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An Anti-Caste Discussion on the Representation of the Bhadralok in a Twenty-First Century Text Field-notes from a Waterborne Land: Bengal beyond the Bhadralok by Parimal Bhattacharya

Ms Soumili Das, PhD Scholar, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India


Parimal Bhattacharya’s Fieldnotes from a Waterborne Land: Bengal beyond the Bhadralok was published in 2022. The text that consists of the author’s encounter with ‘Bengal’ beyond his (emphasis mine) ‘Bhadralok community’, on different occasions, at different geographical locations; quickly became number one bestseller in Amazon. Parimal Bhattacharya documents his own reactions to meeting people from different caste-class and geographical backgrounds; other than what he considers his own ‘kind of people’ (Note from the Author x). He clearly marks the difference between himself and his subject, between a Bhadralok and the non-bhadraloks he happened to have met. The Bhadraloks, according to him, are “lazy, argumentative, culture-loving community, who love their adda, misti doi and Tagore. This, I realised, is the story of my kind of people, a small segment of the more than nine crore who originate from the Bengal Delta and speak Bangla, the educated urban middle class and mostly upper-caste Hindus: the bhadralok”. ( Bhattacharya x) In the seven chapters that the text is made up of, the author and his kind of pople meet people whom the author seems to compare in his scale of ‘Bhadraloki’. Some examples are: About his academic colleague, an associate professor in the WBES, Dulal Kumar Mondal, who visits his home in the Sundarbans every week, the author remarks: “Was Dulal kumar Mondal a Bhadralok?

A difficult question.” ( Bhattacharya 193)

About the stranger school teacher Ananta Ghoshal, a migrant from Bangladesh, who requests the author to help him get transferred somewhere with a majority of upper-caste population from the school he was hitherto posted at in Sundarbans, the author used the term ‘Bhadralok’ thus: “How did he deduce that I’d wield it for him? That was because he and I belonged to the same well-born community: the Bhadralok.” (emphasis mine) ( Bhattacharya 211).

About the ‘weaver’s son’, his student Utpal Basak, the author writes-

“…in a system where seven out of ten boys and girls dropped out before they completed school, Utpal had come far….It is the failure of thesystem that it couldn’t live up to the radical aspirations of a weaver’s son….we didn’t give him anything. Rather, we robbed him of the unique craft his grandfather had brought from across the borer” ( Bhattacrharya 89).

Utpal, the man aspiring to be bhadralok, fails and the author suggests him to better stay with his generational knowledge of a weaver.

Then, about Utpal’s roommates, two aspiring academics from muslim and tribal backgrounds, he remarked: “At one level, this was an exciting new social revolution: two young men, a Muslim and a Santhal, opting to study two traditionally Brahminical subjects. But the not0-so-exciting fact that the choice was possibly thrust on them…seats were usually available for low-scoring candidates” ( Bhattacharya 85).

The ease with which he uses his agency to decides on the eligibility of the subjects to be considered as Bhadralok or not, the ‘possible’ reasons behind the non-Brahmin aspirants’ choices of dreams; demands detailed researching of the term and its varied usage.

I intend to:

1. Trace the genealogy of the term ‘bhadralok’, pit it against Parimal Bhattacharya’s use of the term.

2. Check the justification of using the term in the twenty-first century terminologies to denote a socio-economic, cultural and caste-related distinction between the self and the other.

Works cited

Bhattacharya, Parimal. Field Notes from a waterborne Land: Bengal beyond the Bhadralok. Harpercollins Publishers: Gurugram, 2022. Print.

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