The two Bengals
It's strange how Partition can disrupt political cultures so entirely - like twins being separated in adolescence, the same stock can have hugely different outcomes. Take Punjab - united prior to 1947 by a common language and a syncretic culture, Partition has cast the two halves if Punjab into hugely different political trajectories. Or Bengal on the other flank of the sub-continent. West Bengal turbulently pluralist - while Bangladesh has never quite found its feet, and much as in Pakistan, the army is the dominant institution.
All this is prompted by reading two pieces of journalism this weekend about the two Bengals. Ian Jack in the Guardian has been reading a revisionist history of Bangladesh - by an academic, a member of the Bose parivar, whose roots lie in West Bengal.
He lavishes praise on Sarmila Bose's Dead Reckoning. 'As all good history tends to do, it complicates and contradicts the heroic narrative of national struggle.' Her book - I've just started reading it and it is wonderfully well written - challenges the conventional Bangladeshi nationalist account of the killings amid which the nation was born. She suggests that the massacres by the Pakistani army and its sympathisers were nothing like as bloody as often recounted - and that the killing of Bengali Hindus and of Urdu-speaking Biharis by advocates of Bangladeshi independence were much more substantial that previously imagined.
The other article is Amit Chaudhuri's Diary in the London Review of Books - a chronicle of the final demise of 34 years of Communist-led state government in India's West Bengal. Communist dominance was an indirect consequence of Partition. Bengali Communists won the loyalty of East Bengali refugees - not their only 'vote bank', in Indian political parlance, but an important one. In the last few days, Communist croneyism has been voted out in favour of the shrill populism of Mamata Bannerjee, West Bengal's Joan of Arc (my analogy not Amit Chaudhuri's).
Reading it all, I pine for Alimuddin Street and Chowringhee and Calcutta's Maidan - and for that sight as you fly in to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport of 'the palm and plantain trees, low houses and ponds'. As they say in the west: 'Oh, Calcutta!'
Calcutta - that beguiling, maddening, beautiful city captured in all its complexity by the ever engaging Ian Jack in the Guardian
Another great piece by Ian Jack in today's Guardian: why Delhi is still at heart a contractors' city.
He's quite right - it's a slovenly, '10% cut', type of city.
The metro has been a huge, transforming success - but the Commonwealth Games episode suggests that underneath, the culture hasn't changed.
'Sarkar' means government - which means, in India as elsewhere, slow, bureaucratic, uncivil and somewhat tarnished.
Sodomy and soccer in the Valley
It's not often that the epitome of the muscular Anglican missionary, Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe, gets a write up in the daily papers - but he makes it to today's Guardian, thanks to the ever engaging Ian Jack. Tyndale-Biscoe spent much of his life in Kashmir. He is remembered as an educationalist. The boys school in Srinagar which bears his name still flourishes.
Ian Jack writes of the missionary as the man who introduced football into the valley - a very suitable way to mould men. Tyndale-Biscoe also spent a great deal of time tackling what he saw as the vices of his time - a lack of manliness, and the prevalence of sodomy and brothels. His autobiography was entitled, with an immodesty of which he would have been entirely unaware, Tyndale-Biscoe of Kashmir.
He didn't "stay on" in independent India, but moved to what was then Rhodesia - a story in itself - and died there in 1949.
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