The relationship between stereotypes and the truth has always been a matter of lively debate. India, with its fabled diversity, affords ample opportunities for such liveliness. And Bengal, with its equally fabled sensitivities, has been the source of perhaps some of the most entertaining stereotypes. Bengalis are supposed to be lazy, liberal and prone to cosmopolitan, high-cultural name-dropping. The film festival should have confirmed the truth of the last two quite superbly for the benefit of its national and international delegates. And their merriment at such confirmations must have been further enhanced yesterday by a very special announcement made by none less than West Bengal’s chief minister. Government employees now have another holiday added to their already extensive list. One more community festival has been declared a “sectional holiday” — that is, people belonging to the community for which it is a festive day can take a break from work without seeking official permission. This amounts to 138 holidays in 2012, including weekends: 37.8 per cent of the year will be spent in what a Romantic poet had described as “delicious diligent Indolence”. Apart from the laziness stereotype, it also affirms the liberal stereotype — Bengal’s wonderful inclusiveness, its capacity for making room for, or identifying with, every community’s festive feelings. India is rich enough in festive traditions to fill up the remaining 62.2 per cent of the year, the whole of which then could be spent without doing a spot of work.
Yet, what one sees when one looks beyond the glee factor in all this is, unfortunately, not very heartening. Given Bengal’s grim prospects for growth in key areas like industry, education, healthcare and civic administration, this love of sitting around and not doing very much — the life of the mind, some would say — could actually prove to be a dangerous proclivity. The chief minister is good at transforming most things dismal into festive and widely contagious enthusiasm, which, in itself, is not a bad thing, given the extravagantly utopian nature of her vision of governance and therefore of the state’s future. The Land of Cockaigne, whose inhabitants have seen through such banalities as time and labour, may not be such an imaginary place after all.