PARTITION AND THE BENGALI LANGUAGE

 

By Basudha Chakravarty

 

BENGALI language and literature have had, especially since the days of Tagore, a recognised place among the literatures of the world. Their development is naturally regarded as integrated with Bengali life. But then Bengal has been partitioned. East Bengal has joined the newly founded State of Pakistan on the basis that Muslims are a nation apart from the Hindus and are in a majority there. West Bengal where Hindus constitute the majority refused to go the way of East Bengal and remained in the Indian Union. Muslims opposed partition on the ground that Bengal was an integral whole and as such, being a Muslim majority province, should be in Pakistan.

 

But if Bengal was a geographical and linguistic entity, undivided India was an even stronger and more natural entity. If then India was to be divided on the basis of the two-nation theory or, just to avoid exchange of population, on a communal majority basis, Bengal had similarly to be divided. The argument that she was a distinct entity did not prevail in face of the division of India and was naturally regarded with suspicion as only a move to include the whole province in Pakistan. Nor had it any apparent plausibility, for cultural difference had been adduced as the main plank of the two-nation theory and militated against any assumption of a composite culture in which both Hindus and Muslims participated.

 

When thus Bengal has been divided, and the two Bengals pursue their divergent ways of life and certainly now do not feel that they have much common ground with each other, unity of cultural development would seem to be a melancholy unreality. Subjective inclination for a unified Bengali culture however lingers, and even recently a reputed Muslim professor said in his Presidential address at East Pakistan Cultural Conference that despite partition Bengalees had not ceased to be Bengalees and the essential Bengali character must remain intact. Immediately, however, he received a rebuff from East Bengalís leading daily paper which asserted that talk like that was out of place in Pakistan.

 

The historical background into the making of which political developments before and after partition have also gone, is indeed the basis of divergence of cultural development between East and West Bengal. East Bengalís point of departure lies in long-standing complaints of inadequate representation of Muslim life. Such complaints might well be considered artificial; for representation of Muslim life largely depends on Muslim writers and will automatically come in the wake of such writers. Yet it stands to common sense that literature in East Bengal will henceforth largely concentrate on Muslim life. That will help to enrich and perfect literature and need not certainly cause a rift in Bengali literary development. Still a rift seems likely, for use of Arabic and Persian words will impart to literary development in East Bengal a distinct character which West Bengal is not likely to take easily. Nor, will such use be unnatural or wrong, for many Arabic and Persian words are in actual use among Muslims, and others are brought into us to denote feelings of special Muslim significance. Yet others will very probably be introduced just to muslimize the language on the argument that it has hitherto largely shown Hindu character and imagery. Muslim life as such found expression in the past in what are called PuthisĖstories in verse written by half-educated versifiers, yet eminently reflecting the core of Muslim life. Muslim writers are frank in their opinion that their work must develop on the background of the Puthis. Profuse use of words of Muslim significance is therefore to be expected and will not be easily adaptable to the parent trend of the Bengali language. The psychological factor counts above all in social and cultural matters and does not, as it is now, promise co-ordination of literary development between East and West Bengal. It would be true to say so even admitting that East Bengal will resist, as she has hitherto resisted, West Pakistanís pull towards Urdu and will, while admitting Urdu for certain State purposes, preserve the mother-tongue in social, personal, and educational spheres and will also find the official suggestion for writing Bengali in Arabic script unacceptable.

 

Here, then, we frankly face a prospect of bifurcation of the Bengali language. Strange as it may seem West Bengal is not altogether unprepared for East Bengalís departure from the language pattern hitherto pursued, in the sense of separate Muslim self-expression. In that context indeed Hindu writers from East Bengal are finding their field of work transferred to West Bengal. The considerable migration of East Bengal people to West Bengal that has taken place, should also result in the introduction into West Bengal of some of the cultural forms peculiar to East Bengal. With their absorption West Bengal may consider herself free to pursue the cultural pattern that she considers her own and by which she has here before too sought to distinguish herself from East Bengal. That pattern is supposed to be related to the classical Hindu trend which, it is suggested, has not been maintained in East Bengal where large-scale diffusion due at first to Buddhist, then Islamic influencehas taken place. This supposed cultural difference was even brought in as an argument for partition. But considering that it was not much heard of before and development of Bengali language and literature was regarded as the solid concern of Bengal and Bengalees as a whole, there seems to be little reason to contemplate difference in literary development except on the basis on which political partition has taken place. Rather the psychological inability of East Bengal Hindus to adapt themselves to the new political pattern in their homeland and the actual migration of a large number among them, particularly of the upper class, to West Bengal and elsewhere presages concentrated cultural development of Bengalee Hindus in West Bengal and precludes the possibility of their sharing in any important degree East Bengalís literary development.

