Monday, August 4, 2008

Jio Bangali

These are some of my favourite articles on us Bongs! Jio Bangali!


Home Is Where the Bengali Is - Bachi Karkaria

"There is some corner of a foreign field/ Which is forever Bengali." Ki nonsense kotha. It's not a corner; it's the whole blaady expanse. Ours is an eenbhasion, a coup. From which the attackee will never recoupaarate, I might add. It's true. Suddenly the Bengalis are everywhere. So many, taking over so much, in so many places that I wonder if there are any left in Kolkata. Formerly, you saw Bengalis outside Bengal only when you went on holiday.There they were, the men in Fair Isle sweaters knitted lovingly by their mothers, their wives in blue cardigans, the baachcha in monkey cap. Wherever you went, they were always there, a swagger to their step and boxy camera around their neck along with the matching "maaflar". Whether you were in Kashmir or Kanyakumari, in Nepal or Neyvelli, in Sri Lanka or Sariska, you always found one Bombay Photo Studio, one Madras Café, one Tibetan curio shop, and one Bengali family.

When Hilary and Tenzing climbed Everest, did they find a mysterious mishti syrup stain on the snow, irrefutable evidence that The Bengali Was Here? When Jacques Cousteau plumbed the icy deep, did he find a trace of maastard oil on Antarctic ocean-bed and telltale signs of a neatly-picked rohu skeleton? When Armstrong floated on the lunar surface, had Neel-da already taken one small step for Bongkind in his trusty Bata sandals?

I am prepared to bet on it, whatever may be the conspiracy of silence which has prevented the inveterate Bengali traveller from being given his due (LTA already collected, thank you).

When I began to venture abroad, they would be there not just as tourists, but as NRBs. Keep your motel, Mr. Patel, Shri Banerjee has spread himself wider, higher, deeper across the globe. In the suburban Cardiff of the early 70s, there wasn't anything non-Welsh for miles around. Anything except Mr Palit. He was the husband of one of the secretaries of our Thomson Foundation and, taking pity on us for having to face the bland hostel fare, she invited us for dinner. We expected a tastier version of our usual cod and chips. But what a spread we got: course upon course of authentic Bangla Ranna, whose aromas wafted out of the chintzy windows and unleashed all manner of uncharacteristic urges in the staid neighbourhood of Penarth. Three decades on, I can still recall that we had a chochchori of very English vegetables, ghoogni, chingdi malai curry, even chaatni. True, it wasn't today's beeay-bari favourite, the "plastic" variety. Procuring aamshatto anywhere in Wales in those pre-Curry Colonialism days would have defeated even the enterprising Palit-babu but the tomato version he dished up was properly spiked with raisins and suited us fine. There was a fiery fish which could pass off for rui. And we rounded it off with homemade shandesh. It was amazing. Was it a waking dream, we wondered as we were driven back, gently burping all the way.

Then, of course, came the rising Diaspora, so dominated by brilliant Bengalis that it came to be called the Diaspora. It occasioned no surprise to encounter them all over the States, deep in the mid-West or on the farthest Hawaiian island. Somewhere, somehow, one caught the whiff of begun bhaja in the air. "Is that a narkel bora I see before me, glistening through the Minnesota mist? It is. It is the Mistress of Spices at her magic. And should something go awry, the other Bengali, the Interpreter of Maladies, will Jhumpa up to set it right. Yes, Bengalis are certainly no slouches, either, in all the English-language fiction that has stewed in Indian creative juices. Slouches? They're winning both the marathon and the 100-metre dash in the race to literary glory.

It's the same closer to home. There are so many Bengalis occupying pole positions where I work that, if you don't speak the language, you might as well take the golden handshake. Being an Hon Bong, I scrape into the club by the skin of my teeth. When I left Kolkata - when it was still Calcutta and Jyotibabu was not yet CM - to join The Times of India as a trainee, Sumitbabu, my journalism professor at Cal U gave an introductory call to his in-laws who lived in Mumbai. At least one Sunday a month, I took the bus to their terrace flat in Parel where, to the gentle flap of drying Dhonekhali saris, I would savour posto, papad and payesh and dispel the homesickness.

