Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We don’t need no ed-ju-ca-shun?!

Many years back, during the Pujo vacations when my family managed to take our first holiday in many years, we went to visit our uncle’s family in Delhi. It was a time before LPG –nope not the stuff in the red cylinder that is fuel to cook my food… I was talking about “Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization” in the MBA lingo. The shameful situation that compelled our country to physically take bullion reserves abroad is another story altogether. Sorry I tend to digress - back to the story – it was a time much before LPG – so family vacations were a rare luxury with middle class wages being the order of the day (I think history is now close to repeating itself given the present times). What particularly stands out in my memory of that vacation, apart from the grand Pujo Pandal of CR Park, was the strange situation where scores of young dadas and didis who went to college were burning themselves over something called the Mandal Commission and protesting against someone called VP Singh. I was probably 12 – 13 years old at the time and didn’t quite understand what was going on - but it was my first brush with the dirty politics over education that this country has become prey to…

Cut to 3 years back when ugly quota politics again found a soft target in higher education. It was the time when I was preparing for the CAT, XAT, MAT and all such animals aka MBA entrance exams – determined to be a part of the great Indian MBA dream. India Shining people were sure and MBAs were the “future leaders” of a “young and vibrant nation” – how many times have I heard this in the first year of my MBA, I have lost count (in the second year, the monster called recession ate up the world economy and this tune changed sooner than you could say palti!) Anyway in 2006, the hot topic was increasing the reservation in the institutes of higher education – especially the premier institutes… IITs, IIMs, AIIMS – to accommodate the OBCs (Other Backward Classes).

With already about 22.5% reserved for SCs and STs, and a further 27.5% being reserved for OBCs – where was India aiming to go really… Into a bright meritocracy that will ensure that we prosper in the future or in a future that would try to correct the wrongs of the past by wronging others in the present and the future? I am all for social justice and inclusion of weaker sections of society. Everyone has a right to an equal opportunity. The financially challenged need our help. But even Mr. Arjun Singh knows that there is no logic of reserving seats in higher education institutions unless the government provides a mechanism that guarantees quality education to all children in primary and higher secondary schools. If the base is not strong, will the institutions last? The government talks of mid-day meal schemes to lure kids to school – while civil servants are found to hire child labour as domestic help – quite an indicator of the government’s intention of putting all kids through school. America (yes Mr. Karat – the country you hate) does that – can you arm twist the government of India to make sure it follows suit? Try doing this instead of derailing the country’s economy through unnecessary strikes!

Also, is there a count of how many of the candidates that actually make in on the reservations are actually good enough to last the course at an IIT or an IIM or an AIIMS? If hearsay is to be believed, most drop out unable to cope with the pressure. So why waste these seats on them and not offer them to meritorious candidates, irrespective of their caste?

Who benefits from the reservations? Is the needy and financially challenged dalit in Bharat or the unscrupulous son of a government official whose parent made it into the job on reservation in the first place? Does a senior civil servant’s offspring merit a reservation in an IIM over the son of a poor general quota peon? Will the government ever dare to leave out the “creamy layer”? Not in a million years! How in the world will they ever dare to antagonize their vote banks… this is democracy meri jaan. Numbers matter and the Indians don’t match up to the Bharatiyas – in the end, the only prophecy foreseeable is sustainable darkness.

Moreover, at a drop of a hat, our geriatric politicians head abroad for medical treatment – why not consult one of the many reserved “doctors” that have passed out – why don’t they trust their well being with them and how do they expect the public to benefit from such incompetent professionals (an oxymoron as it is)? I use a strong adjective but reducing cut offs in critical areas by 10% signals the death knell for progress isn’t it? Would someone who is not good enough to be a doctor by prevailing norms for the “majority” be able to do justice to his profession once he is “qualified”? I extend this logic to the “management quota” intake as well. Unless you are good enough to get in, only a superhuman effort would increase your caliber to make you a worthy professional.

With so much already being “done” for the sector, Kapil Sibal comes out with his vision of revolutionizing the education system of our country by talking of abolishing the class 10 board exams etc to relieve students of “stress”! Incredible train of thought, isn’t it? Let’s take a step back to understand why there is the stress in the first place? Is it because of the board exams or is it because of the lack of quality institutions of higher education that a candidate has a realistic chance of getting in provided he has unrealistic marks or great luck or reservations? It is a shame that the so called “good” colleges and universities of my father’s time remain the “good” colleges and universities till date (my cousin is gearing up for his post graduate studies this year)! Instead of reducing chances of the common student of getting in via reservation for mainly the creamy layer of SC/ST/OBC and not doing anything to develop more quality institutions of higher studies – say of the quality of St. Xavier’s , St. Stephens, IIMs, IITs etc – Kapilji would want us to believe that we don’t need no education! Sirji – I love Floyd too. But why kill meritocracy here too? (BTW, do catch Chetan Bhagat’s short story – “Cut off” in last Sunday’s (26/07/2009) HT Brunch –aptly illustrates this malaise in the system.)

