West Bengal suffers from a kind of reverse dullness — all play and no work makes Khokan a dull boy. Visva-Bharati seems to believe that reverse dullness can be reversed; hence the university authorities have curtailed a few holidays, Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday and death anniversary being among them. The working hours during such days are being reduced and the traditional ceremonies held, but these occasions are no longer holidays. In itself this is a startling move in the holiday-loving land, especially since the state government was quite keen last year to announce an extra holiday for schoolchildren on Tagore’s death anniversary. It had its reasons, but any reason in Bengal will do for a holiday. The Visva-Bharati decision does stand out from this point of view.
Actually the malaise in Bengal is rather deeper than the love for holidays would seem to suggest. It has to do with an indifferent, lackadaisical attitude, a hatred of work and of thinking, a disinterest in the upkeep of traditions, a pathological inability to respect anything or anybody – that is, a complete liquidation of a sense of discipline and duty. Reportedly, it is this deadlock that the university is trying to address. It is not inculcating the value of work by curtailing holidays; it is merely trying to get more teachers and students to attend the traditional meetings that are held on special occasions. Holding classes would prevent students from going home or wandering off; they would have to be present at the meetings. Curtailing holidays, then, is merely a means to an end, not the end itself. It is less ideology and more strategy. The meetings and ceremonies for young people are being seen as chores, for they are not interested in recognizing and protecting their heritage, which, in turn, would imply a pride in their place of study. In such a situation, it has to be asked, is cutting the Gordian knot by forcing students and teachers to attend traditional ceremonies the right way to a solution? The other explanation being offered for the curtailing of holidays is that extra working hours are needed since the university has shifted to a five-day week. So once again the reason is not quite ideological, but practical. There does not seem to be any place in Bengal that is free of the obsession with holidays. Even when holidays are cut, it is not work that is the priority.