In later Mumbai years, the Bengali population spread like waterhyacinth in a Beliaghata pukur, so much so that there were almost as many Pujo pandals as Ganapati ones and any market worth the name boasted a sweet-water fishmonger - Anwar, Bishuda, Chanchalbabu - right down the alphabet. The Sunday crowd thronging his stall was there as much for the community camaraderie as for the golda chingri. So it didn't really matter if it was " Bombay bekti" or if the ilish did not come from the Podda, but from the Narmada in nearer Bharuch.

Moving to Delhi , of course, I was in clover and kashundi to my heart's content. Chitto Park is a microcosm - and not a very micro one at that -of para-Kolkata. Oh bliss it was in that den to be eating shinghara,and to be there in Pujo time was very heaven. Boudis in lal-paars, dhakis,bhog,Bijoli Grill's kobiraji caat-let, Nizam's kathi rolls. And crowds to rival Gariahat on Mahashtami night. Bhaba jaye na. If you can't be in Kolkata, Delhi is the next best thing.

Generally speaking, if you want to survive into the future you'd better cross over. Learn the language, buy a Dhakai, get a Bengali son-in-law. Me? I'm changing my name to Bagchi.


What 'Pujo' means to a Bengali – Vir Sanghvi

Most modern Indian cities strive to rise above ethnicity. Tell anybody who lives in Bombay that he lives in a Maharashtrian city and (unless of course, you are speaking to Bal Thackeray) he will take immediate offence. We are cosmopolitan, he will say indigenously.

Tell a Delhiwalla that his is a Punjabi city (which, in many ways, it is) and he will respond with much self-righteous nonsense about being the nation's capital, about the international composition of the city's elite etc.

And tell a Bangalorean that he lives in a Kannadiga city and you'll get lots of techno-gaff about the internet revolution and about how Bangalore is even more cosmopolitan than Bombay .

But, the only way to understand what Kolkata is about is recognize that the city is essentially Bengali. What's more, no Bengali minds you saying that. Rather, he is proud of the fact.

Kolkata's strengths and weaknesses mirror those of the Bengali character. It has the drawbacks: the sudden passions, the cheerful chaos, the utter contempt for mere commerce, the fiery response to the smallest provocation. And it has the strengths (actually, I think of the drawbacks as strengths in their own way). Kolkata embodies the Bengali love of culture; the triumph of intellectualism over greed; the complete transparency of all emotions, the disdain with which hypocrisy and insincerity are treated; the warmth of genuine humanity; and the supremacy of emotion over all other aspects of human existence.

That's why Kolkata is not for everyone.

You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi . You want your cities, rich and impersonal; go to Bombay . You want them high-tech and full of draught beer; Bangalore 's your place. But if you want a city with a soul: come to Kolkata.

When I look back on the years I've spent in Kolkata - and I come back so many times each year that I often feel I've never been away - I don't remember the things that people remember about cities.

When I think of London , I think of the vast open spaces of Hyde Park .

When I think of New York , I think of the frenzy of Times Square .

When I think of Tokyo , I think of the bright lights of Shinjiku.

And when I think of Paris , I think of the Champs Elysee.

But when I think of Kolkata, I never think of any one place. I don't focus on the greenery of the maidan, the beauty of the Victoria Memorial, the bustle of Burra Bazar or the splendour of the new Howrah Bridge .

I think of people. Because, finally, a city is more than bricks and mortars, street lights and tarred roads. A city is the sum of its people. And who can ever forget or replicate - the people of Kolkata?

When I first came to live here, I was told that the city would grow on me. What nobody told me was that the city would change my life. It was in Kolkata that I learn't about true warmth; about simple human decency; about love and friendship; about emotions and caring; about truth and honesty. I learn't other things too. Coming from Bombay as I did, it was a revelation to live in a city where people judged each other on the things that really mattered; where they recognized that being rich did not make you a better person - in fact, it might have the opposite effect. I learn't also that if life is about more than just money, it is about the things that other cities ignore; about culture, about ideas, about art, and about passion.

In Bombay , a man with a relatively low income will salt some of it away for the day when he gets a stock market tip. In Kolkata, a man with exactly the same income will not know the difference between a debenture and a dividend. But he will spend his money on the things that matter. Each morning, he will read at least two newspapers and develop sharply etched views on the state of the world. Each evening, there will be fresh (ideally, fresh-water or river) fish on his table. His children will be encouraged to learn to dance or sing. His family will appreciate the power of poetry And for him, religion and culture will be in inextricably bound together.

