Our saviours on earth
Sir — After having earned the sympathy of the world for saving Ali, allied troops seem destined to gain plaudits from animal welfare organizations for the care they bestowed on animals at the zoo of Uday Hussein (“Troops save six lions, cheetah from Uday’s zoo”, April 26). What do such reports expect readers to do' Sing paeans in honour of the West' Uday is being pictured as a heartless ruffian who left his animals to die. Was he expected to carry them with him' In a country besieged by alien troops, why are Iraqis being blamed for bad zoo-keeping and why are their providers being made into heroes'
Nandita Ghosh, Calcutta
Sir — I fail to understand why Ramachandra Guha finds it necessary to conclude his tribute to Ravi Shankar with some entirely gratuitous and unfounded Bengali-bashing (“He doesn’t play Banga”, April 20). Ravi Shankar commands enormous respect and honour in Bengal. That his iconic status goes beyond the narrow limits of an adulation based on community origin is a mark of his greatness, as Guha acknowledges; but it is not a mark of Bengali narrow-mindedness. It reflects, rather, the ability of the classical music community to recognize greatness beyond regional affiliations. Thus Faiyyaz Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Amir Khan, Kesarbai Kerkar, Gangubai Hangal, Ali Akbar Khan, and Vilayat Khan also have iconic status among music-lovers in Bengal: not many would enquire which of these was or is a Bengali. It is ironic that the only “Bengali friend” named in the article is unqualifiedly appreciative of Ravi Shankar’s genius. If Guha lived in Bengal, he would find many others like him.
As to the question of the “Bengali icon”, whatever that may be, the instances Guha adduces are so divergent in nature that it is difficult to find a common basis for judgment. Insofar as they are iconic, they hold this status in common with many others who are not Bengalis (like Sachin Tendulkar). I find it disturbing that Guha feels compelled to prime his articles with bits of offensive and dubious sociology, a sociology which appears to be based almost entirely on gossip. Why does he believe he must tell Bengalis what they think' What does he know about it'
Supriya Chaudhuri, Calcutta
Sir — The reason why Ravi Shankar has not become as popular in Bengal as Satyajit Ray or Amartya Sen is because his lifestyle, as it used to be, hurt the conservative values of the Bengali bhadralok. But his lack of popularity has nothing to do with “his being too cosmopolitan” as Guha tries to establish in his article. For, if Ravi Shankar indeed were cosmopolitan, it would not have bothered Bengalis who are by nature that themselves. Bengali tourists easily outnumber tourists from other states. And West Bengal would not have been such an amalgam of races and cultures had Bengalis been opposed to cosmopolitanism. The Bengali’s interest in foreign affairs too would amaze many. Bengalis might be faulted on other things, but not on internationalism.
Sujit De, Sodepur
Sir — Ramachandra Guha does not to find any virtue in Bengalis living in Bengal. To him, it is the probashi Bengali who knows better. Ravi Shankar is a great musician and undoubtedly the best musical ambassador India has produced, and no Bengali would doubt that. In music, as in other forms of art, to compare one artist with another is stupid. Vilayat Khan, to most individuals who appreciate the sitar, is as great a player of the instrument as Ravi Shankar. Quality in art and music cannot be measured in terms of records, catches and runs, as in cricket. Alleging that Bengalis do not place Ravi Shankar on the same pedestal as Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray shows Guha’s ignorance. Bengalis do, and are also proud of him for being a Bengali, albeit a probashi. Also, Ravi Shankar would never denigrate Bengalis as Guha does.
Guha should also get his facts checked. Ravi Shankar’s family name (original surname) is not Gangopadhyay but Choudhury.