Instead there are many other areas (some of which I have listed below) that our minister can look at and deliver it in the prime mister’s 100 day mandate. Most of them are critical to ensure that our social fabric is strengthened but make news so often that we have become accustomed to ignoring them:

1. Rampant practice of “auctioning” seats in engineering, medical, dental and business colleges. A couple of weeks back, a sting operation alleged the involvement of a union cabinet minister in the most recent “seat for money” exposé. However, it is a big money racket and the demand for “professional qualification” far outweighs the supply of quality institutes that can provide it. Hence this racket will continue till the government ever decides to wake up.

2. School teachers in government schools don’t show up. There are a million kids who battle the odds to make it to school but then are cheated out of their right to education by government apathy on an everyday basis. Moreover there are frighteningly regular horror stories of inhuman punishment of students by teachers. What leads them to act so barbarically? And more importantly, what will the government do to protect the kids?

3. Year after year students die of ragging. Universities claim to have regulation in place to clamp down this evil practice. All incoming students sign an undertaking to stop this evil. But will the government be able to eradicate this epidemic?

4. Checking the quality of institutes of higher learning. How long can we let the likes of Arindam Chaudhary and his ilk take students for a ride? Don’t believe me… see this link:

5. Improve the curriculum in schools to make it more relevant. Why create a ruckus about sex education being immoral when India is staring at a HIV AIDS crisis? Why let the state governments modify the curriculum to promote their political ideology?

6. Stop moral policing in colleges. At 18, an Indian citizen is considered able enough to exercise his franchise to elect the country’s government but not old enough to dress the way he/she wants? Sheer hypocrisy, isn’t it? Will wearing salwar kameez or collared shirts make a pupil concentrate better in classes? You’ve got to be kidding me?

It is a wonder that we still claim to have one of the best talent repository for the world…

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Obituary printed in the London Times

Today, we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, *Common Sense*, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
- Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
- Why the early bird gets the worm;
- Life isn’t always fair;
- and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy
charged for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouth-wash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have
an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.
Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.
Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.
He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers;
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I’m A Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on.

If not join the majority and do nothing

Friday, July 17, 2009

Chetan Bhagat is the culprit...

It all began when I read Five Point Someone. It was hilarious. And it made me feel, I can be a writer too. After all, it's not a bad life when you can speak your mind and make money too. Then every now and then I would flirt with the idea of writing my own book. I even came up with a Prologue. Have a look and let me know if you want to read any more...



This has been a long time coming. Sitting on the pavement with Gordon Gekko’s words still ringing in my ears: “Greed is good”. I still believe him. Even though I am sitting in the muck - stark naked, nearly dead and hopelessly screwed – I still believe greed is good. Yeh dil mangey more; it must! It is this unquenchable thirst that has kept us progressing and evolving. The primal law of nature governs the survival of the fittest. It is the greed to survive that saves those who live to see another day. Those who are satiated die a slow horrid death… the death of a victim. I am a warrior. The ride to hell was worth it.

It starts drizzling here in Sankat City. Danny Boyle can scout this location for his sequel. The mice flee to their dark holes. The street dogs howl a hasty retreat. The last two brave urchins on the road shiver under tattered plastic sheet. Even the cockroaches, who have kept me company for the last couple of hours, instantaneously disappear into the unknown crevices. The putrid stench that has been polluting my lungs seems to have got worse with the rains. My lifeless soul doesn’t stir. I welcome the clear droplets and pray for the first time in years. I ask for a divine cleansing and an act of benevolence. I decide to confess my sins to the Lord.

Say What

It’s been a while since I have posted something original. It was actually a combination of inertia on my part and some great writing from others that I admired and hence put up for the benefit of my friends. Anyway, with that out of the way, here I am to resume my take on the world around me.
There have been a few things that have perturbed me of late:
1. Bangla Bandh! The Budda sleeps while Bengal burns. Didi rises… “Tata Tata Nano No No” (Courtesy: Star Ananda). Salim Lal Salaam. Gorkhaland Hartaal. Largarh, Singur, Nandigraam bloodbath. Buddhijivis take to the streets. Jeet and Dev rule the silver screen (Bhojo Gourango!) Oh! Think twice, it’s just another day with you and me in paradise. Wonder what will happen to my Kolkata?

