The Dying Traits of the Bangali

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[Warning: long post]

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.

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115 thoughts on “The Dying Traits of the Bangali

  1. How could you, a bongo shontan no less, leave out the defining trait of all bangalis? PNPC! Kaam on..those endless hours between waiting for the pressure cooker whistle to go off and the washing to settle, standing in respective balconies/porches swapping news on why the neighbour’s girl ran away with the paperboy?

  2. In the rushed brevity of news exchange today, i honestly feel harmless PNPC is a bengali trait dying a slow death

  3. You covered almost the entire spectrum.
    Yeah!! the Chingri maach (Mohun Bagan) vs. Ilish Maach (East Bengal) rivalry…the “parar dadara” listening to the commentery on the small transistor, sitting on a “dhapi” right in front of pretty “Keka dir” balcony.

    Migrant = refugees

    🙂
    couldnt resist.

  4. Rishi kaku – in very poor taste. As a card carrying member of the ghoti club, I respectfuly request you to take that back.

    Arnab, I do my fish shopping in the neighbourhood Korean supermarket. Perhaps a bit sterile compared to our local maachher bajaar, but lots of fish to choose from, squeeze, inspect and supervise the cutting of. If I want some “dudher shaad ghole metaano”, I can also go to the Bangladeshi store and get some frozen ilish, koi, bata, and rui.

    Also, I’m tea obsessed. Coffee is fine and dandy, but tea is elixir. I cannot do without my morning cup and buy all sorts of tea. Makaibari, Puttabong, Runglee Rungliot, Long Jing, love them all.

    But of course, the younger lot of Bengalis is very different and I agree with your assessment. Ah, every generations find different things to value and cherish, so they’ll find their own iconic things as well.

  5. gr8bong, u really wanted to say “not” in this sentence ?

    “But somehow I do not think that the romanticism that is wired into our DNAs, that Debu-da part of us, can never be wiped away.”

  6. “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”.

    —Brilliant! 🙂

  7. ROTFL………HAHAHAHA

    this is the best….i think every topic above deserves its very own blog..

    omigooogod the fish, i could NEVER figure out that process in totality even if my family folks explained all the nuances of telling a healthy fish from an unhealthy one…and those fishmongers – what expressions

    but above all else…the icon of all bengalis is the :

    MOOONKEEEYYYCAP

    pre 2000 i have spotted my bretren from miles away by just spotting that crown on every bangalis head

    BTW what about Theatre..thats another classic

  8. Exhaustive list there. One thing, do they still say ‘Kendror chokranto’ at appropriate places? Just being nostalgic…

  9. Arnab,

    Well written as usual. But somehow the increasing crowds in the many fish markets in Kolkata and the scarcely surviving food stalls of the shopping malls shows that the fish buying ceremony has not changed much.

    My cousin, ten years younger to me, took the pain to visit the Manicktala market( travelling all the way from Jamshedpur) to select the 150 pieces of almost identical sized Topshey fish,that he needed for his daughters first birthday party, himself.

    Also,you have upheld the biggest tradition of all true blue Bangalis in this write up — self deprecation tinged with nostalgia.:)

  10. “Fish Market”: My father is a fish market puritan, enthusiast, verteran, ace . Old habits die hard, that’s the reason why places like “Madiwala” exist.

    “Catching cold”: My nose is like the perennial rivers of North India, LOL

    “MB vs. EB”: I’m a 1st gen. “Baati” (explanation is an overkill), I’m supposed to support EB, don’t quite know why, though. To be honest I’m a Chelsea fan, and oh yes, I’m a BIG fan of that bloke from Behala as well. 🙂

    “Abritti & RS”: Too bad very few people understand and appreciate good, ol’ trance music these days. 😦

  11. Arnabda,
    Fab post.
    Owing to my father’s transferable job, i grew up with people with various lingual backgrounds…all outside of Bengal.

    The traits you mention, have infact been the give-away traits of Bangal(is)…and were funny while growing up…n so deshi.

    Now, when i have my own shongsar, find myself showing my true colors…albeit (thankfully) the monkey cap!

