By Chandrima Pal Jun. 12, 2019
To some Bengalis who felt betrayed by those who voted for the BJP during the Lok Sabha elections, the Beep Festival’s cancellation was merely a trailer for the blockbuster cultural clampdowns that are sure to follow.
It took 30 years for poriborton to come to Bengal. But once the argumentative Bengali had a taste of this heady brew, there was no going back to that earlier staple of “cholche cholbe” the Left Front’s slogan. It loosely translates to “We will carry on with whatever we are doing.” But for the woman who was inspired by Barack Obama’s historic “Change We Can Believe In” campaign, poriborton has came back to haunt her. Bengalis want a change from the change, and we want it, like, yesterday. From the looks of it, blue is bleeding to saffron in the city.
Beef was recently beeped out at an ill-fated food festival, which was eventually called off. At a different time in history, Arjun Kar, the young host of the meat festival, would have been the poster boy of the city’s cosmopolitan and inclusive spirit. Sadly, he seemed to tick all the wrong boxes this year. The moment news of the “Beef and Pork Festival” went viral, the team was inundated with threat calls. It was not enough for them to change the name to “Beep Festival”, they eventually had to call it off, unsure of the violence that awaited the hundreds of foodies who had paid for the fest.
The Beep Festival’s cancellation was perhaps just a trailer for the grand release of the BJP blockbuster that seems almost inevitable. There are some who are delighted that all their predictions of a cultural clampdown are coming true, thanks to the “betrayal” of the 23 per cent (according to poll data) that decided to vote in favour of the BJP.
“Besh hoyeche” is the Kolkata state of mind these days. In other words, serves you right. And it is directed in anger, fear, and foreboding toward no one in particular but everyone in general.
Now that the Beep Festival has met an ignominious end, the Besh Hoyeche gang predicts worse during the time of Durga Puja. Forget chicken rolls and mutton biryani, have Navratri special sabudana khichdi at the pandals instead. If that’s not enough to make every self-respecting Bengali lose his sanity, what is? There is also the possibility of enforcing a ban on mutton, every Bengali’s celebratory meat, since Netaji’s grandnephew and BJP’s Vice-President for Bengal Chandra Kumar Bose claimed on Twitter that the goat is our mother.
For decades the Bengali cultural arrogance has divided the world into two kinds of people — Bengali and non-Bengali
It doesn’t stop at the food apocalypse. There is more bad news from the north. Darjeeling, a symbol of Bengali pride (and also where our predecessors roamed the tea estates on horsebacks and entertained European guests), is slipping away. If the BJP continues with its strategy of winning over councillors who will work towards breaking away from Bengal, one half of Bengalis would definitely press that Besh Hoyeche buzzer again.
For decades the Bengali cultural arrogance has divided the world into two kinds of people — Bengali and non-Bengali. There was a special kind of disdain for those from the North, unless they came with potatoes in the biryani à la Wajid Ali Shah. Our superiority as race over the rest of the world was wired into our heads from the time we have been in our mothers’ wombs. Now that we have paved the way for those whom Mamata Didi calls “outsiders”, irony is about to jump off the top of the Victoria Memorial dome as those same “outsiders” are trampling all over the rubble of our cultural and racial pride.
The next few years (or maybe months?) could see history being rewritten, places renamed, and people forgotten. Naysayers are predicting terrible things. The legendary Ramzan food trail at Chitpore, in the graceful shadow of the Nakhoda Masjid, could well disappear. For the multitudes that throng these skinny alleys for selfies with Adam’s sutli kebabs, haleem, biryani, bakarkhani, and other delicacies, while shopping for attar and mojris, this year things were ominously different. Even before the election results came out, there were fewer stalls selling the cautiously named beep kebabs. The mood was definitely far more downbeat and solemn. And even though a grand photo opportunity was created for the celebratory namaz near the Victoria Memorial maidan, the josh was not as high.
Now, the aristocratic families of North or South Calcutta, who are happy with the BJP’s gains in the city, cannot really tell anyone that their relatives living abroad love a good steak. Or that beef is also their occasional choice of meat when they gather at the colonial-era clubs to enjoy a good scotch and discuss politics. The poriborton that began with the collapse of the Left Front has snowballed into something unrecognisable, and soon Bengal may no longer be Bengal, but UP-by-the-sea.
Chandrima Pal is a journalist, columnist, career insomniac and caffeine snob. Loves food. Does travel. Author of A Song for I (Amaryllis) and At Home in Mumbai (Harper Collins).