2. Mumbai is submerged again. People wade pack in neck deep muck. The BMC had ambitious plans laid out to ensure a “dry” monsoon for the Mumbaikars, but I guess now their plans are just washed away. Don’t look back in anger. Asche bochor abar hobey. (Sorry bhau, I can’t say that in Marathi. Mi Bangla boltoi.)

3. They say the Indian cricketers were suffering from exhaustion and their workload is responsible for our poor performance in the T20 World Cup. YA RIGHT! When you get paid obscene amounts of money to “perform”, then stop complaining you losers! Your salaries and payouts would be the GDP of districts (and some states). Get a life and retire. ( And someone please dismantle the BCCI and fire Lalit Modi.)

4. Pronob Babu presented his budget speech last week. Markets crashed. Same shit, different day. The great Indian middle class languishes day in and day out – trying to eke out an honest living, make ends meet and we are the people who fill the coffers of the exchequer. For what? Where is the improvement in governance and our quality of life? Could the government assure that our jobs will be saved? Can they assure that we will get decent healthcare and low cost housing? With token benefits meted out to us in tax savings, I think it’s time we demand reservation and sops for the “middle class”. Alternatively a few statues of our “middle class” leaders in the heart of the main metros wouldn’t hurt. Atleast the supreme court thinks so. Just ask Behenji.

5. A couple of weeks back Sec 377 was revoked / amended bringing a lot of cheer amongst people of alternate sexuality. They painted the cities in rainbow hues. But will it change the mindset of the larger population. India doesn’t live in the cities, my MBA professors said. Renowned personalities have commented on how we are a tale of India and Bharat. Will this really affect Bharat? No matter what Celina or Baba Ramdev say, I think it will remain status quo at the grassroot level – atleast for the foreseeable future…

6. Can someone really get away with murder in broad daylight – a heinous act witnessed by atleast 50 people? In our country, it seems, one can. The Professor Sabhrawal case (as did the Jessica Lal case) proves it. Really sad state of affairs.

7. My father retires from the corporate world in just over a year. He will be 58 when he retires. What is retirement - A judgment /assumption that you are no longer good enough to work in the corporate world? Fair Enough. But if that is so, then why are the majority of the country’s and corporate decision makers above this age? The less said of the geriatric politicians said the better. This was supposed to be the “youngest” parliament, wasn’t it? Really? With the buddhas at the helm, they really hold the reins of our country’s destiny… scary thought. Like Didi said: “Poriborton Chai!”

8. My “hero” died last week. He was the bizarre Peter Pan (pun intended) of our generation (Whacko Jacko?), musical genius (undoubtedly), a man with no bones (just ask the millions who tried to copy his signature dance moves), a gazillion plastic surgeries and someone who it seems, was more valuable in death than in his sorry existence just prior to it. The King is Dead. Love live Mai-ka-lal Jai-Kishen! It is despicable how people won’t let the even dead rest in peace.

9. They say the recession has hit us hard. Ask us MBA students who have passed out this year. We are the shudras of the corporate world… the untouchables. We are all left singing Akon’s sad lyrics “I’m so lonely” in the absence of decent jobs. But the more sinister side to corporates has reared its ugly head in this turmoil – commoditizing people. Now that the IIMs are selling their students at a rebate, the A/B category MBAs are dispensable? The myopic companies don’t realize that in business, like in life, nothing is permanent. The markets will turn. Their golden IIM grads will bail at the 1st turn. Then what will you have achieved? Moreover, the recession hasn’t hit industries like the telecom as bad… 33% CAGR isn’t doing too badly. Then why use it as an excuse to stop increments and bonuses of the very people that have worked their butts off to get you corporate machinery rolling.

10. I read the “3 biggest mistakes of my life”. IT WAS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE. But then again, I have decided to give up my job and become a writer. Maybe my bad prose will earn me the moolah too. Chetan bhai, main aa raha hoon!

11. Finally, we come to the end of this bulletin with Football (anyone who calls it “soccer”, kindly go fly a kite). Ronaldo sold his soul. Kaka sold his soul. Benzema sold his soul. What slowdown is the world talking about REALly? A cautionary note to all clubs: We Devils still have Sir Alex. So mess with the best and get burned like the rest… just ask Benitez, Mourinho, Wenger & co.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Dying Traits of the Bangali

On a lazy Sunday, Misses (or as the traditional Bengali bhodrolok would say “songsar” or the more bourgeois would say “phemily”) and I were discussing the dying traits of the traditional Bangali and his culture (pronounced kaalture), traits that would be lost in a generation or two as he becomes globalized into that mythical beast known as the “Bong”, assailed by the integrating and homogenizing influences of cosmopolitanism.

