Although I have lived in Kolkata all my life, Bangla is not my first language, though close enough to my heart and comes as naturally to my lips as any other. I often wish more people would learn this lovely language.
I was therefore strangely pleased that even you wish to study Bangla so as to communicate better with the people of this state ahead of the forthcoming Assembly elections. I hope you mean this seriously: not to have a speech already written for you by Babul Supriyo or Dilip Ghosh and read off by you from a ticker tape.
Please forgive me for presuming to give you some tips. Once you have got past the alphabet and some trifling changes Hindi speakers have to make, you will quickly respond to the full sweetness of this language and the richness of its literature.
As a start, let me tell you not to start with “Mitron!” The basic word is the same but it pluralises differently and isn’t normally used to address a gathering.
I recalled that when Mahasweta Devi passed away, you had movingly tweeted how much you had admired her, particularly works such as Hajar Chaurashir Ma and Rudaali. I assume you read these in translation. As you become proficient in Bangla, as I am sure you will, given your tenacity, I hope you will take some time out to read these powerful works in the original, and also to read Aranyer Adhikar.
I’m certain it would give you many insights into the world of the original inhabitants of our great country and remind you of their ancient right to an environment that they are fast losing. (They almost certainly won’t have documents to prove it.)
After the Ayodhya verdict, you will soon be thinking of building the “mandir” and a “masjid” there. A particular tale by writer Shibram Chakraborty might amuse you – he made an ingenious suggestion about what to construct for the benefit of people of all faiths.
Another story by Syed Mujataba Ali, an author very popular in West Bengal and Bangladesh, might enlighten you. It is titled “Nonajol” (“Seawater”). He had to flee to Kolkata from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), for insisting on Bangla, rather than Urdu, as the language there.
Then there are the writings of Upendrakishore Ray and his son, Sukumar Ray. I would strongly recommend the Ramayana and the Mahabharat for children and short stories of the former, while urging you to read Abol Tabol, Ha ja ba ra la, and Lakshmaner Shaktishel, witty and relaxing pieces by the latter. They are the grandfather and father, respectively, of the late and much-revered Satyajit Ray.
Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Meghnadbadhkavya is extremely interesting, but you might want to save that for later as it is tough reading with a lot of unusual words that he coined.
There is above all the great Rabindranath Tagore. Your government rightly insists on our standing up when the anthem he so graciously provided us with is played in cinema halls and elsewhere. You probably also know that he was the author of the national anthem of Bangladesh, and contributed in no small measure to the national anthem of Sri Lanka.
We also love the song Sare Jahaan se Achha written by a different poet about this, our land, when it had not been arbitrarily partitioned by a departing imperial power. It truly doesn’t matter that the author eventually settled in a neighbouring land. We love our neighbours and they are, the ancients tell us, always welcome: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the world is one family.
In recent times, I have been much drawn to my childhood memories of the second stanza of Jana Gana Mana, which in its entirety, is a love song. I strongly recommend that you listen to the second stanza and utilise your newly acquired expertise in the language to comprehend its nuances.
You could do this by listening to TM Krishna’s intensely moving version (bottom). As he says genially at the start, you don’t even have to stand up when you hear it. Here is a rough translation of this second stanza to help you:
Your clarion call reaches out to us and we hear its message of grace.
Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Muslim and Christian,
From east to west they awake and assemble before your throne
To weave in harmony a garland for you, a symbol of the victory of love.
It is you, who create unity in the people of our land,
You, who create our nation’s destiny
We hail your victory!
And Mr Shah, please do respond to the juxtaposition of the word “nationalism” with the word “humanism” in Tagore’s essays. It might make people use the word “anti-national” a little less frequently about citizens of this great land.