Apius Bengalis Indiae: Mimicry, Man and a Colonized Imaginary



It was with great foresight that Lord Macaulay had decided to introduce English education in India with the express purpose of creating an intermediary class of people who would be Indian in blood but British “in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”. The foundations of an imperishable empire of the mind that were laid then, continue to remain solidly functional in the existing culture-scape of India where we continue to display our indelible association with ancestral primates through irresistible exhibitions of aping.

Consider for example the nomenclature and self-projection of two ongoing real estate projects near Kolkata at present. One of them is called London City, a luxury residential hub coming up in Newtown, Rajarhat and the other one, Elita Garden Vista, proudly advertises itself as “New York in New Town” and invites consumers to “Own a home with a 6.8 acre Central Park”. The website of the latter categorically claims: “Come and stay in 6.8 acre elevated central park and experience the magic of living in New York at New Town.” As opposed to the postcolonial need to provincialize the West, the West continues to function as a fetishistic superobject in our imaginary and operates as a transcendental signifier of luxury and opulence that the comprador bourgeoisie of the so-called Third World has embraced as its summum bonum. No wonder then that the latest monument to adorn the Kolkata skyscape is a clock tower built in imitation of the Big Ben in London, with further plans of building a Kolkata Eye, in accordance with the famous London Eye. For a city that still prides itself on the magnificence of two architectural hallmarks from the days of the Raj – the Howrah Bridge and the Victoria Memorial – such additions are hardly out of place. And any attempt to suggest that equally magnificent towers and edifices can be located in various parts of Asia (Hongkong, Tokyo, Manila, Bukittinggi to name a few) or that a new structure, if it is to be built, may well be an original one rather than an imitation, might well prove to be an exercise in futility as we Indians in general, and Bengalis in particular, have a remarkable fascination for imitation, especially if the object of adoration has its origin in the West. Therefore, we think of modernization by way of London, improved hill-tourism by way of Switzerland and international film festival in Goa by way of Cannes. Despite the vaunted claims of nationalism, the West thus continues lord over our imaginary and consciousness and Macaulay’s vision of an imperishable empire remains all too strong as the aspirations of the upwardly mobile Indian insistently mirror the West, whatever the extent of distortion.

The extent of such mimicry becomes visible again when we take into account the establishment of schools such as the New York Public School. Why should a school set up in Saltlake, a satellite township adjacent to Kolkata in West Bengal, invoke New York? In fact names such as New York, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Boston or Washington, for many Indians, have a kind of totemic significance which is capable of uplifting anything from a school to a toilet tissue to celestial heights. No wonder then that if you google “oxford school in India”, thousands of links would throng your screen, directing you to schools from Thiruvananthapuram to Delhi, all bearing the magical name of ‘Oxford’ and the attendant glories of English/European epistemology we Indians have been salivating after for centuries. And all this in the land of Nalanda, Somapura, Vikramsila and such other outstanding centres of learning in ancient India which attracted students and travellers and scholars from all of Asia. Nowadays, Sameer becomes Sam, Parminder becomes Pam and Janardan becomes Jonny as the country continues to spawn call-centre driven Yankee wannabes who embody a gender neutral fusion of Tulsi Virani and the Kardashian sisters.

Unfortunately, in the middle of such a mindless melange we fail to notice that our billionaires have learnt nothing from the philanthropical examples of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, we have not been able to ensure mass literacy and pervasive public access to education as in the West, our scholars are more interested in API scores and departmental politics than innovation, unlike their western counterparts, our companies do not fund research institutes as they do in the West, our corporates are very rarely concerned about social responsibility, which is more extensive in the west, we are indifferent to both hygiene and sanitation, unlike what happens in the west……and the list goes on. Nationalist movements had sought to secure the agency of modernization from the colonial rulers while retaining cultural difference. What we have achieved is rather a retention of differences that discredit us while engaging in superficial imitations that bear the legacy of colonial hangover and cumulatively contribute to the growth of a manikin generation which wants to flaunt the latest western superbrands, swoons over Justin Bieber or Hannah Montana, speaks vernaculars with a fake accent and cocks its nose at Abol Tabol and Thakurmar Jhuli.

Sukumar Roy’s ‘Tanshgoru’ and whatever gods and sacred structures it held in awe are preparing to swamp us with a vengeance. Get your supply of Miracurall if you can! SOTYI SOTYI KAMRE DEBE VACCINE TA NA PELE…

– Abin Chakraborty

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