Here are few that we identified.

Shopping For Fish: Note I do not say the love for fish—which I believe will persist for some time. What I however believe we are losing is the sense of sheer joy that people of our parents’ generation and those above partook in the experience of procuring fish for the family.
Bengalis were never an overtly religious community. The closest they came to a regular communion with God was their weekly expedition to the fish market. Make no mistake. This was a ritual. First there was the proud walk to the market holding a bag (”tholi’). This would be followed by a slow survey of the cornucopia of aquatic edibles, as the expert spotted the will-be-rotten-soon from the fresh specimens by expertly pressing the belly of the fish, glancing at the color of the gills and the eyes all the while smiling to oneself at the mistakes of the novice shopper Barin-babu who does not know the significance of a fish that has its belly full of eggs and Banerjee who is unable to distinguish genuine Padma-r Hilsa from the local variety.
Then there would be a lengthy comparative shopping/ bargaining process where the bhodrolok/mohila would wag his/her finger and through a mixture of threats (I will stop buying from you) and entreaties ( come on I am your old customer, make your profit from Barin-babu not from me) that would impress a hostage negotiator, fix the price. Finally there was the observation of the fish cutting process where the Bengali Zen Master had to make sure that the fish was being diced into appropriate sized pieces (too big makes it difficult to cook and too little means it breaks in the pan) while at the same time keeping an eye out on the rapscallion fish vendors, who were known for their legerdemain by which they would tamper with the weights or make prime-cuts that had been paid for vanish somewhere near the folds of their lungi.
Bengalis arent proud of their wealth because they have none. Bengalis arent proud of their physiques either again because they have none. But they were always proud of their fishy skills and Bengalis of past generations would discuss their fish market conquests with the same enthusiasm (”Where do you get good shrimp nowadays–all the good shrimp gets exported to the US”) and one-up-manship (You paid Rs. 50 for a kilo of hilsa —well I paid Rs. 48) with which today’s generation discuss their cellphone models.
That pride is gone today as a new generation slowly and surely migrates to supermarkets and packaged fish with even those who are still forced to go to the fish market treating it as a horrible chore that needs to be dispensed with as quickly as possible. Consequently, the savoring, the languidness and the pride that used to be associated with this almost mystical activity is now slowly dying away.

Tea: Accepted that drinking tea (cha) doesnt face imminent obsolescence like the expedition to the fish market. But its pre-eminent position as the discussion-fuel of the Bangali has been challenged by the ever-rising popularity of the coffee which once upon a time used to be the exclusive prerogative of”South Indians” as an uncle would say. When people now drop in, the host asks “Tea or coffee”? A generation ago it would be “two teaspoons of sugar or three” with tea being assumed to be the beverage of choice. Not convinced about the demise of tea? Ask 10 under-30 Bongo-sontans and Bongo-tanayas whether the word “Makaibari” rings a bell or “Barista”? I am sure most of you will come to the same conclusion that I have.