Ah religion! Tell outsiders about the importance of Puja in Kolkata and they'll scoff. Don't be silly, they'll say. Puja is a religious festival. And Bengal has voted for the CPM since 1977. How can godless Bengal be so hung up on a religions festival? I never know how to explain them that to a Bengali, religion consists of much more than shouting Jai Shri Ram or pulling down somebody's mosque. It has little to do with meaningless ritual or sinister political activity.

The essence of Puja is that all the passions of Bengal converge: emotion, culture, the love of life, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic expression and yes, the cult of the goddess. It may be about religion. But is about much more than just worship. In which other part of India would small, not particularly well-off localities, vie with each other to produce the best sandals? Where else could puja pandals go beyond religion to draw inspiration from everything else? In the years I lived in Kolkata, the pandals featured Amitabh Bachchan, Princes Diana and even Saddam Hussain! Where else would children cry with the sheer emotional power of Dashimi, upset that the Goddess had left their homes? Where else would the whole city gooseflesh when the dhakis first begin to beat their drums? Which other Indian festival - in any part of the country - is so much about food, about going from one roadside stall to another, following your nose as it trails the smells of cooking?

To understand Puja, you must understand Kolkata. And to understand Kolkata, you must understand the Bengali. It's not easy. Certainly, you can't do it till you come and live here, till you let Kolkata suffuse your being, invade your bloodstream and steal your soul. But once you have, you'll love Kolkata forever.

Wherever you go, a bit of Kolkata will go with you. I know, because it's happened to me. And every Puja, I am overcome by the magic of Bengal .

It's a feeling that'll never go away.


The Bong Alphabet

is for Awpheesh (as in Office). This is where the average Kolkakattan goes and spends a day hard at work. And if he works for the 'West Bengal Gawrment' he will arrive at 10, wipe his forehead till 11, have a tea break at 12, throw around a few files at 12.30, break for lunch at 1, smoke an unfiltered cigarette at 2, break for tea at 3, sleep sitting down at 4 and go home at 4:30. It's a hard life!

is for Bhision. For some reason many Bengalis don't have good bhision. In fact in Kolkata most people are wearing spectacles all the time.

is for Chappell. Currently, this is the Bengali word for the Devil, for the worst form of evil. In the night mothers put their kids to sleep saying, 'Na ghumaley Chappell eshey dhorey niye jabe.'

is for Debashish or any other name starting with Deb. By an ancient law every fourth Bengali Child has to be named Debashish. So you have a Debashish everywhere and trying to get creative they are also called Deb, Debu, Deba with variations like Debanik, Deboprotim, Debojyoti, etc. thrown in at times.

is for Eeesh. This is a very common Bengali exclamation made famous by Aishwarya Rai in the movie Devdas. It is estimated that on an average a Bengali, especially Bengali women, use eeesh 10,089 times every year. 'Ei Morechhey' is a close second to Eeesh.

is for Feeesh. These are creatures that swim in rivers and seas and are a favourite food of the Bengalis. Despite the fact that a fish market has such strong smells, with one sniff a Bengali knows if a fish is all right. If not he will say 'eeesh what feeesh is theesh!'

is for Good name. Every Bengali boy will have a good name like Debashish or Deboprotim and a pet name like Motka, Bhombol, Thobla, etc. While every Bengali girls will have pet names like Tia, Tuktuki, Mishti, Khuku, etc.

is for Harmonium. This the Bengali equivalent of a rock guitar. Take four Bengalis and a Harmonium and you have the successors to The Bheatles!

is for lleesh. This is a feeesh with 10,000 bones which would kill any ordinary person, but which the Bengalis eat with releeesh!

is for Jhola. No self respecting Bengali is complete without his Jhola. It is a shapeless cloth bag where he keeps all his belongings and he fits an amazing number of things in. Even as you read this there are 2 million jholas bobbling around Kolkata - and they all look exactly the same! Note
that 'Jhol' as in Maachher Jhol is a close second.

is for Kee Kaando !. It used to be the favourite Bengali exclamation till eeesh took over because of Aishwarya Rai (now Kee Kando's agent is trying to hire Bipasha Basu).

is for Lungi - the dress for all occasions. People in Kolkata manage to play football and cricket wearing it not to mention the daily trip in the morning to the local bajaar. Now there is talk of a lungi expedition to Mt. Everest .

is for Minibus. These are dangerous half buses whose antics would effortlessly frighten the living daylights out of all James Bond stuntmen as well as Formula 1 race car drivers.

