In the sonnet, the poet expressed his anguish, his deep pain over his sense of personal loss due to the downfall of his motherland, India. In his anguish, he addressed his country, his motherland which was one revered as a goddess in the times old but has now become a slave under the boot of a ruthless invader, the British Empire. The mighty eagle which his country once was and which soared high above the skies of old, now lies shackled and chained on the dirt. The poet laments his misfortune that his nothing to offer to his country, not even a wreath of flowers. All he can do is try to dig into his country glorious past and sing some glory of her past which is no longer available for the coming generations. All he expects in return that his fellow countrymen remember him for his efforts.
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was one of the greatest Indian English Language poets. He was also the assistant headmaster of Hindu College, Kolkata. Like most others his era, he was a radical thinker (he was a contemporary of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a fiery Hindu reformer) and one of the first Indian educators to promote and provide Western learning and science among the youth of Bengal. He died at very young age; he was only 22 at the time of his death due to cholera. He has contributed far more to literature and critical thinking than many others have in an entire lifetime. While most considered him as an Anglo-Indian, Derozio regarded himself as a native Bengali and an Indian. While there have been attempts to categorize him as a Christian and accusations that he promoted Christianity among his students, he was an Atheist dedicated only to his country and his motherland. His works were the reflection of his soul. It won’t be naïve to call Derozio the first Nationalist English poet of Modern India.
It is often said that the French tried to find the key to the Indian Empire in the south and failed. Robert Clive found the key in Bengal and the rest is history. Bengal was the richest province in the Mughal Empire. At the peak of its power, the Nawab of Bengal held sway over the entirety of present day Bangladesh and West Bengal while also controlling the majority of present day Bihar and Orissa. Main exports of Bengal to the European countries were raw products such as rice, indigo, pepper, saltpeter, sugar and silk, cotton textiles, handicrafts etc. Cities like Dacca and Mursidabad were famous centers of art and culture, attracting artisans and musicians from all over the country. After the rise of the British Empire, Bengal became the centre of nationalism and the freedom movement. It would not be a hyperbole to call Bengal the birthplace of Indian Freedom Struggle. Along with the Indian Freedom struggle, prominent Hindu reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar reformed the Indian society. The Bengali Reform movement or the “Bengali Renaissance” as it has been called spawned a birth of a number of socio-religious societies like the Brahmo-Samaj. The Bengali renaissance period after the Great Indian Freedom Revolt of 1857 saw a grand outburst of Bengali literature. While legends like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar were the pioneers, others like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee furthered it and built upon it. The first significant nationalist detour to the Bengal Renaissance was given by the writings of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (of the Anand Math/Vande Matram fame). While some scholars have argued that societies like the Brahmo Samaj movement never gained any traction among the masses and remained restricted to the elite but the Hindu society has accepted most of the social reform programmes of the Brahmo Samaj. It is worth noting that many of the later Brahmos were also leaders of the Indian freedom struggle. Many young and learned Bengalis joined in the freedom struggle. Many rich and resourceful Bengalis contributed immensely to India’s Independence. Apart from Art, Literature, Music, the Bengalis contributed immensely to science. It would be a shame to talk about the Bengali Renaissance and not mention the name of stalwarts of science like JC Bose, SN Bose and Meghnad Saha along with doyen of Indian Literature, the Bard of Bengal, Shri Rabindranath Tagore. Bengal was a leader of every stream and Bengalis dominated the national stage in all domains. The land of Bengal was a goddess, birthing such legends that all Indians take pride in. Nothing, it appeared so, could stop this magnificent land in leading our great nation to glory on the global stage.
However, things started to go downhill just around the time India got her Independence. A major chunk of Bengal, now known as Bangladesh was formed as East Pakistan in a botched up partition based on religious ground. The remaining part of Bengal, West Bengal with its capital at Kolkata was expected to become a hub of progress and education. Millions of improvised Indians migrated to West Bengal in search of a better life. After all, it had the industries; the educational institutes, the intelligentsia to guide several poor souls out of poverty. Bengalis had always been Radical thinkers. It was only a matter of before the longest democratically elected Left government was formed in West Bengal. The left, for their part, did try to do away with the inequality in the society with the land reform. However, their stranglehold on unions and frequent rabble rousing led to a massive decline in productivity of offices and factories. West Bengal became engulfed in petty politics and local turmoil.
