A Bengali child’s introduction to Germany!

It’s time for the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival and this time, the focus country is Germany! Many young people would get to see the German cinema and get introduced to the culture somehow sitting in the bylanes of Kolkata (Calcutta), sipping tea of having roadside streetfood. I wonder in how many other different ways, does a Bengali child (especially the 90’s kid, like me) encounter, discuss and know about Germany; and when I say this, I exclude the fact that Germany is known for its cars, wars, football teams, and Max-Mueller Bhavan!

I’m a 90’s kid, I grew up in Communist governed Bengal and the main political party’s name is CPI(M). The “M” in the brackets signify Marxism, philosophies from Karl Marx, German.

Click here for Trivia!
West Bengal had elected the communists to power, 7 consecutive times since 1977; making it the longest democratically elected government in the world. The first Chief Minister was Jyoti Basu, succeeded by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

The use of Homeopathy is wide-spread in Calcutta (or Kalkutta as the Germans call my city) and my uncle from the paternal side, Dr Sushanta Saha is probably a big name in the national scene if not international. Homoeopathy comes from, Hahnemann (, Samuel) who is German.

Just not that! A child might not have read Nobel Laureate Gunter Grass, who called Calcutta “God’s excrements” (link) while in a discussion with filmmaker Mrinal Sen. But my generation and hopefully the ones next have read Prof. Shonku’s stories. Prof. Shonku, who is a character from Satyajit Ray’s sci-fi stories, is a scientist. He makes an Artificially Intelligent Robot called “Robu” and comes to meet two other scientists at the University of Heidelberg, Germany where he escapes being killed by one of the professors! Perhaps not the best way to introduce Germans to a child, but yea!

Click here for Prof. Shonku & Satyajit Ray!
Satyajit Ray is one of the most celebrated Bengalis! He did a lot of things, which include winning the 1992 honourary Oscars (lifetime achievement). He wrote stories, drew , at time composed music and did possibly everything he wished to do. And was pretty good at everything!

He wrote a series of science fiction stories. It is strongly rumoured that the first alien movie “ET” was, umm, copied from Ray’s unfinished movie “The Alien” based on his story “Bankubabur Bandhu”.

One of his creations is Prof. Shonku. Wikipedia mentions, “Professor Shonku is a fictional scientist created by Satyajit Ray (1921–1992) in a series of Bengali science fiction books published from 1965. His full name is Trilokeshwar Shonku, and by occupation, he is an inventor. He is the son of Dr Tripureshwar Shonku.” If you are not a Bengali, which is very likely, check out the Wikipedia page of Professor Shonku.

While talking about Sen and Ray, we can not escape Tagore and talking about him brings back a series of his sessions in Germany and his famous conversation with Einstein at the Einsteinsommerhaus, Berlin (link).

While talking about Einstein, no surprises there if I mention the Bose-Einstein theory, and that Satyendranath Bose too was a Bengali working on this, from Bengal.

Click here for Tagore & Germany.
Tagore (or Rabindranath Tagore) was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. His songs were adopted as the national anthems of India and Bangladesh.
He is the “wise old man from the east”, and has a street to his name in Berlin; “Rabindranath Tagore Strasse (street)”. Tagore’s influence in Germany declined with rise of the right wing forces during world war II.
He visited Germany during 1921 after the world war I, 1926, 1930. He spoke in different cities and the (old) Germans hold his works in high regards.
“Wherever he spoke, the halls were packed. Indeed, the newspapers reported scuffles and regular fights by people who were refused entry. The German press rose to the occasion by reporting Tagore’s every movement.” If you would be interested, you can read more here.
Click here for Satyendranath Bose
He was a scientist, after whom the God-particle “Boson” is named. His work forms the basis of the Bose-Einstein Condensate. You can read more about him here.

I apologise if this post is becoming long but there are multiple other ways how even a slightly inquisitive Bengali child of the 90’s or even now gets introduced to Germany! Here’s a list because I do not want to discuss each point and make this post unnecessarily long!

  • The first flag of India was unpopular and was called, “The Calcutta Flag”. The second variant of the flag was generally accepted as the first Indian flag. It was hoisted for the first time in Stuttgart, Germany.
Click here for a little explanation.
The first flag of India hoisted in Annual Session of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta, August 7, 1906 was called the Calcutta Flag.
Madam Bhikaji Cama, an Indian Parsee lady, freedom fighter, on 21 August 1907 hoisted the Indian Flag in Stuttgart, at the International Socialist Conference. It was an improvement on the previous flag and got popular as the Indian national flag. Source: Wikipedia.
  • Fairytales, anyone? The story of Hansel and Gretel, or the Pied Piper (link), Cinderella and almost all related stories which we read in English are basically, German!
  • Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army was built by the freed Indian soldiers captured (and later freed) by Hitler. Bose met Hitler during World War II and the rest is a mystery.
  • A slight search over the internet about “Indo-German Conspiracy” will open the doors to very interesting history; one character of it being Viren. Hailing from an influential background, he moved from India to the place where I currently live; and enrolled as a student. Haha!
  • “Acharya” Sir Prafulla C Ray (link) should not be a new name to a Bengali and his work should be a little known to science enthusiasts. He was an honorary member of the Deutsche Akademie, Munich (1919). One of the earliest known Chemists outside Europe, he encouraged and built collaborations between the two countries. Deutsche Akademie is Goethe-Institut after the second world war.

If the child is a little more inquisitive like me, he’d dig out the following:

  • “Wednesday” derives its name from the German God “Woden”. It’s fascinating to know about olden German (Norwegian) legends! Hey, Thor is just not a superhero! He’s a God and it is after his name, we have “Thursday”.
  • Anoushka Shankar recently composed music for one of the earliest films made in 1928 India (link). The film “Shiraz: a romance of India”, was adapted from Niranjan Pal (Bengali) and made by Franz Osten (a German filmmaker). Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of Anoushka Shankar and this little trivia is a treat to share!

Was that too long a blog post?! This blog post is triggered by the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival which got inaugurated very recently! Sitting miles away from home, it gives me great pleasure to see how films are taken out of just Nandan and moved to other theatre halls and even to different localities.

If you have been introduced to Germany in any other way, do let me know!!

Thank you for reading.

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