  12. Nostalgic post for me.
    As expected from you Monkey cap- Muffler to Gostho Pal- Chuni Goswami, almost everything is covered.
    The conspicuous absence includes
    ~ Bangla Comics: Imagine a bengali childhood without Narayan Debnath and his eternal creations- Handa Bhonda, Nonte Fonte, Bantul the great. A bong kid Switches between Ben10 and Doremon when not reading Archies.
    ~ Street games: Tas khela ( Auction bridge for the novice and Contract for the experienced), Carrom. Fortunately chess still is popular in the fast changing lives of the displaced Bongs.
    ~ Dress: Where’s the ubiquitous Punjabi gone? It’s only Durga Puja when those hand painted designer ‘Kurtas’ are seen. But alas, not the Punjabi anymore.
    ~ Medicines- I have grown up on ‘Joane’r Arok’. If attending wedding and packing up 11 member family in an Ambassador was a ritual, it had to end with a spoonful of this magic potion for each of them. Later as Joaner Arok faded out, Zintac/ gelusi/ Digene took its place.
    ~ The radiogram: The huge 2 in 1 record player which mesmerized us with deep baritones of Hemanta.
    ~ Domestic utilities: The super strong Hatudi marka ( Hammer Brand) Phenyl X, the harriken (the hurricane lantern).
    ~ Finally, the changing pattern of Bong names taking the ‘Bangaliana’ away from Bongs further……

  13. so true…so very true…m not a kolkattya…ami assam e boro hoyechi…but can tell you it’s more than 80% true for me as well….

  14. Pingback: Global Voices Online » India: The Traits Of The Bengali

  15. “And for that strangely I am thankful.”

    Why strangely?…I mean why the wonder?

    Lovely post…and ‘dying traits’ is correct…except for the obsession with “season change” could’nt lay a claim to any of the traits

  16. Hi GB,

    Adding to the list :-

    Bangali eating joints, where guests are taken for a traditional meal instead of cooking at home.

    Kishor kontho – Lata Konthi etc all nite long programmes – Where, a much moustachioed man without any gender identity issues, would actually sing in Sandhya Mukhopadhyay’s voice.

    Here’s how some thoughts on Bangaliana outside Bengal..

    1. Shopping for fish :
    As mentioned, Madiwala fish sellers gets fresh fish at rather steep prices. And even after grumbling and haggling, there is enough time to inspect and then order for a ‘Bengali cut!'(Yes, there something like this here). There is also a neighbourhood fish shop, which keeps ‘Kolkatta’ (when will they learn the right spelling) fish! To this, I would add from my own doing a) going to fish market back at home and taking photos to remember what to buy and b) calling up Maa, so while the cleaning and cuttting is being done, one can finalise the right recipe.

    2. Tea .. Oxford Book store Cha Bar is known to most, along with a small section of Bangla books where one can buy interesting all time fav books.
    Also, to be mentioned parents frowning at ‘first flush’ and jasmine teas.

    3. Catching cold – I read the first few lines and immedietly thought of my Babab and his Antartica expedition worth winterwear.

    4. Homeopathy – There are homeo clinics, one just has to know where it is. And offcourse have family homeo-doc on speed dial!

    5. Adda – is being replaced by Orkut and Facbook groups. Equaly happening, inclduing the fav ‘dawla-dolee’ (groupism) resulting from ‘ownership’ to sarawshati puja venue to nobobarsha celebration.. thus proving that 3 bongs makes 2 political parties.

    6. Football – is gone .. Baichung Bhutia was introduced to Indian janta through dance reality show.

    7. Ellocution and Rabindra sangeet – was taken over by Jibon mukhi gaan some time back, now is the time for Rock bands .. dont know what really trying to do/say/sing most of the time.. also to be mentioned here is the Bangladeshi contribution, genre like Shilheti rap and Bangla Death Metal !!.. which our shingi-maach-khaowaa Pelarams canot match.

  17. @ aylamrin or Nirmalya :
    Having shopped for fish in Madiwala for a long time, I am of the opinion that Cox Town Market has the best fish and meat (Mutton) in Bangalore. Ask your dad to give it a try if he hasn’t done so already.

  18. Fish Shopping! Ah, though the trait may be fading, the illustrious Lake Market, and other Fish markets still sport fish mongers and their sons (learning the traits) and of course, many a young gentleman will be seen shopping there now in his fathers stead, proudly bringing home fish which his father will be able to say ‘kote te pele?’ to.
    Though now timings become an issue and perhaps the most rush is seen on weekends and evenings, fish shopping is something genetic in a Bengali.
    As someone who had never entered a fish market by own free will in Calcutta, I find myself making my way to my favourite fish seller in Mahim Fish Market on a weekly basis.

