I was at a lecture by Esha Niyogi De at Jadavpur University today on Tagore, Nationalism, and Gender. The talk was actually performative in nature and included a musical component with singer rendering lovely Rabindra Sangeet. At the end of the lecture, the floor opened up for questions and one of the audience members referred to a particular Tagore song. Dr. De mentioned that she hadn’t heard it and suddenly the whole room–academics, students, and even members of the public–began singing the tune together. Sarita, Jacob, and I locked eyes and then slowly looked around the room; it was hands-down the most Bengali moment I’ve experienced during my time here. (Remember how I mentioned that Bengalis are incredibly cultured? I wasn’t exaggerating. I can’t imagine such an event occurring anywhere else.)
I’ve actually had a number of “beautiful Bengali moments” this week. While walking to school (on a very loud and busy road I might add), I was passing a flower seller who was stringing garlands and singing out loud. Last weekend at Golpark, I saw over 100 elementary-aged children sketching together for their art class. And I was at the Academy of Fine Arts earlier this week when I realized that most (if not all) of the art venues in the city are free to the public! I completely agree: art access should not be reserved for the privileged.
Being the week before Durga Pujo, there are pandals (temporary wooden structures that house shrines dedicated to the goddess) rising up all over the city. My neighborhood itself has over four! The pandals are exquisite and to me, represent the community investment in art–for religious and aesthetic purposes. Durga Pujo is actually the biggest outdoor art festival on earth. I cannot wait to witness all the festivities in the coming days.
If there’s one thing I hope to take back to the U.S. with me from Bengal, it is prioritizing creativity in my everyday life. So far, I’ve been able to do so in Kolkata: between dance classes, sketching (and dabbling with painting), and (hopefully) some upcoming singing lessons, my creative side is more than satisfied.