Coursing through questions of identity and culture
I came upon Sudhir Chakraborty's writings in the nineteen nineties when I was a student at the Institute of Fine Arts (now Faculty of Fine Arts), Dhaka University. Beside painting, at every available opportunity, I would travel around the rural areas with no conceivable objective other than indulging in the inexplicable pleasure it provided. But Sudhir Chakraborty's writing made me deeply introspective about the countryside, its lifestyle, especially folk culture and the belief systems of the humbler section of the community in its diversified nuances, never ceasing to raise various questions in my mind.
It was in the year 2008 when I met Sudhir Chakraborty for the first time, at his Krishnanagar residence. Through my extensive reading of his books and on the basis of our interaction at that time, a variety of queries had accumulated in my mind. In February 2011, I went on a West Bengal tour, we communicated on telephone and then met in the office of the Institute of Development Studies in Salt Lake. I requested for an interview and a little of his time, hoping to find answers to all the questions revolving in my mind. The request was granted. The following interview was taken two days after this meet.
My main objective in taking this interview was to understand the persona of Sudhir Chakraborty, which is not decipherable from his written works. Therefore, I have left out many questions considered as conventional.
Shaon Akand (SA): The first thing I would like to know is about something your books reveal – a tremendous interest in two things – music and village life. Now, your relationship with these dates from your college, rather university days…
Sudhir Chakraborty (SC): From much earlier even…
SA: Yes, so what were the circumstances or background that had provoked your interest in these? We may start with the background.
SC: The main reason was my getting a scholarship. It was in the seventies and awarded by the Grant Commission. I chose the topic – Folk Songs of Nadya. The ideas were still not that clear. Every week, with a bag in hand, I used to take off, visiting sites. This started the learning process.
SA: Well, I'd like to know what actually induced you to make these trips, I mean what kind of psychology or mindset worked as a motivation for you?
SC: There is a world beyond the system of 'colonial education' that we had acquired. We have our own identity apart from what the English had taught us. I would specify that as Bangaliana (Bengaliness) rather than Indianness. Our Indianness is subservient to our much stronger identification as Bengalis. And the Bengalis are a little snobbish too about asserting this fact. Since the English came to Bengal first, we were the first to get their language. There are many places in India where English learning has not developed that well. Initially, this has led to a sense of cultural superiority. Great scholars were born here, including Rammohan who had influenced us in a substantial way. Rabindranath was the first to start invoking the students to concentrate on the motherland, its villages, and the soil. We reflected on these – what could that mean? We moved around, trying to make sense of the contexts. My greatest advantage was my being devoid of all biases.
SA: For example?
SC: Say, I didn't know of any methodology. But for my kind of job I needed a methodology. I was not aware of this. Folk culture was not in our curriculum when we were studying in the University, neither was there an idea of folk-literature. So my outlook was very flexible. I found out in my own way the approaches to the reality I wanted to excavate. In that sense, I never had any mentor or guru. But I did have some education on cultural anthropology. The Director of the Anthropological Survey of India was Suranjit Singh Gupta who later became the Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati. I did some study on Social Anthropology with Suranjit da. I always acknowledge that he is the one to have taught me the basic things. I worked with potters, ivory craftsmen. When I thought I had the base to write my book, I told Suranjit da about it. He cast a quick glance at me and said, ‘Well, about their works – have you found out what tools they use?’ ‘Please tell me why I must,’ I asked and he said, ‘Listen, according to cultural anthropology, man is defined essentially as a tool-maker. Man has reached this present state by creating tools, other animals haven't because they couldn't.’ In general terms, this is logical. The paint-brush you use for your art, those too are instruments.
SA: Of course.
SC: And from our ancient Indian scriptures we know that in the Pal era, the fur on the body of rats or mice were used to make the paint brush. Goat hair was also used for this. This tool-maker mind is in us, that is behind all these technological advancement. As I am talking to you in this room, it's actually a tool-making process. Otherwise, (pointing at the tape recorder) that machine of yours is pointless. I liked this idea a lot, it was something new. So I went to the ivory craftsmen and said, ‘May I have a look at what you're working with?’ I saw that the spikes of an umbrella had been broken into pieces of different types and those were being used. I hadn't even noticed it earlier when they were working right in front of me.
SA: So it seems, setting the right perspective is very important for a researcher.