is for Nangto. This is the Bengali word for Naked. It is the most interesting naked word in any language!

is for Oil. The Bengalis believe that a touch of mustard oil will cure anything from cold (oil in the nose), to earache (oil in the ear), to cough (oil on the throat) to piles (oil you know where!)

is for Phootball. This is always a phavourite phassion of the Kolkattan. Every Bengali is born an expert in this game. The two biggest clubs there are Mohunbagan and East Bengal and when they play the city comes to a stop.

is for Queen. This really has nothing to do with the Bengalis or Kolkata, but it's the only Q word I could think of at this moment. There's also Quilt but they never use them in Kolkata.

is for Robi Thakur. Many nany years ago Rabindranath got the Nobel Prize. This has given the right to all Bengalis no matter where they are to frame their acceptance speeches as if they were directly related to the great poet and walk with their head held high. This also gives Bengalis the birthright to look down at Delhi and Mumbai and of course 'all non-Bengawlees'! Note that 'Rawshogolla' comes a close second!

is for Shourav. Now that they finally produced a genuine cricketer and a captain, Bengalis think that he should be allowed to play until he is 70 years old. Of course they will see to it that he stays in good form by doing a little bit of 'joggo' and 'maanot'.

is for Trams. Hundred years later there are still trams in Kolkata. Of course if you are in a hurry it's faster to walk.

is for Aambrela. When a Bengali baby is born he is handed one.

is for Bhaayolence. Bengalis are the most non-violent violent people around. When an accident happens they will fold up their sleeves, shout and scream and curse and abuse, "Chherey De Bolchhi" but the last time someone actually hit someone was in 1979.

is for Water. For three months of the year the city is underwater and every year for the last 200 years the authorities are taken by surprise by this!

is for X'mas. It's very big in Kolkata, with Park Street fully lit up and all Bengalis agreeing that they must eat cake that day.

is for Yesshtaarday. Which is always better than today for a Bengali (see R for Robi Thakur).

is for Jebra, Joo, Jipper and Jylophone.


A Job Interview

Bill Gates organized an enormous session to recruit a new Chairman for Microsoft Europe. 5000 candidates assembled in a large room. One candidate was Debdas Banerjee an Indian (Bengali) guy.

Bill Gates thanked all the candidates for coming and asking those who do not know JAVA program to leave. 2000 people left the room. Debdas said to himself, 'I do not know JAVA but I have nothing to lose if I stay. I'll give it a try'

Bill Gates asked the candidates who never had experience of managing more than 100 people to leave. 2000 people left the room. Debdas said to himself ' I never managed anybody by myself but I have nothing to lose if I stay. What can happen to me?' So he stayed.

Then Bill Gates asked candidates who did not have management diplomas to leave. 500 people left the room. Debdas said to himself, 'I left school at 15 but what have I got to lose?' So he stayed in the room.

Lastly, Bill Gates asked the candidates who did not speak Serbo – Croat to leave. 498 people left the room.

Debdas said to himself, ' I do not speak one word of Serbo - Croat but what do I have to lose?' So he stayed and found himself with one other candidate. Everyone else had gone.

Bill Gates joined them and said 'Apparently you are the only two candidates who speak Serbo - Croat, so I'd now like to hear you have a conversation together in that language.'

Calmly, Debdas turned to the other candidate and said - 'Ki cholchhe dada. Kemon achho.'

The other candidate answered - 'bhalo achhi bhai.'


Love For One's Wife…

Through the jongole I am went

On shooting Tiger I am bent

Boshtaard Tiger has eaten wife

No doubt I will avenge poor darling's life

Too much quiet, snakes and leeches

But I not fear these sons of beeches

Hearing loud noise I am jumping with start

But noise is coming from damn fool's heart

Taking care not to be fright

I am clutching rifle tight with eye to sight

Should Tiger come I will shoot and fall him down

Then like hero return to native town

Then through trees I am espying one cave

I am telling self - "Banerjee be brave"

I am now proceeding with too much care

From far I smell this Tiger's lair

My leg shaking, sweat coming, I start pray

I think I will shoot Tiger some other day

Turning round I am going to flee

But Tiger giving bloody roar spotting Bengalee

He bounding from cave like footballer Pele

I run shouting "Kali Ma tumi kothay gele"

Through the jongole I am running

With Tiger on my tail closer looming

I am a telling that never in life

I will risk again for my damn wife!!!!