Does the prospect of Bengali Culture in America Look Gloomy? Part 1

by Amitava Sen

The Bengalees are culture aficionados, big time. We live culture, breathe culture and drink culture to the point of intoxication. No doubt the Bengalees have a richer cultural heritage when compared to the other Indian language speakers. We have Rabi Thakur, don’t we? In our evaluation, this one man is luminous enough to overshadow all other Indian cultural icons put together. And that is basically our passage to the glory and at times reason for disdain for other Indian cultures.

This brings us to the question: Does only the past glory of the gone by era make us cultured? Presently living a cultured life is somewhat different. It refers to an appreciation of literature, music, art and food and it is a full range of human behavioral pattern, all in the present term, as English Anthropologist Edward Taylor wrote:

“Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, law, morals, custom and any other capabilities acquired by men as a member of the society.”

Of course the culture of an individual or a society is also manifested in attitude towards others and a value system. Though the classic definition of culture does not include religion, it has a role no doubt. But the religious component of culture phenomenon is outside the scope of this article.

Usually two classes of culture practitioners exist. There are those who create, perform and broadcast/showcase their talents and there are those who support and promote. Amongst latter are the club and cultural organization officials. In our expat society there is also a third kind who is invested in the “culturization” of the second generation and generations that will follow. The following discussion is about the challenges they may face.

Guides are in short supply.

All of us can be cultured or aspire to be one in conventional sense, as defined by Taylor, in the area of literature, arts, music etc. But realistically not all human beings are. That’s fine, we can live with that and our personal cultural life will go on. Danger lurks when individuals with little knowledge and appreciation of the culture self appoint themselves to the task of leading our cultural lives, specially that of our children and possibly in the process lead the young children up the garden path to nowhere. Education of children requires competent teachers; just providing them a space to congregate is not enough for culture promotion. In the absence of the social and cultural infrastructure that is available in Indian environment back home, the responsibility of leading the second generation culturally is bestowed on the first generation. The question is: Is the section of the first generation which has taken upon themselves the responsibility to introduce our cultural heritage to the young children have the wherewithal to take on the burden?

Awareness of culture requires cultivation of our faculties and our intellect. Usually, it can be achieved through reading and/or practicing. Those of us who moved here in early seventies soon after we went through our university education when a lot of us had no

time to devote in learning about our heritage and culture. Loosely speaking, post formal education is the opportune period people devote time in enriching themselves about culture and knowledge of heritage. By no means I am suggesting that we are not informed and educated enough about our culture and heritage by choice or because of lack of intellect. We invested the period when mind is agile and receptive, in America making money, acquiring cars and houses. After we have made money, acquired cars and houses we thought that now was the time to jump atop the culture bandwagon. But the train has already left the station.

Citing an example will be relevant here. We are very proud of our culture and heritage, and Rabindranath in particular but how many of us have read Rabindranath , the man who is the center of gravity of Bengali culture, the core of the Bengali intellect and the soul of Bengali mind even seven decades after his death? The problem was that vast majority of culturally aspiring immigrant Bengalees did not take the time-off to read Rabindranath. And still have no time and desire.

I want to continue with my thoughts and musings in future postings. If the gentle reader finds I am on to something, please log in next week again.

4 thoughts on “Does the prospect of Bengali Culture in America Look Gloomy? Part 1

  1. Senda,
    Very well written, and I can remember reading an article ‘ Does the interviewer have enough knowledge to interview an individual’ . I think it is true, in this generation or at least my generation how many of us know about our individual culture than Salman/Shahrukh khan era. Is that we are going to teach our American kids. I taught couple of Rabindrasangeet to my 8 year old, but she has forgotten and probably I am the cause. It is quite sad to see that I will not be able to pass my heritage to my kids as I am not literate enough.


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