An Obsession With Catching The Cold: The Bengali is always catching a cold or the flu, at least much more frequently than any other lingual group in the world. Critics say that is all nonsense and just an excuse to avoid work but to be honest the Bengali does not need an excuse to do that since shirking work is his birthright.
So yes. It is true. Bengalis do have a genetic susceptibility for viruses and bacteria which explains why we have CPM and the Trinamool Congress and why we are forever sneezing and sniveling and running up a temperature, blaming it on what we call “season change”.
The Bengali has historically been well aware of this limitation of his constitution. That is why he used to fortify himself against the cold, even if it as mild as the Kolkata one, in such a heavy-handed manner that non-Bengalis could barely suppress their mirth. First there was the ubiquitous monkey-cap, black or brown in color, with which the Bengali would cover his head making him look he was on an expedition to the Antarctic than on a quiet stroll in the park on a November morning in Calcutta. Then there was the muffler and the turtle-neck sweater protecting the neck and torso from the depredations of Mother Nature. If one was going out for a picnic to Calcutta Zoo (which is where 80% of family expeditions finished up), the Bangali almost always carried a thermos flask with hot tea and oranges for the Vitamin C.
The women, unfortunately, did not have the luxury of the monkey-caps but had voluminous shawls and sweaters that kept them warm together with heavy woolen socks that protected their feet (since cold evidently attacks from the feet). During the winter, windows were usually stuck tight with the first breeze of spring (bosonter haowa) considered specially treacherous, known not only to bring out romantic poetry but also snot from the Bangali nose (Rabindranath Tagore reportedly tried to rebel against this trait of the Bengali to isolate himself from the environment by keeping his windows open during the extremes of summer and winter but then again there are certain changes even he failed to bring.)
Today’s generation of Bengalis have become more “fashionable” and scoff at wearing the monkey-cap and the woolen socks publicly. But they are still as afraid of the common cold as their predecessors were and don’t be surprised to find them surreptitiously wearing three heavy cotton vests beneath their shirts and thermal underwear beneath their trousers as they look over their shoulders from time to time to check if their biggest enemies are creeping up behind them.
Namely capitalists and rhinoviruses.
A Healthy Disregard For Allopathic Treatment The Bengali spends much of his lifespan in pain—either doubled up from stomach convulsions or sitting on the potty passing stool or having ice-cold napkins pressed to his forehead. But there was one thing old-timers avoided like the plague even in the midst of all this pain—allopathic medicine. As a matter of fact, the ultimate macho Bangali line used to be ” I do not believe in allopathy” with those who took Crocin or Enteroquinol being considered wimps of the first order.
For the Bangali Sunny Deol, any disease, from cough to cancer, could be cured by neem/basak leaves, karola (karele) and “chirotar jol” with the potency of the “medicines” being directly proportional to their vile taste. Every Bengali mashima (aunty) was an MBBS in plants and herbs while Bengali meshomashai (uncle) knew everything there was to know about homeopathy. This meant people went to Dr. De’s allopathic clinic round the corner for two reasons–1) death was imminent or 2) a fake health certificate was needed to explain why someone fell ill on the very day of the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal match.
Today’s kids are however different. Having lost their faith in the remedies of old and slavishly following the West, they rush to the allopathic doctor at the first sign of trouble, whether it be a slight rumble in the stomach or a temperature of 99F.
Adda Again it is not that Bengalis do not get together and talk today or will cease to in the future but the defining characteristics of what was the Bangali adda (community chat sessions) is gradually dying out under the ceaseless attack of modern life and bi-yearly performance evaluations at work. Much as we Bengalis want to cling onto our glorious pasts and our four-hour workdays, the breakneck culture of today makes it impossible for the Bangali to come home from work at 3 pm, take a relaxing siesta, have a cleansing bath with Margo soap, wear a “photuya” and “pyjama” , slip on a hawai chappal and walk over to the community tea shop or to the “rock” of a house (an elevated unroofed portico) and have a relaxing discussion with fellow Bengalis over tea and alur (potato) chop.
There is much romanticization of the adda of old as if the topics of discussion were almost always Socrates and Camus and Trotsky and Tennyson. It was not. Much of adda was idle gossip about whether Uttam Kumar was really going out with Supriya and whether neigbhourhood Minu who had run away with the taxi driver will ever be able to get a decent husband. [Satyajit Ray’s “Agantuk” has a discussion on this with Rabi Ghosh asking “Rabindranath ki adda diten?”(did Rabindranath engage in adda?)]
Just to make things clear once again. The concept of adda and gossip is as alive as ever and will always be with technology like the internet allowing it to expand its scope beyond the boundaries of geography. However what is steadily dying out is the languid late-afternoon community gatherings and the face-to-face meetings as Twitter, email and SMS take their place.
Maidan Football Ask any Bangali old-timer about cricket and the chances are he will tell you that it is a pansy game played by imperialists. Not that the Bangali did not love cricket. After all in 1976, more than 40,000 came to the Eden Gardens on the fifth day morning to watch Bishen Singh Bedi bat as India crashed to a loss to Tony Greig’s England. But the passion generated by cricket was nothing compared to that generated by the baap of all games—football. More specifically local club football played at the Kolkata maidans.
The bitter rancor between Shias and Sunnis pales in comparison to that between old-time East Bengal and Mohun Bagan fans with migrants from Bangladesh (Bangals) constituting the support base of the former and the traditional denizens of West Bengal (Ghotis) comprising the latter. Offices would empty during East Bengal-Mohun Bagan games and those unable to leave work would huddle over radios and transistors at their tables as all life would come to a standstill. There would be heated debates during and after the game with hands reaching for collars and with even bricks being thrown after particularly acrimonious referee decisions. The first game of the season used to be a social occasion. Goshto Pal and Chuni Goswami had their place in the pantheon of Bangali Gods along with Subhash Bose, Rabindranath Tagore and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. And grandfathers would get all teary-eyed and emotional as they would recall how in 1911 Mohun Bagan taught a colonially suppressed nation “to believe” when they defeated the “sahebs” to lift the IFA shield, an act the British never forgave the city for leading to the shifting of the capital to Delhi (All historians would disagree with this being the reason why the capital was shifted but try telling that to an emotional Mohun Bagan dadu).
For today’s generation of Bangalis however, cricket has knocked football off its pedestal. Blame it if you will on the steady decline in the standards of Maidan football or on the jazzy marketing strategies of cricket or the arrival of a certain man from Behala. Even those who still love football follow Manchester United rather than Mohun Bagan and obsess over which club Cristiano Ronaldo will be playing for as opposed to Baichung Bhutia. As a result of this lack of interest, Maidan football is slowly dying out and with it a hallowed Bangali tradition.
Elocution (abritti) and Rabindra Sangeet In College Fests: Tough for the young uns to believe today but the abritti competitions and the rabindra sangeet concert were some of the most well-attended events in Kolkata college socials during our parents’ generation with artists like Chinmay Chattopadhyay enjoying the kind of adulation reserved today for a Lucky Ali or a Shan.
But then the “social” became the “fest”. The old flowery elocution style with the trembling voice went out of fashion. Rabindra Sangeet is now considered too boring for the “masti public” since it doesnt get the crowd head-banging and grooving in the same way that Bangladeshi rock bands with their profound songs like “Frustration. Ami hote chai Sensation. Jiboner Expectation gulo sudhu baaki roye jaaye” [Rough translation: Frustration. I want to be a sensation. My life’s expectations remain unfulfilled] do. Which is why they are no longer financially viable in the corporate jamboree that college fests have become.
One can still take a look at how things used to be if one goes to college reunions, whose organization is typically dominated by generations past. Here elocution and rabindra sangeet is still the accepted mode of entertainment as the oldies sit awash in their memories.
And bachelor Debu-da wonders how his life would have been if he just had the courage to put the rose in Debolina’s Geetobitaan in 1966 as he wistfully looks at the 250 lb giantess that is the Debolina of today. However in his mind’s eye he sees only the Suchitra-Sen lookalike of 1965 which is how he remembers her.
Yes. The Bengali is changing. Fast. Not always for the good. But somehow I do not think that the romanticism that is wired into our DNAs, that Debu-da part of us, can ever be wiped away. And for that strangely I am thankful.