  19. @ GB :
    Another typical bengali trait that I can instantly think of is “gyan dewa”. Be it the best of friends or worst of enemies, when it comes to advising someone, every bengali is more than ready to lend a helping hand.

  20. Another thing of the past is the “para culture” of the Bengalis. With the dawn of the “Flat culture” the “para” feeling is fading away.

  21. GB,it is really sad that we are slowly but surely forgetting these essential traits of “bangaliana”,your post is very close to the truth.
    I however,cant help but think that there is a regional division that we have in Kolkata itself as regards keeping the traditional Bengali alive.Remember Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s “bohul charchito” remark about North and South kolkata? It is true though isnt it,if you go to the Northern part of this great city,standard deviation from the fabled Bengali isnt as much as you have portrayed in your post. The Southern part though (it is where I stay)is far more contemporary.
    PS: Since people are reminding you about what other traditions there were or are,that you had missed on,I cant resist myself from reminding you about this(especially because I just had some).
    What about good old ” Telebhaja and Muri “?

  22. I have seen a couple of people desperately trying to shed their respective Bong connections as if being a Bong is a curse, a linkage imposed and not welcome at any cost. Nothing can be more disgusting and sad than that. Serious identity crisis.

  23. Hey Great Bong!

    No movie reviews since a long time? Kal Kissne Dekha and Kambakht Ishq are there for the taking! Bring the reviews back to your blog, come on!

  24. @ Thalassa

    Which was in bad taste?

    The “parar dadara” waiting to have a glimse of Keka-di?

    OR

    The fact that East bengal supporters are all Hindus who have been forced to leave their homes in present day Bangladesh (hence the term refugees) and not just “migrants” crossing the border to seek a better job.

    And then we wonder how we get into these discussions 🙂

    Arnab, If you have Swati’s email id, you can just sent this message to her email and remove it from your blog.

  25. Got this piece in a chain mail several months ago:

    ————————————————–
    BEING A BONG
    This is for all the proud Bongs and those who can have a hearty laugh at themselves..

    Overview:
    There are two kinds of Bengalis that I know. Probashi or Expatriate
    Bangalees, a fairly large and diverse group about which I can’t write
    as I am one of them. And Bengalees who are from Kolkata. This group is
    incorrectly known as Bongs, as they are merely a subset. However, this
    is the only group which matters. Gokhale told of them, long years back,
    “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.” To which Rene Descartes responded, “I think (today), therefore I am (Bengali).” Like all other Nobel Prize Winners, Oscar Awardees and most successful Indian cricket captains, Rene Descartes was also a Bong (this fact is not known outside of Kolkata).

    Physical Description:
    The Bong has a large head, glasses, glistening hair and dark skin.
    Older Bongs develop an ample stomach to balance their large heads. This happens by the age of 25. They smell of Keo Karpin or shorsher teil (mustard oil). The average life expectancy is 65 years. What is even more impressive is what they do in those years. Outside Kolkata, regardless of weather, sex or age, Bongs can be seen in Monkey Caps. This is a must-have accessory as well as a sign to recognize other Bongs. The Bongling can often be recognised in either over-sized or under-sized school uniforms. The Bong mother’s second biggest fear (See diet for the biggest one) is that the “porer bochor o lomba hoye gele abar notun skirt kinte hobe!!” or “Next year, if you grow taller, we’ll again have to buy a new skirt!!” Thus, the school uniform is selected to last at least three years. Thus the uniform sits as conspicuously on the Bongling as the plumage of a macaw.

    Early Years :
    While most Bongs are born with innate talents in singing, dancing,
    painting, film-making, cooking or embroidery, their creative talents
    are honed even before they can start speaking. Frequent meets are organised between infants and their successful ancestors and other relatives. MA degrees (preferably from Cambridge, at least from Presidency or Jadobpoor – Jadavpur University) are displayed over the cots. The infant is exposed to the best of Bengali thought – Marx, Bentham, Kalidas, Tolstoy, Chekhov*. This increases the sizes of their heads and the height of their ambitions. Similar examples, though rare, can be found in European tradition as well, like in the case
    of Mozart. In India, however, Bongs have the sole preserve on such
    activity during infancy. Soon, when they grow up a little, their
    characters are honed in the best of schools. Here, I am not referring to the South Points, La Marts, Don Boscos and all. They are important in the nurture a Bong child goes through. What is even more important are the schools the Bong child passes through before school and after school. Many a Bong child wakes up at five o’clock in the morning to attend swimming classes. After one hour of swimming, he attends tennis coaching before rushing off to one of the South Points, LaMarts etc. mentioned above. School finishes by two or so, from where he scoots along to Singing/ Instrumental Music/ Dance Classes, then tuition (for at least three of all five subjects). He rounds off the day with coaching on either Debating or Quiz. Many a Bong mother will carry the child along through this day, feeling equally energized. This behavior is again not restricted to Bongs. It also seen within kangaroos in Australia who rush along from one clump to another bush.

