Thursday, January 28, 2010

History and Comrades - West Bengal

Hello everyone. Thanks for all the kind comments. It's so nice to hear from people - the love and support means the world to me. You're all in my heart and prayers.

This post might come off as a bit of a history lesson. I apologize ahead of time, but my goal is to build a bit of context to help explain a few of my most interesting experiences so far. Some of these facts have been dug up from wikipedia, just to let you know.

So, West Bengal is one of states 28 states in India (there are also 7 federally administered 'Union Territories'). Although it covers only 2.7% of India's landmass, it contains 7.8% of its population with around 80,000,000 residents. Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal, and is the third most populated metropolis in the country. West Bengal is less than half the size of Washington State and has a population twelve times larger. Imagine that.

The British East India Company had its capital in Kolkata throughout the Raj era in India. Several greats of Indian history have sprouted from these grounds. Rabindranath Tagore, who will most likely continue to be discussed throughout this blog, was a highly influential social activists during the tulmutuos years in India during the first half of the twentieth century. He critiqued the inflammatory nationalist movement through his novels and poetry, and in doing so played a large role in modernizing Indian literature; earning him a Nobel Prize in Literature - Asia's first Nobel Prize winner. He founded a university called Visva Bharati, which is only about two miles away from where I'm living now.

Another big name from West Bengal is Subhash Chandra, the greatest freedom fighter during the Indian independance movement against the British Raj in the mid 1900's. A few nights ago, while wandering the neighborhoods, Loren and I stumbled upon hallowed ground. We were told it was where Chandra gave one of his famous speaches . There was a statue of him and something like a shrine nearby - he is highly venerated. Below is a paiting we found on the wall of a school near our house.

Rabindranath on the left, Chandra on the right

Amartya Sen is another big name and more of a contemprorary than the other two. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998.

The point I'm trying to get across is that the history of West Bengal as a state is inseperable from the history of India as a nation. So much has gone on here, it's difficult to wrap my head around.

The final component of WB that I'd like to mention, and that stands out in Indian history is its ruling political party. For three decades it has been ruled by The Left Front, a group led by the Communist Part of India. This is the longest standing democratically elected communist government. One leader in particular from West Bengal, known as the architect of the Indian Communist Party, had a profound impact on India's politics over the past six decades. He died the first week Loren and I got here, on January 17th at the age of 85.

Fascinating. What does that mean? What are the realities of that? How does it impact politics here - as my Dad would say, "The process whereby it is decided who gets what". It's easy to read about this, but seeing and hearing it has opened my mind so much more to the subject. Imagine it - over twenty years ago the Wall fell. But here in West Bengal, like in China moreso than North Korea, there exists a modernized communist government. One that seemingly plays with the notion of private property and competition. Anyway, it's been so interesting to me to see bits and pieces of it.

A recent demonstration on a busy road near our house. The Communist Party in India is in decline recently, and they are desperate to show the people they are still present. They even hire people to come in from the countryside to take part in the marches.

Communist graffiti we saw walking down a random neighborhood lane

A memorial to Basu on the day after his death. The flags were all raised at half mast. The bridge in the background is the Howrah Bridge, which crosses the Hoogly river on the way to Kolkata

More communist graffiti
A megaphone attached to a rickshaw during the same demonstration

Anyway, this is all just my brain wandering. Interesting stuff. So much to learn. There is no danger to me as a US citizen, as long as I use common sense and courtesy. Loren and I blatently were taking photos and no one said a word to us.

And, last but not least, I think India has made me appreciate cute animals more than ever.

I don't care who you are, that's cute.


  1. That lamb is so cute it hurts....

  2. I'm totally in love with this lamb!!! Such a cutie!!! Bring it back in your suitcase please! Such a cutie!- Ingrid

  3. Really good writing can't wait to hear and see more. who put the shirt on that lamb.

  4. Great history lesson! How does the Communist Party reconcile its philosophy with private ownership of property/business?

  5. Jeff, glad to see that already you have 25 followers! Jesus had just 12. So, you should be able to change the world double quick!! By the way, to answer Liber: The Communist Party very well reconciles with private ownership by trying to do the following: Keep everyone poor! That's what they tried to a long time, when India had had not grown economically so strong. That's why, Bengal is still struggling with education, health and poverty issues, whereas many other states in India have gone way ahead. Times are changing. The communist party here is heading for a defeat in the next elections. - Puthumai