SC: Not only that. Another new concept emerged from the discussion. ‘Well, the ivory you're working on, where have you found it?’ I was told that the tusks that originate in India are narrow, fragile and they crack easily. Most of what we normally see are African. Those are wide and hard, the right kind to do carvings and designs. Now, because of a cartel, the supply has stopped. We aren't getting any of those. I asked, ‘Then what are those you're working on?’ They said those were camel bones. Now you understand the direction cultural anthropology was leading me to. I had no idea about the basic material, it was white and I assumed it was ivory when it was nothing close to that. They were using sandalwood, another essential material. Take the clay craft of Krishnanagar – the intricate pieces are said to be made from a particular kind of clay from the riverbed, called doansh clay. The intricate features, like the perfectly formed fingers of the statues and images they make, would break easily if they use normal clay. So the clay type is very important. That led me to study clay, to learn about the ingredients. This way the research constantly took new turns, bifurcating, spreading out roots and branches in various ways.
SA: Yes, your publications do point to the fact that you have focused on a variety of aspects of folk culture.
SC: That's not all. Once I went to a local fair. They were cooking khichuri. I stood to watch. A large pot is on the fire. The contents come to boil, some eggplants turned in, some pumpkin too; then enters a potato. I am watching. Finally I ask what's going on. They say it's Jogakhichuri or hodge-podge. I had heard the word a lot, but this was the first time I watched the cooking process and knew what the word actually meant. Any kind of ingredient could be incorporated into the basic rice and pulses dish. They are calling it Panchatattya. The idea of the Vaishnav Panchatattya or elements of five is introduced here. Then five categories of ascetics assembled there and were served this combination of various foods – panchatattya. It was the month of Poush (mid-winter) when around midnight I sat down to eat. Sitting on the cracking layer of jute sticks I started having the khichuri served on shaal leaf. It looked a bit dry. They asked me to hollow the center. I did. They poured mustard oil in. They assured me, ‘We don't have ghee (clarified butter) but pure mustard oil is a good substitute. Please try it.’
SA: That is very true.
SC: So I did. And I would never have learnt this in your urban setting. They are teaching me new things at every step – wherever I'm going.
SA: That's true.
SC: Once I went to visit this village in Meherpur where Balaram Chandra is worshipped; I heard, ‘Our Balaram cannot be given paka or cooked offering; it has to be kancha, uncooked.’ The first kind means sweetmeat, the other is jaggery. It was extremely hot weather; I was perspiring profusely. They asked me to stretch out my palm, dropped a little jaggery on it, handed me a pot of water and I ate it in a gesture of receiving Balaram's blessing. Normally, to whichever holy site or temple you go, as offerings you will see sandesh, or curd sweets, which are cooked items. Here they gave me plain jaggery or molasses. I quickly grew into liking their principle. Then I see all the religious groups write their prayer incantations in Sanskrit, whereas Balaram worshipping community wrote them in Bangla. It goes like: Here I give you the ingredients, rice and pulses – this is how they frame the language. Take it and use it the way you wish. There are two wooden sandals of Balaram which they daily anoint with water and oil and do their prostrations to, before taking their meal. Once I took a disciple of Balaram Chandra at a Vaishnav assembly and we were given the sanctified morsel. He refused it saying it's ort, someone else's leftover. Hasn't this been offered to someone (a deity)? We don't partake of anything already given to someone. What an amazing concept! What we call the blessed morsel to him is ort.
SA: But aren't they supposed to eat from what they offer to the deity?
SC: According to him, he doesn't worship that god. He worships Balaram Chandra, a human. We have discovered the divine within the man and so we have no interest in Brahma, Krishna, Shiva etcetera. Balaram Chandra, the man, is the original, and these others are derived from him.
SA: And their legend about the ultimate wisdom is outstanding.
SC: Yes, extraordinary. This is how I'm learning at every step. By now, the year 2011, things have become simpler. But in my travelling days in the sixties, nobody knew much about these subjects. As I'm travelling, observing, grasping, relating and explaining, people are getting awestruck – do we have such things! It's because they have not been there. Take for example, my teacher, Dr Shashibhusan Dasgupta – who had done double Masters in Philosophy and Bengali and held a position in Calcutta University. A great scholar, he taught us the Charyapada, (a text on religious ethics) and wrote a book, Religious Cult of Bengal. He was then at his Tallyganj residence. There is a chapter titled Bauls and when you read it, you'll find all the information there, but he hasn't taken one single step to meet the real Baul. He derived the information from different sources, sitting in his drawing room. He could have learnt much more if he had actually met them.
SA: The very outlook used to be different in those days.
