The Flight of the Beauties

Sudarshana, tumi aaj mrito. [Oh beautiful lady, today you are dead]

–Jibanananda Das

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

And also

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]

48 thoughts on “The Flight of the Beauties

  1. Hey.. am I the first one??

  2. Agree completely and no I dont want an iPod!

  3. woww! that was good.
    As a fellow Marylander, I completely agree with you.

  4. Arnab,
    Well written. Read the article myself and had such feelings as well, though would not have been able to articulate it in such a fashion.

    Now, in Bengali:
    “Shala, kon beta’r cheley Park Street’ey dariye jhari marey, taoba bhor dupur’ey ta ami jani na. Jara ratr’ey jhari marey, tara sombhoboto Free School Street elaka’r thekey nijederkey hariye felechen. Ey heno prokriti’r, Subhankar Mitar’r moton, maaleder kono kichu’r byaparey tika tipponi deoa uchit ki na seta niye kichu ekta lekha uchit. Kolkata chilo morubhumi ashi (80) ebong nobboi’er (90) doshokey; ekhon kichuta moru-udyan hoyeche botey. Tokhon-kar diney Subhankar’er moton bhagney’ra potol aar begun’er tofaat bujhto na, ekhon bujheche’y tai haas-faas korey dukkho prokash dekhachey.

    Bola jai-je Park Street’ey sorboda’y kichu ordho nogno ‘hippie’ jatio nari, kichu uccho bidaloy marka mohila (taoba, tara chot-korey Flury’s dhukey jeten), ey chara kichu dekha jetona. Kichu soddo bibahito nari’ra podo dhuli diten, kintu tara’o gari thekey pa-feley chot-joldi boro dokan’ey dhukey jeten. Amra thaktum dhulay, oy rasta’r dokanider bot-tala gadya ebong chitra chorcha korar jonno.”

    Translate if you think it’s worth it, but given the particular audience, the unstranslated address works better. 🙂


  5. “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.”

    Boro beshi rokomer shotti, Arnab. Ebong Kolkatar chhelera aajkaal je shudhu beshi “cooltypes” howar byartho cheshta kore tai noy, Bangalishulobh (or so we like to think) maarjito ruuchibodh–ba nidenpokkhey tact–porjonto hariye felechhe. Ei spaghetti-porihita “babe” dekhle tara boddo prominently lalaito hoye porey. Amar porichito besh kichhu Bongololona bari firley aektu rekhe-dekhe bari theke beron, karon Kolkatar beshirbhaag purushshingo hoonkar na dite parleo thaba boshate pichhpaa non.

    Flourishing aesthetics er safety requirement achhe, amar shohorer tothakothito deprived chhokrara sheta mone rakhle akhere labhobaan hoben.

  6. On behalf of the Mamata Begum’s Violent Supporters Association, I vehemently protest your inclusion of Mamata di’s photograph in your article about Bengali beauties.

    By doing so, who are you trying to insult here? Mamata or Bengali beauties? 🙂

  7. P.S: Very true, Arnab…. very true. Nice post.

  8. As a tax-paying citizen of Maryland, I must ask, where are the “buffet lines”?

  9. Notorious transliteration twister Jibanananda should be (an) cubed, and is not be to confused with (an) squared Anandamath’s (an) squared protagonist Jibananda.

    I do attest the rest of the post while registering an additional offense for being called a birdwatcher. For flying spaghetti-strap wearing monster’s sake, we are mammals and not all of us are named Salim Ali.

  10. Somehow when I saw the title I realized Mamata Banerjee will feature in the post in a big way. Very, very, very amusing. Only you can work this magic. Excellent!

  11. Good one, GB. Mind phres ho gaya

  12. Got to agree. Originality in pursuing a ‘bird’ is hard to come by nowadays 😉
    In other words, sob kichu ekhon golpo hoe geche

  13. Don Ayan de Marco January 26, 2009 — 4:54 am

    Let me start with a slang poem:

    “boy: k go bachha, dulaye pa****, koriya udaas mon?”

    sorry can’t continue & write what the girl’s reply was. Indeed, debi dorshon has increased manifold, with increasing amount of men joining the FOSLA (frustated one sided lover’s association).