Bong Names

I have been forever 'pained' with my rather unusual name... for starters job offer letter and admit cards have been adressed to MS. Arkaprabha Sircar. My grandmother (thakuma) is to blame for it. Then comes the spelling and the pronunciation disparity - it is actually pronounced "Orkoprobho Shorcar" - we Bongs write "A" and pronounce it as "O" thereby confusing the rest of the civilised planet. Here is a very interesting piece that I found that explains the Bong name phenomena better...


My Name

My real name is a very common Bengali name. My name was so common at school, that I had 5 other guys with the same name in my section and three more including all other sections. To differentiate between us namesakes, our friends had to add various adjectives and/ or surnames as prefixes- Mota (Fat), Pagla (Mad), Boba (dumb) and surnames like Das and Chaku (abbreviated from Chakraborty). During our school exams we had to sit with senior classes- like Class six with class ten and so on. I clearly remember one instance when a senior sitting beside me had the same name and the surname of mine. I found that out while he was filling up the answer sheet form. I started to believe that I am like just another face in the crowd. What’s the point of having a name which is so common that one can readily remember atleast five known persons by that name? I sulked.

Obviously, I was never happy with such abundance of my namesakes everywhere. There were two major Bollywood movie stars with the same first name. Uniquely, one of them is Muslim by religion while the other is Punjabi. I was also bored with the most common way my name was spelt. So while filling up the form of Secondary Exam, I took a long deep breath and changed the spelling. Though the change was mere replacing an ‘a’ with ‘o’, but that momentary enjayment became a bong flavored enjoyment for life.

While studying in Delhi for my master’s degree, I found that my name is actually an ubiquitous National name. People from all state, origin and culture sport the name. However, I think my name is just an odd exception of Bengali names, which this post is about.

Bengali names and its characteristics always intrigued me. Bengali’s are immediately identified by their names, in case one can’t identify from his/ her looks or accent (which is a very rare case). But Bengali names and its socio-cultural significance needs some detailed categorized explanation.

A Bong has two names
Bhalo naam (Good name or formal name) and Dak naam (nick name). Those who has read / or seen Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, must be familiar with the concept. Whenever a Bengali baby is born (except for countries like US where naming a baby is mandatory even before it’s birth), s/he is not immediately named with a Bhalo Naam. Till such time the Bhalo Naam is deliberated by the generous contributions from innumerable uncles-aunties, grand parents, neighbours, office colleagues, neighbour’s colleagues, friends, maids, friend’s neighbour, colleague’s friend and finally the family Gurudev the great ‘Baba’or ‘Swamiji’. Till such time a suitable Bhalo naam is being collated, analyzed and synthesized the bong baby is called by his nick names.

Fundamentally, every bong boy is ‘babu’ or ‘khoka’ and girl is ‘khuki’ or ‘budi’ for the parents, so that’s the basic nick name any bong species would start with. It is to be understood that the nick names are more character oriented and deeply dipped in love; affection and creativity so mostly do not have any bearing with the real name whatsoever. It is also important to understand that the number of nicknames one bong baby has, is directly proportional to the number of reatives and neighbours its family keep good terms with. So one bong boy can be ‘babu’ to his mom, ‘babai’ to his dad, ‘dadusona’ to his granddad but called ‘lala’ by his friends, ‘gola’ by his cousins and ‘Jaggu’ by the bollywood buff neighbour.

Without nicknames Gauranga Chakraborty and Alokesh Lahiri could never have become Mithun(da) and Bappi (da). Does Abhas Kumar Ganguly , Prabodh Chandra Dey or Nilanjana Lahiri ring any bell unless I tell you those are bhalo naam of Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and Jhumpa Lahiri?

When I was a kid the most common form of daknaams used to be potla, hulo, nadu, habul, ghoton, bablu, gogol, bumba etc for boys and tepi, puchki, tuni, buni, tumpa, rinku for girls. Now a days they mostly sound like foriegn names- sonia, ginia, mark, gama, hojo, mimi, mona, pinto, rocky etc. On this context , many non-bengali bollywood artistes are more popularly known by their ‘bengali sounding’ daaknaams. ‘Tabu’ is a very common male daknaam in any para in Kolkata, whereas any guy with a name ‘Ram’ is affectionately called as ‘Remo’ by his friends. Sukumar Ray’s famous character ‘Pagla Dashu’ has many such mentions. By that logic it seems Ram Fernerdez may have a strong bong influence behind his name and fame.

Amusing it might sound but the fact remains that even the most aristocratic, rich and influential Bong gentlemen and ladies would have an equally embarrassing daknaam at home and would be called by by that by the elders and friends.

Though many bongs may not like it, but it’s the daknaam which has always been more popular with famous bengalis – examples Goshtho Pal ( Goshtho Bihar i Pal), Chuni Goswamy (Subimal Goswami), Fata Keshto, Tutu Bose, Panchamda ( Rahul Deb Burman), Dada ( Sourav Ganguli), Pritam ( Pritam Chakraborty), George Biswas ( Debabrata Biswas) and most favoirite Manikda ( Satyajit Ray).

Even in fiction Jatayu is more popular than Lalmohan Ganguli (the droll writer character in Satyajit ray’s Feluda novels). Just try thinking what would have happened to these powerful characters without their nicknames Feluda ( Pradosh Miter), Ghanada ( Ghanashyam Das), Tenida (Bhojohori Kukherjee), Kyabla (Kushal Mitra), Pyala ( Kamlesh Banerji) and Habul ( Habul Sen) ? Of course we have our Didi (Mamata Bannerjee) as powerful and amplified as any fictional characters.

That’s why the trend has changed now daaknaam is the new bhalo naam now- e.g Tapur & Tupur Chatterjee, the famous twin bong models. Btw Tapur-tupur denote the sound of trickling raindrops.

Common names
These are the commonest names. Indranil, Subhashish, Debashish, Anirban and Dipankar would be found in every class, every office and every goddam place on earth. When I was in school every fifth bong kid was named either Indranil or Debashish. Almost every Debashish has a brother named Subhashish and vice versa. Similarly Dipankar’s will have Subhankar; Debojyoti will have Shobhojyoti; Alok would have a Ashok as a rule. Similarly for bonginis Sudeshna, Gargi, Mausumi, Ananya, Lopamudra and Moonmoon are found in abundance. I have observed certain names have typical recognizable characteristics- like I am yet to meet a Sudeshna who’s unattractive or a Moonmoon who is skinny. But let’s keep that discussion reserved for another post.

Names used in Idioms
I can readily recall three Bengali idioms which are biased towards certain names.

1. Mere baaper naam Khagen kore debo! [ Will beat you so hard that your dad would be renamed as Khagen]. I don not know the story behind this idiom hence fail to understand the significance of the name Khagen. However the only relief is that son’s of real Khagens don’t have to worry too much.

2. Joto dosh Nondo Ghosh [ Nondo Ghosh is the universal scapegoat]. Unexplainable but I guess Nondo Ghosh here represents the faceless, powerless aam aadmi who is to be blamed whenever something goes wrong.

3. Lage taka debe Gouri Sen [When money is needed Gouri Sen would provide]. Gouri Sen here is a rich male businessman from 18th century Bengal.

4. Baler (Bal-slang for pubic hair used as figure of speech to denote inferiority) kotha Basuram ke giye bolo [Talk such bullshit to Basuram and not to us]. in college, we used this phrase mercilessly and randomly to anyone who tried to bullshit us . I never figured why Basuram would be interested to take bullshit anyway.

Complicated names
Traditionally bong’s used to take great pride in naming their offsprings with obscure, complicated, long and difficult names. Pundorikakkho, Pradyumno, Khsiteesh, Adriveet, Ayaskanto, Rudraneel, Archisman, Indrayani, Haimabati, Anuranjini, Tilottama- names which sound like characters of epic tales. Difficult to spell and impossible to pronounce for everyone else. Once in our University campus, I saw a guy, probably in the first year calling out to his newly met female classmate. ‘Dhritidipa….ei Dhritidipa….Dhritidipa….’ he was struggling his best with eyes popping out, face radiating a blood red glow and hands trembling like snapped tail of a lizard. I shuddered to imagine what would happen to him when their intimacy grows further.

The culture is gradually fading and minimalistic contemporary names with lesser syllables are in vogue now. Bongs have realized now that their world is larger than Kolkata and to make a ‘name’, it has to be modern and user friendly. However those modern names invites trouble of a different nature. My cousin named their son ‘Sampan’ meaning a Chinese skiff , which was meant to be artistic and romantic. Unfortunately in Haryana, where they stay, people conveniently changed it to ‘Sampanna’ meaning affluent. Similarly one of my friend named Arijit was transformed to ‘Harijeet’ by his collegues at Nehru Place.
Another guy, who’s parent must have thought he would be fast and furious and lovably named him as ‘Tibro’ . Eventually after lot of experimentation like Tibr, Tibre, Tivra he settled for ‘Teev’ for everyone’s convenience.

Globalized Bong Names
Thanks to the globalization, names which are complicated to pronounce and at times no less a tongue twister are compelled to be globalized. A globalized bong name can be pronounced and written with minimal effort. When successful educated Bongs land up at the lands of Sahebs (a bong term equivalent to ‘gora’ applied to a white skinned person anywhere outside India) they promptly globalize their names.

Some examples:
SatyaSundar Bose ( Sata Bose- the famous character of Chowringhee played by Uttam Kumar) is probably the trendsetter. Sabyasachi Sen (Saby Sen), Rananjay Sarkar (Ronny Sarkar) Dipankar Bhattachharyya ( Dip B Acharya), Shiladitya Ghosh ( Adi G), Ashoke Bandopadhyay ( Isac Bannerjee), Padmalochan Karmakar (Paddy Kar), Bodhisatya Purokayostho ( Bodhi Pkay), Sushmita Sen (Sush), Ipsita (Ips), Vatsayan (Vats), Lopamudra ( Lops) etc.

Gender Confusion
Bong names are extremely gender sensitive. Male and female names are strictly different irrespective of their meaning and generally differentiated while spelling and pronouncing it correctly. For the uninitiated Sudipto (M) and Sudipta (F) makes huge difference, same for Aparajito (M) and Aparajita (F). Some names might be treated as feminine in other parts of the country, but bong’s follow strict traditional naming customs. Thus ‘Suman’ ( meaning Flower and thus named to girls in North India) is a masculine name for Bongs and Sumana is the feminine counterpart ! A bengali girl will never be called ‘Kamal’ but ‘Kamala’ with an aa at the end. I don’t blame Indians from other states who fails to capture the subtle difference in pronounciation of Rajarshi (M) and Rajyashri(F) and equate it with Rajshree (F). It’s unfair but unavoidable.

Contraditory Names
Before ending, just thought of clarifying of some common errors in understanding few names. Arani is a masculine name and Rani is a feminine one. But that doesn’t mean Arani is opposite of Rani. Opposite to Rani would be Raja. Same concept is applicable to Bani and Abani, Shani and Ashani, Beer and Abeer etc etc.

So next time someone says – whats in a name ? A lot actually, if it’s Bong.



But talking of Bongs and unusual names, my father was named "Gandhi Sircar" by my grandfather (dadu) in a frenzy of nationalism post our independence to honour the father of our nation. So my Baba is a "man with no name" (much like his silver screen idol Clint Eastwood in his westerns) and has 2 "surnames"!! This has led to rather amusing situations including often 2 hotel rooms being booked for him - one for Mr. Gandhi and the other for Mr. Sircar.

PS - My Dadu totally went overboard on nationalism... his offsprings are thus named: Jawhar, Gandhi, Subhas and Sarojini!