    Growing up:
    Soon the Bong attains adolescence, doesn’t find friends of his age
    (since everyone is competing for the Nobel Prize or the Indian captaincy) and finds intimacy in conversation in his/her parents and poems of T.S.Eliot and Pablo Neruda. When school ends, they move on to the good colleges – Presidency, Xavier’s or IIT Kharagpur. The best of them, though, move straight to Joo (Jadobpoor). However, in recent years, Dilli (Stephen’s obviously) is becoming the preferred destination for some escapists. In colleges, they decorate their rooms with books or portraits of Robi Guru (Tagore). On the opposite wall, men would have posters of Che/Maradona and women would have Enrique Iglesias, thus expressing solidarity with Latin American culture. All of them share equal interest in the Bong-Rock (Bhumi, Chondrobindu, Cactus, Usha Uththup, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple).

    Later Years :
    Bongs mature early. Critics have said that they grow old early, but
    that is nothing but old hat. Years of toil and Eliot would obviously bestow wisdom. The reason they look older is because the sole purpose of a Bong’s life is to win the Nobel Prize or the Oscars (and in recent years, captain the Indian team). With great responsibility comes great age. Add to it the chlorine in the swimming pools and you know why Bongs grey prematurely. As far as their mission in life is concerned, they have been very successful at it. Every Indian Nobel Prize winner has been Bong. So have the Oscar Awardees. And most successful Cricket Captains. And Bipasha Basu. Once Bongs have kids though, their mission on life changes. The only raision de’etre for them is making sure that their progeny achieves the heights that they could (or couldn’t). Hence, they are mostly found outside of schools, colleges and tuition classes, with mats (madoors), mugs (of chaaa)
    and mouthfuls of goppo.

    Diet:
    Diet is as important as Robindro Shongeet. There’s nothing that a Bong
    can’t eat. However, they prefer protein over other food groups. The
    largest source of protein for them is fish, then meat, and then mishti (sweets) made from milk. More than fish itself, it is the knowledge of fish which is coveted and enjoyed. Carbohydrates are tolerated if they are fried in oil or if it is accompaniment to fish. Luchis (somewhat like aPuri), Telebhajas (pakoras) and Phuchkas (Paani Puri) are the favoured source of carbohydrates. The young Bengali though invariably always has Farex, Lactogen and Waterbury ‘s Compound. As far as they most important meal of the day is concerned, please do note that what dieticians have been saying in the last few years, Bongs have known for centuries. Breakphast/tiphphin is an occasion where the entire family comes together, to watch the office-going Bong male and school-bound Bonglings eat. The Bong woman’s biggest fear is that “Shokale bhaat dal mach bhaaja na kheye beriye gailo” or “In the morning, He went out without eating rice, dal and fish fry.” To round off the calories, Dal is often accompanied by aaloo bhaate, aaloo bhaja, potol bhaaja and various other heartily fried stuff. Not for the faint-hearted.

    Mating and procreation:
    A few Bong end up being in relationships, which lead to love marriage.
    This is sometimes shown in movies and song. However, most do not have any such social malignancy and end up marrying the woman of their mother’s dreams or men of their father’s choosing. This results in mixing the right genes for the next cycle of Bongs.Love marriage, by its very nature, is random. It sometimes results is tragedy, like marrying into another country (like India ). Hence, it is avoided, wherever possible.

    Social Life:
    Adda, robindro shongeet and cha. Repeat. Do note that the
    young Bong doesn’t have a social life (at least not till he wins the Nobel or gets a Government job). And phootball. the Bongs have had an illustrious history of achievement in football. Every para (neighbourhood) has stories of when they won the World Cup at the expense of the next one. The last time it happened in my parent’s para was in 1986, when Argentina won in Mexico. Diego Maradona, who looks Bhodrolok enough, give or take a few lines of coke, or a few sprigs of grass, scored famously using his hand, a skill which he learnt in Kolkata.Over the last few years, Brazil has been gladdening the hearts of the many Zicos being born in Kolkata after 1982. The only team which is not Bong is Germany as they play with more efficiency and no creativity, which thus not support adda. Do not ask of a Bong ever doing anything of substance on the phootball field, as then the
    Bong will keep you occupied about Jakarta, 1962. “Chuni Goswami je Ball
    tule dilo PK ke. Match-er aagei bolechilo, “Ekta Ball debo. Daam kore
    maarish. Gol hobe”.” Chuni Goswami put a football up for PK (Banerjee).
    He told him before the match itself, “I will give you one ball. Hit it
    with a bang. Goal will happen.” Obviously, it is also the crowning moment of Indian phootball.