SC: Fieldwork is important; you must personally approach your subject. At that point in history, subaltern studies were yet to be in vogue and reaching out to the people at a lower level was a far off concept. It started in the seventies.
SA: Are you referring to people like Ranjit Guha or Gautom Bhadra?
SC: They were the first to introduce subaltern theory. When I wrote Balaram Hari they took it up, saying, ‘Yes, we've got it finally. Something we've been searching for so long.’ But I personally had no idea of this theory when I actually did it.
SA: Something you've said in the beginning, which seems very important to me, is the significance of our perception of our own world and our own ideas, independent of the concepts handed down by colonialism.
SC: Of course. Say we were reading Charyapada. Since the language is too archaic to understand, it has Sanskrit annotations by Munidatta. Shashibhusan Babu was teaching us according to these. He told us that all the lines of Charyapada are cryptic, like puzzles. Like, Rukher tentali kumbhirey kha-a, meaning 'the tamarind in the tree is eaten by the crocodile', or Duli duhi pita dharan na jai, meaning 'pressed out milk cannot return to the udder'. So, on the basis of what he said, we noted them down as 'mysterious words'. This was in our student life. Later, around the middle of my career as a professor, when I went to a village called Chhoto Andulia, I met a blind Muslim fakir, not that explicitly ascetical, but in faith, he was one. He was sitting there quietly. A student of mine, Musharraf introduced me to him, ‘This is my teacher. He wants to talk to you.’ He asked, ‘What do you wish to talk about, son?’ I asked him the meanings of those adages which I had left aside as too mystical to understand. I mentioned those two. He said, ‘Oh yes. Those are our sayings too.’ You see how a thousand year old link is re-established. This ordinary fellow is familiar with something which we had brushed aside as mystical, our learned teacher had categorized as elusive. I gave him the sayings in Bangla, 'The tamarind in the tree is eaten by the crocodile' or 'Pressed out milk cannot return to the udder'. He explained the symbols. The tree is man, the tamarind is his sperm which is being eaten up by kaam or lust symbolized by the kumir, the crocodile. Similarly, the next one means the released semen cannot be returned to its source. It's lost forever. I observed that the way this person was going, the whole Charyapada would gradually be reduced to a tree in no time. I didn't have any adverse feeling towards Shashibhusan Babu because of that. But I myself felt slightly better informed. Mosharraf was a student of my Honours class, now the headmaster of a school, an almost thirty years acquaintance and he is the one to whom I've dedicated my book, Alal Dost. I told him, ‘It's lucky that you brought me to this otherwise unimportant village.’ I visited Chhoto Andulia mainly because it was his village home and it was by sheer chance that I met that man. We cannot introduce such people into the classroom. If only I had the patience, I would have spent more time with him to get more lines explained. What we see from this that the components of our folk culture are spread all around the land and we can use them to our advantage, but there are very few with adequate curiosity or interest to step out and investigate.`
SA: This long journey of yours, which made you fix your gaze on folk culture from various angles, and a broader view acquired through this – this is very rare, even in both the Bengals combined.
SC: When I received the Ananda Prize I was given in writing an explanation of why I was selected for this award. It said that most of the works in our country have either political motivation or organizational initiative behind them. But things can be done through personal enterprise too. They gave two examples – one was Niharranjan Gupta's Bangalir Itihas – (The History of the Bengalis) and the other, Haricharan Bandopadhyay's Bangiyo Shabdakosh (The Bengali Lexicon). They honored Sudhir Chakraborty as a trend setter who, in his book, Baul Fakirer Kotha found his objective all by himself. He has salvaged things from obscurity, following his own route and establishing his own dialectics. For this he didn't need any funding, any state, institutional or organizational support. I named my findings the 'truth'. This truth is relative; if I revisit them, they will not be there; even if they are, they wil have changed, corrupted through mishandling by agents and brokers. What I had heard lying at midnight in the fair grounds, from the numerous people…
SA: About this change that you've just mentioned, from my experience I can say, this is because now-a-days more urban people are frequenting these areas and there are very few ascetics to counter this influx. This has swept away most of what was left of the originals.
SC: There still exists some such hermits in areas such as Mymensingh and Netrokona etc.
SA: And also in Kushtia – in its remoter parts like Meherpur and Chuadanga. They hardly come out of their seclusion and live a reclusive life with just a few disciples or followers.
SC: The most significant thing is that these visionaries don't reveal themselves. We have to go to them, which I can, but not everyone.
SA: And, as you said, they are unaffected by your academic persona. This nonchalance is a powerful thing in them.
