CALLIOPE on the Road: The 'Bong Connection' at EACLALS 2021

CALLIOPE postdoctoral researcher Esha Sil presented her paper "Reevaluating a Transcultural 'Bong Connection'" at the 17th triennial conference of the European Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (EACLALS) on “Transcultural Mo(ve)ments: Memories, Writings, Embodiments”.

Organized by Cardiff University, and held remotely from 28th-30th June, EACLALS 2021 examined how transcultural mo(ve)ments “includes issues of, and tracks shifts among borders, refugees, languages, genders, genres, cultures, and between all sorts of mobilities and interdisciplinarity, among many, many other possibilities”. The conference comprised several parallel sessions and five keynote plenaries delivered by Kirsti Bohata (Swansea University), John McLeod (University of Leeds), Ruth Vanita (University of Montana), Anne Collett (University of Wollongong), and Michael Bucknor (University of the West Indies).

Sil’s paper, titled “Reevaluating a Transcultural ‘Bong Connection’: Towards a Schizophrenic Deterritorialization”, scrutinized the transcultural space-times of a post-Partition Bengali modernity via its uneasy discursive engagement with a “globalized” Western capitalism. She deployed as her primary case study, the episode of Apu and Hasan’s friendship from Anjan Dutt’s 2006 film, The Bong Connection, to navigate the dispersed transcultural locus of the global Bengali citizen, via the divergent identity narratives of the West Bengali Hindu “gentleman”, i.e. the bhadralok, and the East Bengali Muslim “other”. The paper accordingly reevaluated the memorial politics of the 1947 Bengal Partition from a transcultural vantage point, to establish how Dutt’s film cryptically translates the homelessness entailed by the Partition to the mobile placelessness of the global Bengali citizen. To that end, Sil’s methodological approach drew upon the conceptual axes of “deterritorialization” and “reterritorialization”, as theorized by Deleuze and Guattari’s “schizophrenic” deconstruction of capitalism in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Born in post-Partition Calcutta, the gentrified Hindu bhadralok, Apu, frustrated with the declining fortunes of West Bengal’s once prosperous capital city, relocates to Houston, Texas, to pursue a lucrative career as a computer engineer; there he meets the taxi driver, Hasan, an illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant. Dutt’s West Bengali Hindu imaginary, argued Sil, by aligning the bhadralok’s bourgeois narrative of “progress” to the “reterritorializing” axiom of the “American dream”, problematically replicates and perpetuates the ever-widening interior limits of the Western capitalist state. At the same time, however, Hasan’s peripheral Bengali Muslim “otherness” mobilizes what the paper postulated as his “schizophrenic deterritorialization” of the Western capitalist world order. Using two song sequences from The Bong Connection – a famous rabindrasangeet by Tagore, and an anonymous bhatiali folk-lyric, the paper demonstrated how Hasan derives from East Bengal’s revolutionary post-Partition legacy, a radical transcultural agency to override the geopolitical logic of nation-states and international hierarchies, thus inaugurating a “border-defying” subaltern poetics of globalization.