One Bengali is a thinker – they say. It takes two of them to make one political party while three Bengalis, or ‘Bongs’ if you like, make for two political parties.
The saying works, albeit with a difference, for those from the land of Tagore (Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore) and Ray (celebrated filmmaker Satyajit Ray), who have made the UAE their home over the years. It’s difficult to put a ballpark figure on the Bengali population here as of now, but they already boast of five cultural associations across Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi – trying to keep the spirit of ‘Bangaliana’ alive.
The social calendar of the Bengali associations is an eventful one, starting with the ushering in of Bengali New Year (Poila Baisakh) in April, Durga Puja – a unique form of celebration of Navratri which is followed by the customary Bijoya Dashami, ‘Dol’ or Holi – the festival of colours etc. The choice of venues, often a tough call because of logistical issues, is never a hindrance as it can range from the hall of somebody’s residence to a banquet hall of a hotel.
Recently, the Consulate General of India auditorium, however, played host to something more significant when the Bengali and Emirati culture walked hand in hand – thanks to a thoughtful initiative from St Xaviers College Alumni asssociations of Kolkata and UAE. ‘Sanyog,’ as the programme was called, honoured Dr Shihab M Ghanem, one of the most celebrated Emirati poets and Indrani Sen - a renowned figure in Bengali music for last four decades on the eve of the ‘International Mother Language Day’ on February 21.
It was a rare opportunity for the Bengali expat audience of the UAE to listen to Indrani Sen live, as she enthralled the audience with Nazrulgeeti (songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam), classical as well as modern Bengali songs. “It was a privilege to honour the two personalities together for their contribution to their respective mother languages,” remarked Shovon Gomes, president of the Dubai chapter of the St Xaviers alumni.
Dr Ghanem, incidentally, is the first Arab poet to win The Tagore Peace Award in 2012 from the Asian Society in Kolkata; the Poetry Award for Culture & Humanism in 2013 from the World Poetry Society Intercontinental, Chennai, India; the Cultural Personality of the Year in 2013 from Al-Owais Creativity Award, Dubai, UAE. His poems have been translated into 12 languages.