SC: The main factor is that theirs is an area of bhab (intuition) rather than education. Knowledge doesn't work here. They are to be understood with bhab. Their inner world is composed of thoughts and to enter there you need to think.
SA: This distinction between bhab and knowledge – doesn't it relate to the enforced ideological rift between the British colonial education and the learning that is indigenous and personal? Isn't there a possibility that we may presume, sir, that bhab is something ethereal, abstract?
SC: See the difference between the explanations of Charyapada by an eminent professor and an illiterate fakir. This is real finding.
SA: So it seems that there are two aspects of knowledge – intellectual and intuitive. Isn't what they term as feeling also a form of knowledge?
SC: Yes, this also is a kind of knowledge.
SA: From my personal experiences, sir, in this area of knowledge investigation, I think the lifestyle and circumstances of people play a major role in their understanding and interpretation. What would be your take on that?
SC: Well, one thing I can say about myself as a person is, I'm genuine – not influenced by externalities. I had nothing to do with politics, directly or indirectly, during my school and college days. So you see, no specific paternal lifestyle was impinged on me, as my father was an office employee and there wasn't much family legacy to be endowed with. Of course there's this singing talent, which is a different thing. I had to build up my own ideologies. Again, the field of work I chose for myself didn't have any guide. The others who had worked in this field before were inaccurate. They included the Sahebdhonis and Balaharis in the same categories as the bauls.
SA: Or sometimes identified the balaharis as part of the baishnavas.
SC: And yet, they are anti-Baishnav. There's a line which says, ‘The holy water that washed the feet of Sri Krishna Chaitanya tastes bitter to some.’
SA: But if we consider the recent condition of these multicultural and multi-religious groups, starting from Lalon shain to balahari or Sahebdhoni, you too have mentioned this, they are changing fast.
SC: They are not 'there' anymore.
SA: We too realize that, sir. But how would you address that?
SC: They have been destroyed – destroyed by city culture. They were tempted with money, taken abroad, offered cash, paid more cash through TV presentations. They realized that researchers like us are a waste of time though the same people had once considered us to be the right contacts for giving them recognition. Once a devotee of the Sahebdhoni sect told me – ‘You know what? We've realized that it's through you that our words will be spread and that's why we tell you everything.’
SA: What I'd like to know, sir is regarding the tremendous changes in these folk cultures. Say for example, a Balahari festival in Meherpur. I remember, on the second day of the festivities I got startled hearing Baishnav songs, since from your writings and my personal experience I knew there is a disparity between these two sects. But circumstances have changed so much that the locals know very few of their own songs.
SC: New songs are not being composed everywhere.
SA: Far from that, they know very few of the old ones – maximum five or six, not more. In fact they are relearning about themselves taking photocopies of your book from me. But this shocking experience of coming across Vaishnav songs at a Balahari event – it's a significant turning point. These diversions, I feel, are repercussions of the great upheavals in social infrastructure.
SC: It's because of lack of leadership.
SA: At the same time, isn't the changed social matrix responsible for this?
SC: The Balaharis don't have the right people, apt leadership to tell them not to sing those songs which contradict their scriptures. With no one to guide them, they don't know.
SA: My observation, keeping in perspective the recent changes, is that the tremendous interest that people have towards Lalon Fakir is absent when it comes to most other folk cultures. How would you explain this?
SC: That is because people have hyped up his myth and life story. It's the narrative linked to the man.
SA: Couldn't it be due to his songs?
SC: That's one of the reasons. Many singers have adopted his songs, especially those patronizing folk songs. The ascetics are singing Lalon's songs because those are easily available, and with limited understanding, they identify the genre with fakiri. Lalon has not been a fakir according to their own interpretation of fakiri. Like here in Birbhum the real fakiri songs involve holding breath, stertorous breathing, striving through words while touching on mokam-manjil to reach a level and these are consciously spiritual like marfati. We sing Lalon because we sing Rabindranath. The idea is about getting access, getting license into society.
SA: I want to emphasize on the spread and respect that Lalon's songs have across diverse popular cultures and religions. But…
SC: Because they are the best.
SA: That's true.
SC: Quite superior. Nobody has yet been able to match his ideas and expressions. The songs of Kabir Gosai are also of high quality, but I think they have not been publicized well. The singer community must keep in mind that new songs are introduced into society only when they themselves promote it.
SA: At the same time, isn't the connectivity/transmission factor as important? For example, the Balahari songs are getting lost due to lack of popular appeal.
