Sudarshana, tumi aaj mrito. [Oh beautiful lady, today you are dead]
Are beautiful women, like industries and jobs, migrating away from Calcutta ? Is female beauty, in its most pristine Bong form, dead and dying in the city of Joy? This article in the Telegraph argues it does.
First of all, let me say that I am offended by this article and shall be filing a PIL against it soon. Just after the judge clears the one against Slumdog Millionaire filed by Mr. Vishwakarma.
Surveys are yet to be conducted on the number of beauties Calcutta has lost to the lures of Mumbai, for professional reasons, and Maryland (for which you can blame the dollar-jingling NRI who flies down in the winter and flies away with a beauteous bride before you can say winter).
Here is the reason for the grievous offense. Maryland? Hello. As a tax-paying resident of Maryland (not dollar-jingling though) who has flown down for a winter or two and also an autumn, I think I can speak for all residents of the Free State when I say that we strongly resent the accusation that it is us who are responsible for this supposed shortage, that somehow it’s people from Maryland who are hogging the buffet line. If the author wished to use Maryland for alliterative purposes to go with Mumbai, why not Maine or Montana or Missouri or Mississippi or Minnesota? If the reason is the similarity between “marry” and “Maryland” may I kindly also point to our neighboring state Virginia and its similarity with the word “virgin” and wonder why they are not being singled out as the poachers of pristine beauty.
Secondly, why rue the fact that Celina Jetley and Bipasha Basu have left the city when we have so much left behind?Have we Bengalis, the most liberal of all races, become so blind so as to turn our backs to non-conventional definitions of beauty? An alternative aesthetic that finds jannat in “Ekti dhaaner sisher opor ekti sishir bindoo”s. [The simple beauty of a drop of dew on paddy], the kind that discovers true beauty in courageously opposing industrial development from the grassroots till the “bhoice bhi choked hain” accompanied by the mellifluous singing of (with “besht weeshes phor all)”Aye mere wotooon ke logooo” [Video: Must watch], a performance so moving that it brings tears to all our eyes and makes some of us remember those immortal lines from “American Beauty”: Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.
Thirdly, as someone who visits the city on and off and still looks either side of the street before crossing, I would hold issue with the basic premise of the piece. As a matter of fact, I would argue that the standard of conventionally good-looking women has gone up in comparison to the 80 and early 90s. Beauty lies not only in the eyes of the beholder but also in the presentation. And in that I believe I have seen a sea-change in sartorial styles for women, mostly in the positive direction. Shapeless jute-bag like coverings have been replaced by ones that hug the contours, wearing white sneakers with salwar kameezes outlawed, spaghetti strapped tops have become de rigeur, the bottom line of the skirt no longer starts from where the socks end (Tomar holo shuru, amar holo shara is thus dead), make up more tastefully applied than the “let’s just put powder everywhere” Chaitro-masher-shong principle and women in general are far more aware of what looks good on them. And yes the backless blouses at Maddox Square boudis have not done too badly either.
Fourthly this “they are taking away our beautiful womenfolk” is not a sentiment that is being expressed by this generation of local menfolk only—its variants have found resonance through the decades. Jibanananda Das in his poem 1946–47 said [translated to English]
In this world, interest accrues: but not for everyone.
Indescribable bank notes in the hands of one or two persons.
And these high-ranking persons of the world demand
And take everything, even women.
The rest of mankind, like profuse leaves of late autumn in darkness,
Wish to fly off toward a river somewhere,
My father told me of this anecdote when in the late 60s, one of his friends back to USA after a Calcutta visit told the bachelor Bangali PhD students that they should have been as smart as my dad who had come to the US already married. This is because he had just found out that there is a crisis in Calcutta, all the beauties have been married away to other lands and all that remains are the left-overs (jhortiportis) for the bachelors who lacked the foresight to have bought into the boom.
And finally if indeed there really is an unprecedented shortage of female beauty in Calcutta today, then perhaps the reason could be that the Bengali sons of the soil today force Bong women to fly away by talking like this,
One such has just hit town. Sambaran Mitra, a mariner in his early thirties, considers himself a veteran birdwatcher.
On a night out in Park Street, he exclaims: “Where are the babes gone?” If you can’t find them in Park Street, you can’t find them anywhere
Now even rock shows, he complains, don’t throw up hot babes!
If Bengali men start using stereotyped “wannabe” phrases like “babes” to refer to lolonas and latikas, then yes we have lost the last surviving vestige of Bengali manhood—the ability to be poetically original when referring to women. I recall during school days when a gaggle of giggling girls passed us by, we boys would nudge each other and say “Durge e je streelok” (Oh lord, it’s a woman) [ a line I recall from Bankimchandra that was part of an extract in our Bangla text book] to express our appreciation while now it seems they just say “Oh what a babe”.
Oh what a let down.
So my advice to the Bongo-sontaan when he sees an “aparoopa” striking up a conversation with the dollar jingling NRI, is to put on his best Soumitro Chatterjee voice and say:
“Suronjona, oikhaane jeo nako tumi
Bolo nako katha oi juboker saathe
Phire esho Suranjana
Nokhotrer rupali agoon bhora raate.
[Surongona, don't go there
Don't talk to that young man
Come back Suranjana
On a night that is alight with the fire of silver stars]
If however all that comes out from the Bongo-sontan’s mouth are SMS Shayris and “Chalti hai kya nau se baraah” then yes he deserves to lose.
No need to blame the guy from Maryland for that.
[Pic courtesy Times of India]