    Habitat:
    While you may find a Bong in other places (like occasionally in
    offices), the best time to observe a Bong is in his natural habitat – the best of colleges, the best of schools, the best of coffee houses. It is here that he will tell you about Balzac while she will recite poetry with gay abandon. To mix in with the Bong, apply Keo Karpin to your hair and carry a jhola……and dont forget the thick glasses. Hopefully, they won’t notice your small head. Do not worry about not knowing the language, as the Bong likes being heard more than hearing.

    Famous Bongs :
    Many famous Bongs have been referred to in this extract. Hence, this
    section is used to debunk that big myth about Big Bongs. People believe
    that Bong men can’t be hunky……. …., or carelessly famous. If so,
    then what about Abhishek Bachchan (via mother), Saif Ali Khan (via mother), John Abraham (via girlfriend), Hritik Roshan (via grandmother) , or Sonia Gandhi (via cat…. seriously, she’s from Kolkata).

    Bongs in Literature, Film, Art:
    Everywhere you care to look.

    Closing Word :
    Being Bong, at the end of the day, is a state of mind. Or, a case of
    being discovered by them.

  26. Vintage GB.
    As a probashi (I wonder if it is made up of two words PRO – for professional, and BASHI – for stale!) Bangali right from Day 1, I’ve never had the opportunity to learn the subtle nuances of buying tatka ileesh and katla from Kalimuddi Miya’s kiosk. But apart from that, the factors that go into the making of a quintessential Bangali are ubiquitous – from Goa to Guyana, and from Motihari to Manhattan.

    But as you rightly said, the tradition is dying. Where’s the ALTA, the sacrosanct foot paint immortalised by Manna Dey’s heartwarming rendition “Alta paaye, alto chhoan legechhey!”? Or where’s the Bangla Adhunik gaan (not gun), the kind we grew up listening to on HMV records, sung by the evergreen Shyamol Mitro and many other golden voices of that era.

    One hallmark of the Bong would survive though on the face of all adversities. The Bongspeak 🙂

  27. Debolina and debu da will be there, always!… but i agree with you gb! probably my kids will need to refer to your blog to know about parar rock er adda. ish! so much Bangaliana.

  28. Just like the 4 P’s of Marketing, we hjave the 4 P’s of Bengal : Poetry, politics, philosophy & pheesh.

    I wonder why Politics & Philosophy were left out. Where else would you have the neighbouring Kaku giving you a comparative analysis of Hegel vs Sartre?
    Which other city would have a bandh organised when the US imposed sanctions on Nicaragua, to express Bengal’s solidarity with their third world brethren fighting against imperialistic hegemony?

  29. @Anonymous

    Politics & Philosophy..are not there.
    Maybe because in these two we stopped being leaders a 120 years back, and are now only blind followers.

    Thats why the Kaku next door discusses Hegel and not Rishi Kapila.

  30. Arnab,
    Posts like these have made me an ardent reader of your blog. Though of lately I have noticed a dip in the quality of topics and writing. But this post just brings home the bacon.
    I was born and brought up in Jamshedpur, and count many bengalis as dear friends. I must say, your post captured the quintessential bengali. At least the ones I grew up with!

  31. very nice post GB. Made me nostalgic…tho i’ve grown up in bombay and am a Probashi living in the US since many yrs now, this post brings back memories of home…

  32. Arre Arnob da Bangali der parar, mughlai staller, collger , university er prem tem er scene ta niye ektu lekho na please!!! Khub asha niye boshay acchi

  33. Quite a nostalgic post. Strangely nowadays Bengaliness seems to preserved in its intactness in the probashi variant than the authentic ghorer chele flavour. I know lot of Bongs in Singapore for whom a trip to Tekka fish market on a Sunday morning is as religious as a Christian going to Church for Sunday mass. In fact the Chinese fishstall owners now sometimes asks “Majhari piece ?” Also there are hell lot of my friends while returning from their annual trip from Kolkata carries a kilo of Darjeeling or Assam tea like some kind of trophy. My better half fought with Singapore airlines to carry a shil-norah for when it comes to grinding the curry paste for maacher jhol blender is a strict no-no. But this sacred tradition will be not be carried over beyond our generation. How do you translate lyaad, jhari, thekbaazi, etc etc to our children growing up in the alien waters without the first hand feel of Kolkata. Arnab, these “ki chelo aar ki holo ” posts,in short, are signs of growing old. Welcome to the club bro.