The birth of the Indian armed left extremism took place in an obscure place in West Bengal, Naxalbari. The dreaded “Naxal” as the Left Wing Extremists are now called are the biggest internal security challenge before the entire country. The Left, in its own stupor, ignored the signs of rot and Industries ran away from the state. Those looking to make an entry in the state were treated to even worse excesses. The left government rigged elections, murdered political opponents and promoted illegal immigration from neighboring Bangladesh. From their strong base in West Bengal, the Left started to weild a disproportionate influence on the national stage. Rallies held in opposition to the government were frequently lathi-charged by the police and protestors beaten up and thrown in the jail. The West Bengal under the left started to resemble the British Police Raj. In one such rally, a young woman was beaten and manhandled by the police.
The young woman was Mamta Banerjee and she vowed to uproot the left in their fort. “Maa, Mati, Manush” she said, forcing the Bengalis to remember their glorious past and whip up a sense of Bengali Pride. It took time and a lot of politicking to Defeat the left and when the left was finally defeated in West Bengal, the people heaved a sigh of relief. Things would now improve, the state would now improve they said. The start was promising. Development did take priority in the state government’s agenda. But the happiness did not last for long. Most of the local goons in the employ of the Left who had until then rigged elections and bloodied the streets found new paymasters in Mamta didi, as she is lovingly referred to now. The Left had promoted illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Most of these immigrants under the Left were Hindus who formed a formidable votebank for it. To tackle this issue, Mamta Didi started promoting existing and incoming illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. They were given identity cards, ration cards and funds and they swarmed in huge numbers from across the border. Her policies shifted from development to minority appeasement. Stipends were provided for Muslim clerics while huge accommodations were made for the minorities to celebrate various festivals. Any and all dissent was rapidly crushed and the political machinery geared towards the creation of a lawless brawling ground. So much so, that a high level leader told journalists that his constituency is “Mini-Pakistan”.
Corruption was rampant and senior leaders of the ruling dispensation are now accused and being tried for swindling millions of their meager life savings. Elections are now rigged even more, political opponents brutalized and the entire state administration is geared to serve the whims and fancies of their Didi. For the left, it just the taste of their own medicine, just a little more bitter this time. For the average Bengali, it is a simply hell. Educated Bengalis are rapidly moving away from the state and those left behind, lament the sorry state of affairs. Mamta Didi did not replace the Left, she has become the Left, only more demented and twisted. BJP, which is the ruling party at the Centre and in most of India, has never been strong in West Bengal even though one of its most prominent ideologues, Syama Prasad Mokherjee, was from the same state. However, this is rapidly changing. While the TMC, Mamta’s political party, remains the numero uno in the state, the BJP, a fringe player before 2014 is fast becoming the principal opposition. The former left and Congress vote bank appears to be coalescing towards BJP and it appears well poised to pose a credible challenge to Mamta didi. However, the lack of a hood political face and a dedicated ground force will continue to dampen its prospects in the state.
To conclude, West Bengal was the richest province of India but today, it is the 6th. There is a lack of industries and jobs for its youth. Rapid emigration is eroding its intelligentsia and the Indian Civil Services, which used to be dominated by Bengalis, now has more Northerners in its ranks. The West Bengal of past which used to dominated the nation scenes for excellence in multiple domains now dominates the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Will the scenario change? Will the ruling dispensation finally come to its senses or will another, equally polarizing outfit take its place. It is with a heavy heart that I say, but Derozio’s words could never have been any truer before this date.
My country! In thy days of glory past
A beauteous halo circled round thy brow
and worshipped as a deity thou wast—
Where is thy glory, where the reverence now?
Thy eagle pinion is chained down at last,
And grovelling in the lowly dust art thou,
Thy minstrel hath no wreath to weave for thee
Save the sad story of thy misery!
Well—let me dive into the depths of time
And bring from out the ages, that have rolled
A few small fragments of these wrecks sublime
Which human eye may never more behold
And let the guerdon of my labour be,
My fallen country! One kind wish for thee!
* To India – My Native Land by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio