By Anirudh Madhavan:
United by their common history of communism are Kerala and Bengal and being open to the sea, these states have experienced various foreign invaders. Lying diagonally opposite on the map of our country, landmass couldn’t possibly have separated these sisters more. Yet, West Bengal and Kerala seem to share a bond much deeper than any god forsaken water body in between them. The announcement of the latest direct flight from Kolkata to Kochi is an indicator that even the government acknowledges the potency of this relationship.
Let’s ‘kick-off’ the comparative study with football. The sport which more often than not plays second fiddle to cricket in India is one of the strongest connections between these two states. No other state (barring maybe Goa), shows such football frenzy. I, being a Keralite, can vouch for the myriad flux boards propped up all over Kerala prior to the FIFA world cup. Be it at club level, state level or national level, these states contribute the most to Indian football. The Barclays Premier League garners much support in the state of West Bengal which is evident by the number of people sporting jerseys of Manchester United and Chelsea to name a few. The Santosh trophy also stands testimony to the dominance of Bengal and Kerala over football in India.
From sport to ideology, nothing changes. The present ruling parties of both the states have communist foundations; it’s nothing new, the public affiliation to communism was always a reality in these states. These are perhaps the only territories to have provided the Congress with stiff competition (in context of communist parties). The political ideologies of both the states have been in sync and this can perhaps be credited to their intellectual atmosphere. The Indian Coffee House chain all over the country was one of the most famous hubs of the communist workers. In Kerala and West Bengal, these coffee houses smelled of intellect and freshly brewed coffee. The highest honours in art and literature are often received by Bengalis or Malayalis and therefore, there is a general perception that the intelligentsia of India resides in these states (quite debatable). The strong theatre background of these states is also a point of unification; with greater emphasis on plays they have provided India with some of the best actors it has ever seen — Soumitra Chatterjee, Mammootty, and Mohanlal etc. They have also succeeded in the making of art films or documentaries and have paved the way for intelligent cinema. In the field of music, there have been maestros like Manna Dey and Dr. K.J.Yesudas who have who have contributed greatly to Indian music and even in the present generation, bands like Parikrama and Avial have gained international recognition and have set the Indian rock scene on fire.
The gastronomic likeness cannot be missed as both states have rice as the staple food with large helpings of fish curry. Geography plays a huge role in the similarity in diet of these states. The attire also provides unity as the dhoti for men and the white sarees (red border for Bengalis and gold border for Malayalis) are similar.
Flipping through some of the popular magazines of our times, I observed that most of their readership lay in the states of Kerala and Bengal. Most of the publications come out of Kerala, the love towards reading also binds them together. They also share the same festival of Durga Puja, but while in Bengal it signifies the return of the married Durga to her father, in Kerala it is more inclined towards the worship of books, hence Saraswati.
But apart from all these similarities lies the common ancestry of language i.e. Tamil. Going back to the Dravidian and Sanskrit roots, it has been proven that both Malayalam and Bengali have evolved from Tamil. From garments to films, music to food and sport to ideology, these states enjoy a connection unique to them. Let us hope that the Malayali and the Bengali always walk hand in hand and this link continues to connect them forever.
The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.