I have not met Herr Biswajit Mukhopadhyay, but by all accounts he did a fine job supervising this year's Durga Puja in Berlin. I had expected the annual festival to be organised by the local Bengali Association.
Any city with Bengali immigrants, which would mean virtually all cities around the world, inevitably has a 'Bengali Association' which shares a common feature with the lowly amoeba: It splits and multiplies with amazing rapidity.
Bengalis in Berlin have surprisingly settled for a name that is stunningly non-denominational: 'Durga Puja Berlin'. I am told there are more Bangladeshis than Indian Bengalis at the weekend festivities that mark Durga Puja in this city.
The Bangladeshi presence in Berlin (or anywhere else in Germany) is hard to miss. At Wiesbaden, lost in a maze of byzantine lanes and lashed by a bone-chilling wind while looking for a place that would serve us an authentic German meal, we chanced upon three young Bangladeshi men outside Sushi One, a restaurant with a self-explanatory name and a neon-lit signboard scrawled with bold letters that read:
"Eat as much as you can!" One of the Bangladeshis wore a chef's hat; the other two wore waiter's aprons. Sushi at Wiesbaden prepared by a Bangladeshi chef and served by Bangladeshis would have been a gastronomic adventure, but prudence prevailed over hunger-induced recklessness.
Berlin has a surfeit of Indian associations, each distinctly different from the other. Berlin Kerala Samajam stands apart from Bharat Majlis; the India Unity Centre has clearly done little to unite non-resident Indians or else there wouldn't be a Punjabi Association which is not to be confused with the Sikh Association, just as patrons of New Delhi Shop try not to step into Punjab Stores. Pakistan could learn a lesson or two from Ind & Pak Bazar whose owner obviously believes in economic integration.
South Asians are instinctively splittists, largely because they carry their cultural and political baggage along with them even while disowning their motherland. Pakistanis are aligned along fiercely expressed political loyalties although supporters of the PPP, who are not on talking terms with Nawaz Sharif's followers, are loath to return home now that their party is in power. Persecution in perpetuity is the mantra of immigrants seeking political asylum by claiming manufactured victimhood.
That would be equally true for most Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans. There are two factions of the Awami League in Berlin, each headed by a desi restaurant owner, both sworn enemies. Earlier this week BNP supporters staged a raucous protest outside the plush hotel where Sheikh Hasina Wajed was a guest. The two factions of her Awami League came to blows in her presence.
Berlin was the preferred destination of 'Jaffna Tamils' during the years when the LTTE was on the rampage and V Prabhakaran led a brutal campaign, testing the loyalty of his cadre by asking them to turn into human bombs. Once they landed in Berlin, or West Berlin in the pre-reunification days, they claimed "terrible persecution" at home and insisted they would be tortured and killed if forcibly repatriated. Liberal Berlin not only gave them shelter but turned a blind eye to their activities to raise funds for the LTTE.
The immigrant 'Tigers' indulged in ruthless extortion, forcing indigent fellow Tamils to part with their meagre earnings; ran a flourishing trade in human trafficking, extracting a hefty fee from those whom they helped enter Germany illegally; and, were involved in a variety of crimes ranging from peddling drugs to pimping for minor Tamil girls forced into prostitution. An apocryphal tale is still told of Berlin's 'Tigers' gifting a made-to-order Mercedes car to a certain mayor of the city.
It's only after May 2006, when the European Union declared the LTTE a terrorist organisation, that measures were adopted by German authorities to restrict the activities of the organisation's fund-raisers. Those measures could not have been strictly implemented or else the Tamil Coordination Committee, a LTTE front organisation, would not have succeeded in 'collecting' a whopping 3 million euros between July 2007 and April 2009. The TCC men are now being prosecuted. But that's too little, too late.
It's been two years since the Sri Lankan Army smashed the LTTE. Prabhakaran is dead, so are his lieutenants. But in Germany the LTTE lives, its slain leader lionised as 'National Hero' by Tamils who "thirst for a Tamil homeland". I picked up the accompanying poster from a Tamil-owned grocery store in the heart of Berlin. The poster bears testimony to Sri Lanka's separatist war still raging in distant Europe.
Such are the wages of misplaced liberalism.
The writer is a journalist, political analyst, and activist