Born in Hyderabad to a German father and Bengali mother Dia Mirza recently acted in her first Bengali film, Paanch Adhyay. She spoke to Namrata Joshi on the Bengali in her.
I see these candid images of my mother, clicked by my father, lining the corridor walls at home. In a crisp dhakai sari, big red bindi, jet black hair with the middle parting. I never met her parents. Her father was a lecturer in Osmania University and her mother was all of 14 when she got married. Am told am quite like her. Like my grandmother am finicky about cleanliness, love to cook and have learnt her recipes. Being a Bengali is all about that—the home cooked food, the macher jhol, aloo dum. A lot of my summer holidays were spent at my Mamoni's house. I got a lot of my Bengali grounding from there, I learnt the language there. There is this word in Bangla, shushudi. I have memories of that, before a child goes off to sleep the back of its arm is stroked and tickled with nails. That's so Bengali. Then there was the Rabindra Sangeet. We used to attend the Bengali Samiti's Durga Pooja in Hyderabad. I remember the aarti, the bhog—the serving and the eating.
Bengal has been a deep, subtle influence. It's about being like my mother—not ritualistic but a big believer in Shakti. That we have the capacity within to make anything happen. My mother has always been a friend, very liberal. It reflected in the way I grew up. I listened to Brahms, Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethovan. And the ghazals too. It was all about the intellect, about stimulated conversations, asking questions. That was the way to grow. To expand by seeking, by not losing the child in you. It's difficult to encapsulate how much in me is Bengali but it is a very large part and am discovering it as I am growing older. Simple things like the powder after the bath, the way the sari is worn, the red bindi, the bath before sleeping... Since Outlook asked me I have started joining the dots and seeing that at a subliminal level there's a lot that’s Bengali in me. I have seen a lot of Ray movies, Gautam Ghosh was our house guest when my parents were in Berlin. I have seen Aparna Sen's films, love what Konkana has been doing. I love Shantanu Moitra's music. Aparajita Tumi had some great melodies.
When I started shooting for Paanch Adhyay I wasn't too sure about attempting a Bangla film. But as I got into it, familiarised myself with the dialogue I began feeling at home, totally at ease. The DNA kicked in. Shooting 25 days at a stretch for it has been the longest that I've spent in Kolkata. Earlier I was there for a few days for Parineeta.
My mother's family is spread all over the world. There is hardly anyone in Kolkata. I used to visit an aunt often back then. Visiting Victoria Memorial was a must. I remember the heat used to get me. I used to wonder at the logic of being there in summers. I also think that there's South Kolkata and then there's the rest of Kolkata. The colonial influence, the streets reminiscent of the past, the mansions of Thakurs and Zamindars. I hope none of it ever goes away from South Kolkata. I guess there's a nostalgia that most people feel for Kolkata, what brings out a strong connection, what people hold on to. Otherwise it's steel and glass facade everywhere. Our highways now look identical to anywhere in the globe.
Am amazed at how the Music World in Kolkata stores the music and movies which you won't find even in Bombay. It has a large, diverse selection reflecting the choices of the buyers. The treasure in the second hand bookstores is also unreal. Kolkata for me is the city of nostalgia. It's strong and overwhelming. I feel a belonging and familiarity. Paanch Adhyay creates a fascinating world. I wonder if it is what the city brings out. The film is a perfect ode to my mother. And to the Bengali in me.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The thing about Mumbai is, when you visit there from Belgaum, you feel like lead, and just want to lie down in bed, feeling like you are both heavy, and drained at the same time. It seems, the climate is because of the sea. But, when feeling like this, one appreciates the air, even when there is no breeze, from the sea. How one can be invigorated, and totally like I said, is really unusual.
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