What ails Bengal today?

It is at this corner of the world – the eastern part of India – where people have been shaped for ages to deal with a highly humid tropical climate, that has produced quite a set of notable personalities in the fields of arts, science and philosophy. The likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Ray, Satyajit Ray, Satyendranath Bose, Meghnad Saha, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo illustrate the point.

However, it has also led to an observation on how producing such a set of intellectuals have resulted in a social evolution whereby this very social class – the Bengalis – coupled with the evolution of political systems in this region, have come to believe with time that individualism works better that collectivism; success is more pronounced at the individual intellectual level than a group of people engaged in a team activity and associated achievement. The political systems have resonated that and has given more than enough wood to this fire of thought.

Whereas we can see similar phenomena in many individualistic societies across the world, particularly in western countries who have inculcated this philosophy under the ‘freedom of though and expression’ banner; in Bengal, the disparity of the common, mostly uneducated masses of Bengal and this very intelligentsia has created this problem of haves and have-nots at a very individual level. On this line of thought, the political system on one hand has encouraged this disparity through blatant propaganda of this intelligentsia, and on the other hand has encouraged formation of quasi-groups (note that individuals in these groups have still not adapted working in a collective teamwork based approach, unlike in many other parts of India) to counter this very intelligentsia. This has led to problems of labor unrest, low productivity and local illegal syndicates in Bengal, whereas today the real intelligentsia have slowly moved out to greener pastures.

As an example, in one specific instance, in a particular university a professor emeritus associated with it gave his whole life’s earnings to build a laboratory for the university to both further his research and encourage students to leverage it. When he retired, the local syndicate (in Bengal, politics still hold a sway over educational institutions) barred him from even entering the university premises, let alone the lab. The result over time was that, the expensive equipments were taken away and possibly sold off for the “betterment of local infrastructure” which essentially meant feeding the goons that represented the syndicate. You can easily guess what the professor would have naturally done.

Today, with the high political polarity that Bengal experiences day in and day out, the common Bengali fails to realise that irrespective of the party he or she supports so passionately, it is the Bengali as the people or race who has dug its own grave. I, being a common Bengali, was failing to realise this when I was in school years back; even I, at that point of time, joined other Bengalis in criticising such views that came from the likes of Nirad C. Chowdhury, an erstwhile well known writer then settled abroad (possibly in the UK). The realisation came when I moved out of this part of the country in search of a job; it was a bird’s eye view which showed, whatever political faction each of this class of people fought for – all individual wars as any essence of teamwork has been still missing – each of them looked the same; a quintessential Bengali.

Can this be changed?