Patriotic Songs and the Partition of Bengal

Three years ago the centenary of a momentous event in the history of India’s independence movement passed almost unnoticed. The reason was of course the disinclination of the ruling dispensation to acknowledge that the partition of Bengal was a seminal moment in the history of British India and the movement that for the first time forced the British to back down and to quote Surendranath Bannerjee “unsettle a settled fact” was a watershed in the history of the independence struggle. I refer of course to the ( first) Partition of Bengal, which set off a movement in Bengal that was unprecedented in its scope and managed to fire the imagination of an entire generation of Indians. Today it is fashionable to say that it was an upper caste Hindu agitation and was directed against the poor Muslims who we are told wanted the partition. To my mind this proves that Marxist historians can go to any extent to distort History for their purposes. The Soviet revolution masterminded by a gang of Bolsheviks was a peoples’ struggle and a movement that engaged the large majority of Bengalis was a sectional agitation in their book.
But that is not theme of what I wanted to say. One major effect of this struggle was the outpouring of songs, poetry and drama that became the language of the movement and to this day remains a proud part of the literature of Bengal. Never in history has such an outpouring of emotion resulted from a patriotic struggle and both Bengals can be proud of the body of literature and music that resulted.
But it was one song that Dwijendranath wrote that stands head over shoulders over all the others in this regard. . I refer of course to Dhana Dhanye Pushpe Bhara. I was watching “Agniswar” the other day. One of Uttam Kumar’s hits, this movie, made in 1975, was based on one of Bonophool’s stories. It is about a doctor who is idiosyncratic but hard working and steeped in the best ideals of the rationalism that was part of the freedom movement, at least in Bengal.
The director has used several songs but this is the one he has used most effectively as a background music as Agniswar travels all over the country in his old age and rediscovers, as it were, this India. It is unfashionable nowadays to be proud of one’s motherland, but those of us who came in contact with men and women who did not think that earning vast amounts of money, preferably in the West, was the epitome of worldly success, still feel a stirring in our hearts when we hear this song, It is difficult to explain to somebody who does know the language the descriptions and pictures that the song evokes: it has some of the most marvelous descriptions of the Indian subcontinent I have ever read. The last stanza where the poet promises to come back to this country again and again in his later births still literally brings tears to my eyes.
I like to think that I am global in my thinking, but I am not ashamed to admit that there lurks in my consciousness a nationalism that is not really “done” nowadays.


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