 

The outlook before East and West Bengal just now is frankly that literary development as between them will differ. The prospect seems abrupt and somewhat unnatural, considering that mere political division is here regarded as corroding racial and linguistic unity existing for generations. But it is really not so absurd, considering that unity has not prevailed against the disunity that has now been discovered and admitted between Hindus and Muslims as such. Again it may be urged that the past background and tradition of Bengali language and literature belong to both Hindus and Muslims and must be the foundation of literary development of both Bengals and will be a natural lever of unity between them. Such masters as Rabindranath, Sarat Chandra and Nazrul Islam cannot easily be disclaimed by either Bengal and will prove an abiding link between East and West. This argument ignores the point of departure that Muslim literary development expressly wants to take in the direction of expression of Muslim life through distinctive forms. That would not make it necessary to disown the past and East Bengal need not certainly disavow Rabindranath. Literary masters are for all climes, and that Bengali language and literature, as they are today, are largely the work of Hindus lays on East Bengal no obligation not to evolve its own literary pattern, particularly when there is the overriding and pressing consideration that Muslim life has yet found but little expression in Bengali language and literature. Prospects are then clearly in favour of a split between the two Bengals in the matter of cultural development, carrying the political division to ruthless consummation. And objectively speaking too such a split would seem very natural. For, in spite of sentimental and wishful thinking of a joint Hindu-Muslim Bengali culture, the fact remains that Muslim consciousness, once it has been roused, declines to share in those aspects of Bengali and, for the matter of that, Indian culture which are derived even remotely from Hindu ideology. From its point of view, indeed, the common cultural feeling that has vaguely prevailed so long has been accountable to the Muslims self-forgetful surrender to the Hindus.

 

It would not therefore be true to say that Bengalee Hindus and Muslims own to a common culture. They do not. Minority Hindus of East Benga1 may be quite safe in preserving, conserving and developing, so far as possible, their culture; but there is yet little prospect of development of a composite culture to which they can contribute. If this be regrettable, nothing would be more unfair than to ascribe it solely to the Muslims. The common cultural attitude of Hindus is prohibitive of easy integration with Muslim feeling. Hindus would admit Muslims to their culture only on their own terms. But Muslims in East Bengal wait for their self-expression, not for cultural experimentation in co-operation with others. The present position therefore is in favour of cultural division of the Bengalee race on religious-cum-communal lines.

 

An additional and immediate proof that the tendency towards cultural, even linguistic, separation is not merely on one side and is operative in the Hindu mind equally, though less vocally than among the Muslims, is to be had in the official adoption of complex Sanskrit words to replace English words that have so far been in use. This has had the effect of complicating the language and making it less easily understandable. On the background of democratization of the Bengali language, such as has been pronounced in Rabindranath and writers after him, this deliberate movement towards complexity is regarded as retrograde, and the process of Sanskritization has aroused protest apart from doubt whether it can at all succeed. No less a man than Pundit Nehru has felt compelled to publicly condemn this sort of artificial attempt to subordinate a popular language to the whims of a conservative coterie. It has however sought reinforcement from the argument of inter-provincial uniformity in the development of terminological literature. There is no gainsaying that it is likely to have a devastating effect on what chances there might have been of symmetrical literary development of East and West Bengal. There is no doubt that East Bengal will coin its new terminology mainly by Arabic and Persian words, largely alien to the Hindu mind and unacceptable to West Bengal. But it would not do to ascribe this sort of single-track mind solely to Muslims. The Hindus have a similar mind, only if cleverly less vociferous, and with a superiority complex in the bargain. Between them two Bengali language and literature are in imminent danger of losing the hitherto maintained unity of development.

 

Here, however, there is possibly some counting without the host, Literature, says Trotsky, does not lead but limps after life. If that appears over-simplification, it is nevertheless true that literature is the expression of the objective urge of the people and helps its subjective realisation rather than create the urge itself. There very probably a link will be found and no great compartmentalization on purely sectarian lines will prove possible. For life itself will cease to be sectarian and will be derived of the lives of the people where sectarianism is already being supplanted by unity of economic interest and unity in the struggle to safeguard that interest. Language and literature must of necessity respond to the peopleís need and will permit no putting the clock back. They will have to be simple and popular and will very probably get loose from the sectarianism that is the mainstay of what is today the ruling class. There East and West Bengal must find a common ground. After all even today no West Bengalee, let alone the emigree from East Bengal, can fail to respond to the tune of East Bengalís song Bhatial. In that context literature will cease to be, as it should never be, Hindu or Muslim and it may be well left for a literary pioneer to present the pattern of future development untrammelled by considerations of communal distinctiveness. Maybe when todayís politicians have had their day and the intellectuals have, out of the separatist tendencies of today, amassed their brief cultural fortune, Bengal will rediscover herself in the life of her people and the separatism that increasingly threatens to envelope her politically-divided self will vanish like morning dream.

 

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