It’s just their New Years that Kerala and West Bengal have in common but their politics, plates and passions too
On 14 April both Keralites and Bengalis celebrated their New Year — Vishu and Pohela Boishakh respectively. While the Keralites begin their day with the traditional Vishu Kani, praying for abundance throughout the year, the Bengalis begin their day with the worship of Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) praying for happiness, wealth and prosperity all year long. The Bengali businessmen clear out the old ledgers and start with the new. Families in both states wear new clothes, enjoy a good feast and usher in the new, happy beginnings…
But this is not the only common element between these two coastal Indian states. While one lies towards the Southern tip and the other to the Eastern tip, there seems to be quite an uncanny familiar strand connecting these two states – be it politics, ideology, sport, clothing, art, food or religion.
Kerala and West Bengal have been ruled by the Communist government for quite a long time – the cries of ‘Lal Salaam’ echoed alike in the streets and by lanes of both these states. While Kerala had the first Communist government in the world, West Bengal was governed by Communists for the longest period in history. Though this ideology may have empowered the common man through land reforms and ushered in a relatively classless society it has in a way wiped out enterprise from both these states. With innumerable labour unions, widespread strikes or hartals are a very common sight. It is also to be noted that for this very reason, large corporations shy away from investing here.
The intellectual atmosphere may be the reason why the political ideologies of both the states are in sync. Most of the serious Indian cinema has come out of either Kerala or West Bengal, thanks to the Adoor Gopalakrishnans and Satyajit Rays. And with subjects like existentialism and the despair in life forming the storyline of the movies, realism and not entertainment is the punch line. Many Malayalee literary figures like their Bengali counterparts were involved in the Communist movement — Vayalar Rama Varma, Thoppil Bhasi, Subhash Mukhopadhyay, Sukanta Bhattacharya to name but a few. The music director Salil Choudhry has rendered some very similar musical tunes in both Malayalam and Bengali films, the evergreen Malayalam film ‘Chemeen’ being one of them.
Both Bengalis and Malayalees feast on rice and fish curry, the only difference being that while Keralites prefer sea fish, river fish is the Bengali delicacy. Apart from the gastronomic likeness, dhoti is the attire of choice for all auspicious functions. Women in Kerala and Bengal are often seen dressed in white and/or off-white for religious rituals or formalities. Football is another common thread that interlaces through the two communities. People both the states are addicted to football. Though with the rise of IPL, cricket has blunted some of this passion in the recent times, the Santosh trophy is a testimony to the dominance of Bengal and Kerala over football in India. The weather also works similarly here, with humid summers and the damp monsoon seasons
When it comes to the social infrastructure, the matrilineal system empowers the women in Kerala and makes them owners of land and property. Though the lady holds the keys to the wealth on paper, in reality the man in the household has the final say. On the contrary, in Bengal the woman of the house is associated with Goddess Kali and is the ‘de facto man of the house’ — she owns little but controls all.
Kerala and West Bengal – the two sister states, though lying transversely opposite on the map of India with a massive mainland separating them, enjoy a very unique connection which can be a matter of surprise to even the residents of these two states. I was …….!!!