India has two official languages – English and Hindi – used by the Union government. But no National Language. Hindi is NOT a National Language. But that does not stop influential media (and far-right political) personalities from trying to impose Hindi on all Indians and call it a mother-tongue.
Truth be told, when I talked about displacement in my posts before (mentioning “subaltern”) I have to admit that being a Bengali (from West Bengal, in India) is a subaltern subject in its heterogeneous form. Not to mention, identifying as a Bengali-Swiss Romande.
I was lovingly watching Khalid Al Ameri (an Emirati influencer) in Dhaka shooting on Bengali food and he mentioned it to be Bangladeshi. All of a sudden, the Bengali identity got divided by a border. Even as I was rejoicing at the scene of familiar food, familiar language, I could not help but flinch every time he called it Bangladeshi. Bengal and it’s Bengalis divided by two countries. And for the first time I realised that even though my family has a long history of belonging to Bengal (undivided Bengal for centuries, before colonialism, before partition) and even though West Bengal held up Bengali tradition (even till this date) in cuisine, language, fashion, education, etc – our identity is slowly being displaced by a biased Hinduist marginally-educated central government and it’s accomplices who believe Indians to have Hindi as their mother-tongue. Thus… Erasing the diversity that India stands for. For the first time I yearned to be a Bangladeshi – for somehow, ever since BJP came to power in India, I feel I will be more heard and respected in Bangladesh rather, than in India if I say “I am a Bengali first” – like Satyajit Ray did. For thousands of years of history that “Vanga” (ancient kingdom of Bengal region – spreading over West Bengal and Bangladesh) holds is slowly but steadily being erased by bigotry and biases; supported by some self serving Bengalis whose identity is so far displaced that they forgot their historically rich roots. Hence, while watching Khalid Al Ameri’s stories on Instagram (and consequently him cooking Shorshe Ilish, bhaja Baghda-Chingri, and other delicious seafood) – it felt odd that the same was somehow lost in Calcutta, despite proud Bengalis living there – we are divided into Ghoti(Indian Bengali) and Bati(Bangladeshi Bengali)! So while watching those stories of Bengali food being called Bangladeshi (by a good hearted Influencer) and reading ridiculous linguistic war between Ajay Devgn and Kiccha Sudeep (on Twitter)… It felt odd that somehow, despite the linguistic nuances (high Bengali and dialectic Bengali), Bangladesh felt closer in terms of culture and acceptance of a Bengali than India. This displacement of identity (of the habitus that moulded me), and the process or understanding the mechanisms of supposed ‘recovery’ of my identity as a Bengali, is heterogeneous in its ongoing displacement and effacement.
It stands so… The way food builds identity – the way I intend on passing that same identity to my child through language and cuisine and literature – somehow no longer felt Indian as it used to be in the 90s and early 2000s. Now it felt racially motivated rather than culturally accepted. Here the subaltern has come back with a vengeance. No longer limited to post-colonialism. But human agency.