In my Navodaya days, I remember that during our vacations in home, after hearing the tone of my Bengali, Ma used to warn me – “Why your tone of speaking changed, be polite!” I used to wonder – how she marks it! Afterwards Navodaya days, for our career scopes, like thousands of learned family there, she too insisted that proceed anywhere outside than Bihar.
Year 1994, Ma and I reached Chennai by train for my coaching admissions. On the way in train, I was carrying all my certificates too. I had felt that, she didn’t slept most part of the nights, knowing my 10th mark sheet was in the box. Though the train comes out of Bihar territories, but it was the result of our fear of losing baggage in train journeys of Bihar!
At T. Nagar, Chennai, Ma took me to a hostel for making my stay arrangement during the coaching period. We were waiting at the reception unless the manager was to come. By the time on being asked a guy there told that one bed is going to vacate next 5 days. I used to be smarter those teenage days. I could talk in English too! As the manager came, I took the lead and was asking for the seat, if any. He refused to have any. I argued,-“Next week some seat no. was going to vacate”. He was surprised and now he refused more. Ma didn’t tell anything to him at that time.
After searching for few more hostels, Ma insisted to return back to same hostel. Now she spoke to him and requested for temporary arrangement if possible unless any seat is available. He immediately told okay and took my luggage into room no. 7. I was given a temporary seat.
Next day manager was telling to me -” See guy, I was not willing to give you seat here. But seeing your Ma and her behavior, I gave you seat. Otherwise Biharis I don’t give! I was shocked. “But your mother is Bengali”, he added. “Yes”, I nodded with surprise. In those days, I did not know that by costume one can be recognized of place of belonging. “How you knew that?”- I asked him. He added to prove his expertise- “People from all over India come here. Did not she have white & red bangles (shakha & pola) in her hand and Bengali sari and sindoor”. At that time only I knew that its unique identity of Bengali married ladies. Later on I knew that Oriya and Assamese ladies are almost same.
For such long period, I was for the first time outside Bihar. I mingled with the people from all over India there. Those 6 months were my days of improvements.
But my Bihari – non Residential Bengali identity remained unsolved. For my whole stay in Chennai, I used to tell people, I am from West Bengal. Though in fact, I stay at the boundary town of Bihar- Bengal. The 2 km south and 2 km north of our town is the boundary line of West Bengal with our relatives.
Again it was the year of 2001-02. I was working in a computer lab in Bangalore for my project works. My Professor used to have and still have fatherly affection for me. Obviously he knew well that I am from a Bihar town and he also knew that I came from Bengal town institute, Siliguri (Darjeeling) for projects. But several times when seeing me in the lab, his colleagues used to ask him about me. He used to tell them straight- “He is Prem from West Bengal, Darjeeling”. Once in hurry even he told too that “He is from Assam”. I have to digest the reality behind his convincing answers.
Still at the workplace or somewhere else on being asked my name – people get confused. Next question comes – “From where do you belong?” Obvious the answer is “Bihar”. But sensing the situation, I have to enrich them “though I am Bengali”.
Coming back to our home, Ma, though for our school studies she preferred Hindi than Bengali and at home our mother-tongue remained Bengali only. I can guess today that she maintained an unseen boundary around us from the local culture. Since our childhood days she impregnated fine arts, music, classical dance and other cultural activities which are indispensable part of any cultured Bengali families. We were allowed to mingle with selected friends only. Though she has risen up the levels of caste, creed and regional variations, after getting good marriage proposals from native Bihar families for my sisters, those could not be materialized.
I have to hear and bear the facts underlying. There all the things need to improve a lot including socio-political culture with added sense of responsibility.
In the cosmopolitan life, I am escaping the situations and maintaining my Bengali culture. The fact remains that I am born and brought up on the land of Bihar. I would have been happier, had people embraced me as Bihari !
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