    But some of the observations I made is that Bengali girls are dying to get committed. But still if we have people like Sambaran Mitra then it is a matter of concern. Also bengali maidens are marrying people from other communities and it is not so much the other way round. Even in my family I can safely sing “punjab,sindh gujrat,maratha,dravida,utkal & BANGA”.

  14. Nothing changes, Arnab. “The good old days” always seem better. Perhaps because we grow older and more finicky.


  15. The article was also poorly written (or edited) almost to the point of incoherence.


  16. He, he, seriously, I’m starting to understand Bengali Humour now 🙂 And MamtaDI is an original innit? “Oui lub modherland”

  17. But what is that the NRI is dangling to lure the lolonas ??

  18. We the pipul of Kolkata strongly condemn the aforementioned article… In the city of joy lolonas & lotikas galore……

  19. What amazes me most is that Mamata Banerjee can actually hold a tune!!!

  20. hey !
    i have just written something …will it work with lolona ?
    i dedicate following lines to you, Miss …….
    I have not seen her in real,
    nor have I listened to her voice;
    only I have seen her lovely profile
    from the net in my office…..

    But we do not know each other yet,
    and I cannot ask her out ;
    I live in the hope of meeting with her;
    but this meeting is not yet.

    The time has not come true yet,
    the words have not been rightly set;
    only there is the agony
    of wishing in my heart…..
    i have used a famous poetry as template….and its my first attempt

  21. Shotturer mukhe chai diye Bangali lolona ra ekhono Calcuttay ache ebong thakbe 🙂

  22. As a tax-paying citizen of the misnomer “Virgin”ia, I must ask..where say, that using your name is better than ours. Alas, for the now near extinct species of Virgins..I seem to be an only torch-bearer (no pun intended) for the male kind with nary a mate.

  23. Oi bhabey kobita abriti korar jonyo Soumitra’r moto soumya hotey hoi. Amaader parar Habulchandra korle money hobey naikaami’r churanto.

  24. my esteemed alma mater (NUJS) is listed as a bird watching spot … 🙂 (thanks to Micks for pointing that out)… obviously things have changed there for the better the last four years I have left (when I was in University our Nature Club still went to the Botanical Gardens to see birds)… which supports GB’s surmise that some things have improved… at least till the hordes of dollar dangling NRIs sweep in… 🙂

  25. “Have we Bengalis, the most liberal of all races” – can’t figure out if ur being sarcastic or serious.

  26. As a resident of Virginia, I’m offended that you would try to sacrifice us at your own expense. And perhaps only the unchaste desi girls move here, anyway – how do we know?

  27. Halay Bush-land thikya aisya amago sundori loiya gelo go! Ar amara polapan chaiya chaiya deikhya chokh diya du fota jol bair koirya bajari-kagoze du-kotha likhi.

    Babu go, maiya-ra az sphagetti top poirya zokhon samne diya zay, bukda kemon dhoras dhoras kore! Kissu bolbo ki, pocket je futa! Az polar dol kalo kalo genzi te “F*ck” likhya, lomba chul raikhya matha dulaiya gaan sune. Tara ze sobai aj dollar kamaite chay. Kono hala az du fota pete bidye na raikya poisa kamaitese ar sundori paitese. Ar amago dol az ei ghorar gari tansi.

    Soitto kotha koisen babu. Az amago deikya duniya hastise.

    Kal halar ghoray hasbo!

  28. @ GB : anonymous noy, agertay namta likhte bhule gechhilam. Ja editi hoy kore dio.

  29. @ GB : Ki code rekhechho guru? nam dite bhule gele je dekhi nam ta ar lekhai jachhe na! Kuttir byapartay dum kore submit korte dekhi anonymous hoye royechhe.

