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NEIGHBOURS FIRST

This is the closest real life has come to the novelist’s case of exploding mangoes. Bangladesh is worked up over the fact that India has registered Fazli mangoes grown in West Bengal’s Malda district as its own. Fazli mangoes also grow in Rajshahi and Dinajpur, districts in Bangladesh neighbouring Malda. It is a problem that nature is quite heedless of international boundaries and that issues of commerce, prestige and national ownership make no dent on it. Bangladesh’s feeling of injury runs deep. India has also registered the Jamdani sari and the hand-stitched kantha as its own. While it cannot be claimed that the first Fazli mango ever grew in Rajshahi rather than in Malda, or vice versa, it is possible to invoke history to show from where a type of sari became famous first. Bangladesh is doing just that, suggesting that India has no claim to the Jamdani sari for which Dhaka was famous from olden times.

Heartbreak over saris is a persistent theme in Indian, especially Bengali, domesticity; it acquires a slightly absurd dimension when it spills over into inter-country sulks. Weavers of different areas developed their own versions of the Jamdani textile, and India has registered the Jamdani specifically from Andhra Pradesh. It has its own name, just as Dhakai Jamdani refers to the area from which it comes. India has no objection to Bangladesh registering the Dhakai Jamdani or even registering the Fazli mango jointly, as it has done with Pakistan in the case of Basmati rice. Neighbouring countries, especially those born out of divisions, not only share natural conditions but also cultures, sometimes even the language and composer of their respective national anthems, as India does with Bangladesh. Is Tagore India’s because India chose its national anthem ‘first’?

And which country can claim the traditional work of thousands of rural women? The hand-stitched kantha is still part of the essential baby-clothes of a rural child on both sides of the border while its stitch is now much prized as art. How could the kantha have been stitched in Bangladesh “first”? Apart from the rather funny history, geography and chronology this anxiety of primacy would entail, it would also require a change in the premises of the geographical indicator law, on which registration is based. Prometheus brought fire ‘first’; then how many claims could he put in?