SC: Audience and patrons are created through exposure, repeated listening process. The fame of Rabindranath didn't happen just like that. In his lifetime, very few people listened to Rabindranath's songs, whereas Nazrul songs were popular. I've heard about an incident which goes like this: Dinendranath Thakur was singing Rabindranath's song when people stopped him saying, we've come to listen to Kazi's songs, not these. Rabindranath's songs are incorporatable to Kazi's songs. So, singers and audience, both play significant roles. In my speeches, I speak of this order in any creative field – first the creator, then his creation, then the practice, then the master, then the artist and finally the connoisseur. Rabindranath created these connoisseurs. Such devotees are they that if someone makes the slightest mistake in tune while singing his song, another five will protest – What's he (singer) doing with the Tagore song! There's no one to be that defensive about Nazrul. So, Nazrul's songs have suffered random alterations. And as you said, there are no singers to sing for the Balaharis. Let me give you a small example – Rabindranath wrote 2232 songs in his lifetime, Atul Prasad wrote only 208 of which only 75 have notations and fifteen are sung.
SA: We can say that about Lalan Fakir as well. We hear just a few songs over and over again.
SA: I'd like to throw light on another area by narrating a personal experience to clarify it. The distance between Kushtia and Meherpur is approximately foruty kilometres. I was born in Kushtia and grew up there, hearing about Lalon Fakir since my childhood. Chheurriya was just ten minutes walk from my home and so I frequented that ashram and observed in front of my eyes how things were changing. But till nineteen ninety-nine, I hadn't even heard about a community known as Balahari. I discovered much later that the cobbler at the corner shop of our locality was from that community.
SC: In Kushtia there are also some other groups, like Barkhada – Jugiya Barkhada.
SA: But how would you explain this situation?
SC: It's because they avoid exposure, choose to stay hidden. Their identity is partly knowledge and partly concealed. They did the right thing. They thought – We won't tell anyone, because they won't understand us, Balaharis; we'll keep our culture to ourselves – something like this. The way a widow keeps her husband's memories within herself without sharing it with anyone. Or a lover secretly nurses the heartbreak of lost love while living a perfect life with another partner.
SA: Would you say this has a connection with urban interest? I've a feeling that since Lalon's components have a certain affinity with the urban mindset, this is what they would like to adhere to and that might have played a role here.
SC: Yes, a very significant role. Another contributing factor is that now Lalon's songs have been embellished with instrumental accompaniments, which has not been done with the others. You can't even imagine a song of Balaram Hari presented that way. It involves arrangement. Previously it used to be the composer, music director and singer; now it's the arranger, the most significant person promoting the song fiercely. He dictates for whom he'd play the music, who would be included in his team. Now-a-days they have bands for these. Don't you think some are created specifically for folk songs?
SA: Yes, we too have bands who sing folk-music and sometimes various components of folk-music are also used at a solo level. That will continue. But this elitist curiosity and interest, launched during the Pakistan era, has flourished vigorously subsequently, and the last ten years saw a great expansion at the level of the establishment as well as an unbelievable rise in Lalon's mass popularity. This trend is quite new, extending back to, say, ten to fifteen years. Before that, there was some kind of curiosity, and that's all. How would you explain this?
SC: This is urban cunning. A conniving attitude does exist here.
SA: Would you please explain.
SC: They find out exactly when something will gain popularity. Like the modern movie songs – no one sings standing or sitting; the singing characters dance with the songs, which is physically impossible. You can't simultaneously sing and dance. We have a very popular movie song by Hemanta Mukhopadhay and Sandhya Mukhopadhay, Ei path jodi na shesh hoi which is enacted by Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen while they are riding a motor-cycle. Can anyone do this? Totally impracticable.
SA: Specially, this song.
SC: No. There are many other songs which have been spoiled this way. But people want this. The visual is important for them.
SA: But our operatic or narrative singers do dance while singing.
SC: That's a different kind of dance, not wild cavorting like this. Not so fierce – abnormally twisting the bodies – and the actors are seen doing this while they are singing! How can this generate something artistic?
SA: This is all about catering to popular taste or demand.
SC: Exactly. The plain truth is, all art forms have become visual. In my article, Gaaner Chehara (The Face of Music) I've discussed in what state the primary aspect of music is now. I see this in many places, even in my own household. A girl was singing a Tagore song and I heard a lady whispering – You know, she is wearing a special [the name is unclear] sari, take a note of the colour, I'd like to buy one. Now a contemporary artist got on the stage, on his Panjabi there was a print of the Dakshineswar Temple. His Shyamasangeet, devotional song had to be illustrated by the symbol of the temple. Now, do I view the print or concentrate on his song?
