of belonging to the state.
I remember the strange feeling I was left with each time I had to correct myself and say ‘Kolkata’ or write the word on an official document. I wasn’t born in Kolkata; I was born in Calcutta, no matter what the pseudo intellectuals have to say. The change back then, caused a mini upheaval in my teenage mind. My sense of belonging and my sense of identity were affected. Even though I spoke the local language it wasn’t the way people around me were speaking it and suddenly I couldn’t even pronounce the name of my city properly enough.
Who I am today and my sense of personal identity is largely based on the city I was born and raised in and a state I love dearly. As luck would have it, today again there is a sense of unwanted déjà vu. The old horrid feeling is back. If I can’t even pronounce the name of the state I come from: do I really belong here? I earnestly hope that the backlash the government continues to receive on a daily basis is enough to alter their hashed logic and impulsive decision. There has been a unanimous cry of disagreement. The people of the state have spoken. This is an unnecessary and unwelcome move. It continues to be open speculation whether or not the change will become official. If it does, the message to the people of West Bengal will be loud and clear – your opinions don’t matter.