    Ctrl C Ctrl V kore fer mere deki bes nam-tam diye royechhe, tarpor fer F5 mere dekhi anonymous tai roye gechhe, nam deowa ta nei. Se jak ge jei likhuk, sob i open source, copy right to ar noy, there is a right to copy.

    Eta ki mail e janale bhalo naki ekhanei editing kore dite parbe tumi?

  30. What rubbish you are writing in bengali.
    Can’t understand a thing .

  31. GB,
    Your recent spectacular form continues…
    😀 😀 😀

    However, In a post on “beauty” (or the so-called lack of it) in Bengal, the ghastly photograph of the utterly ghastly Mamata Banerjee created a nauseas feeling in my somach.
    If there is one person in this world who has no ‘beauty’ – inner or outer, it has to be her. She has never been of any good use or benefit to anyone. She has only caused chaos, mayhem and distress.

  32. Dont miss the video….

    Rail mantri and Koyla mantri….”swaagat kijiye so shree mamta banarjee-ji ka”…with star wars music in the back ground as she enters….hahahah.

    “Lovely new year”… you all

  33. @ loborer : Was it for me? If yes, then it is obvious you don’t understand the language, and probably you are not from Bengal. It was deliberately written that was so that only bongs get to understand that. It’s a “bong” thing. Please don’t mind.

  34. I have read the article in telegraph. It does not reflect the ideas of the ‘Aaam bangali’. All the names like sambaran & etc etc seemed fictitious bearing no resemblance to what we see around us. that piece was the thoughts of the writer not the truth at all.
    Your article was refreshing anyway like always.

  35. I am surprised that the telegraph publishes such articles. Let alone girls, even good journalists have fled bengal ( to Maryland perhaps?°

    I heard that hot girls from the north east have taken the place of the lost bengali long haired beauties. That sure must be a compensation.

  36. Would love to see a post on the recent Padma awards…. to Ash and all… and not to the boxers and wreslers…. who won medals in Olympics

  37. did anyone notice the smile of mamta.

    try this quiz

  38. I wud say why all the bong women are missing from kolkata coz all the menfolks here are utter crap in comparison of looks smartness and intelligence…..women of calcutta are much smarter,beautiful and intelligent, so evn if there is brain drain of the pretty lotikas its coz all the intelliegnt lolalas have taken intelligent lotikas to “maryland”……

  39. “Durge E Je Streelok” !!!!

    Alas! 90% of the new generation bengalis run away from bankimchandra…

  40. Bull S**T article by telegraph.

    I am from Cal & I am so happy with the bengali girls & their new found (last 5-6 yrs)fascination with Sleeveless tops, which are almost poetic in their ‘Light n Shadow’ play.

  41. sorry ! out of topic question..
    are there movies based on bankim chandra’s novels ?

  42. “Suronjona, oikhaane jeo nako tumi

    [SuronGona, don’t go there]

    Nobody noticed the typo ???

  43. Arnab
    Thank you so much for this post!!!I have been seething since I read that article…There are so many problems with that article (including the fact that it was written in the first place)!!!!

  44. @Dealer : yes NUJS has changed (I was in Kolkata last week and attended the alumni meet)! Lots of jhop jhar and (resultant) andhokaar now!

  45. I would like to invite this Sambaran Mitra character and the author of this article to South Indian cities like “Hyderabad”, “Bangalore” & “Chennai” and then ask them …

    Boy….nowadays you get real Gems in places like Goalpark & Lords Bakery or even Mudiali…. No need to wait for Maddox Square or Swarasti Pujo like the 90s…. Only two cities in India has that kind of abundance… Delhi & Chandigarh…. Mumbai is just so so… Nothing compared to good old Kolkata….

    And I am a Subject Matter Expert…

  46. @Sugata: “..And I am a Subject Matter Expert…”

    Haha…Mr. Love Guru!

  47. is ‘babes’ is a wannabe word, then so it ‘bong’. isn’t it?

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