SA: So, the visual display is of prime importance now… Another noticeable factor here is the increase in Baul related writings. Many people have collections of Baul songs or Lalon songs, etc.
SC: But actually they know nothing. They copy from here and there and pass them off as Baul songs. Say, when there is a cultural show claiming to be on Baul songs, you may expect there will be at least one, sung by a random fellow dragged in from somewhere.
SA: Like an item song.
SC: Yes. Then he starts singing, rather screaming at the top of his voice. After sometime they ask for love songs, songs of passion. So the stage is taken up by non-authentic singers known as Rang-panchali (colour-doggerel) in our country, meaning they bring in an assortment of colours. That's the fate of most musical programmes – they start seriously and then decline in quality, get ribald so that the youngsters join them in dance. That's what the band shows do to engage audience – they invite them – Come on, dance with us! And they dance.
SA: The same we see here. Now, sir, we'll delve into two other subjects before wrapping up our discussion for today. One is, considering the deep bond you have with country life and folk culture, how would you define the impetus, the actual emotion that holds you there?
SC: In those days, when I went to the villages, I noticed that those who were working in this line or singing, had a place of respect there. The villagers guided me as a newcomer to folks considered as sages or ascetics. Now I notice the villagers don't even like them.
SA: But why?
SC: The fakirs are not as respected as the bauls. The fakirs are not on display. They don't sing or dance or wear saffron; gerua garbs. Now, have you heard the story behind this gerua clothing?
SA: I might have read somewhere in your writing.
SC: It goes like this: A Bengali American gentleman was the first to take a baul to sing in America. But how could he present the singer in his dirty, unsightly tunic? So, adopting the style of Swami Vivekananda, he decided on the gerua cloak, the sash and the turban to be the outfit of the baul, which became their dress from then on. In Bangladesh they don't have gerua.
SA: No, not at all.
SC: Because Baul isn't about stoicism. Go to North Bengal, to places like Dinajpur, no baul wears gerua.
SA: No, never saw one.
SC: Always white.
SA: Of course, some sects like Kartabhaja have been seen in red.
SC: That's related to the cult. But generally it is white. Living life in the garb of death, that's the idea behind it.
SA: From what you've said, it's clear that the fundamental factors are changing. But I wish to know for sure if this transformation is costing the villages the shared communal ethos they once possessed and the attendant charm and freshness that seem to have been lost.
SC: The main cause of the change is the economic growth. The rural populace has learned to explore various methods of earning money. For example, there are many deep and shallow tube wells. A young man learns some techniques of fixing tube wells. So he goes around telling people they have problems with their tube wells, which need fixing. He potters around, gets rich.
SA: Does this have an impact on society at large?
SC: It does. This newly rich person starts showing off by acquiring fancy commodities, clothing from Kolkata, just like any other educated youth. This tempts other youngsters to taste that glamorous life-style, drinking, dressing up and so they turn to crime, robbery. You'll see many of the robberies have a couple of youths behind them. The simple reason, traditional village life is gone.
SA: Now that we've discussed these various crises in our society, in our academic life and the system that controls it, the flawed outlook in the area of research and analyzed the condition and environment of our knowledge – can we possibly find a way out of these? What do you think?
SC: I think the 'families' need to be organized.
SA: Family! Why are you laying emphasis on the family?
SC: A family moulds its children. The present social order upholds the system of a nuclear family, a capsulated household. Both working parents are out in the morning. What about the child? Half of my own vocabulary is learned from my mother. She tasked me with reading the Ramayana while she took her siesta. I continued reading as long as she napped. No mother would train her children now even in the basics. They would be taught a few lines in English – being detached from their own linguistic culture.
SA: Very true. This trend is very strong in our country as well.
SC: So, I feel that the family structure has to be reconstructed.
SA: But sir, how is it possible?
SC: It's not possible, because of the influx of money. When I was a college professor, my salary was eight hundred eighty five rupees, whereas now it is thirty thousand. Both of the couples are working, bringing the income to sixty thousand. They're buying scooters, everything is in order. Food is coming through catering. The days of home-made coconut balls are gone. Fish is gutted and pieced in the market. Who will do that at home? Yes. Reconstruction of the family – that could be the only way out.
SHAWON AKAND is a freelance writer, researcher and artist based in Dhaka.