  34. There is another thing about the Bengali: the undying love for theater, especially when its performed as a Jatra Pala, with the Banjna Party, the bawling heroine and the invariably cliched social message 🙂

  35. Where’s the Lungi? Is it still the fashion? Wonder how the things that you mentioned are similar to us mallus as well!! Maybe it’s string theory in play..

  36. Good post. Approximately coincided with the North America Bengali Comference (NABC)

    I very much agree and appreciate the “catching the cold.” In USA, I see many of my bengalee friends are eternally scared about “thanda laga”, especially with their kids. I am not sure, but my hypothesis would be that among all the lingual groups, bengalees have the least percentage of swimmers. Agree/disagree? 🙂

    You could have mentioned the kaalture of playing cards. Or maybe, that is not that widespread. I still try to carry that on! ;->

  37. Second ^that^: A lot things does indeed show up on the preview but fail to render in the final post … 😦

  38. @Rediffgems: Much as I appreciate your appreciation for Rediff gems (an appreciation I personally share), would you please not post them in the comment section of a totally unrelated post? Thank you. Your comment has been removed as it is not in any way germane to this thread.

    @Bangonari and Alymarin:The Bangla commenting doesnt work because of the way the DB is configured. I would appreciate if you did not comment in Bangla as I want the comment board to be an inclusive place accessible to all. In other words, English please.

  39. Other than Monkey cap, a surefire way to recognise another bangali is the red coral ring. Red coral is supposed to calm high blood pressure, clear thinking patterns and generally maintain good health. Considering we, bangalis, are in dire need of prevenation from the above, .. even I have been wearing one, thanks to my Maa. 🙂

  40. wow GB. i have always been fascinated by Bong Bhadralok image. But you did a great job by clearing some cobwebs..esp in that ‘Adda’ paragraph.:)

  41. Well all these are sure to hang on our walls soon, be it the concrete or the web type and live on…. in the name of the greatest BONG trait… BONG BASH!

  42. GB: More than the Bangla font itself, (read: not required at all) HTML rendering of colour, style etc. would be nice.

    P.S.: HAPPY BIRTHDAY SOURAV GANGULY !!!

  43. I believe you missed PujoShonkha of magazines. Dont see any craze in todays generations for the same.

    @heejeebeejee : Bengali cut is present in Pune as well. Though I am not sure what would be non bengali cut.

    Well regarding “denying” ones roots , the monkeycap is something i personally ran miles away from. Was too embarassing.

    On the catching cold front as well as allopathy , my dad is a dentist and somehow he was very cool on medical issues. Having a doctor at home kind of eliminates the possibility of falling sick as an excuse to avoid anything. In fact in my 13 years in school , the only times i missed school on health grounds , was chicken pox , measles and couple of bouts of “jai baangla”. I had enough allopathic medicines in house to be able to start a pharmacy courtesy “physicians sample : not to be sold”.

  44. Hi,

    I’m a Gujarati with a great love for Bengali culture. I’m a regular reader of your blog. Well, not making it longer, your blog rocks and this post was brilliant. Although not a Bengali, I know exactly what u mean. In fact, Gujaratis r also facing the same problems of losing the traditions.

  45. as a non bengali married to a bengali,i’ve just realised how much of this bangaliana has rubbed off onto me…yes ..now i too obsess about getting my fish pieces just right…i cringe with disgust if my fishwallah cuts the pieces even a millimetre too thick or thin.in fact,i’ve even taught some of the chandigarh fishwallas the perfect cut!
    you’ve forgotten the bengali penchant for Daaknaams…however intellectual or stern the official name,almost everyone has a cute daak naam….puttu,mitthu,khoka,pintu,putti,bonty,tukai,phelu, etc to name a few, in place of heavy weights like nobokumar,shirshendhu,debojyoti,shubhanjan!!!
    (the only other community with crazier nickmames are the sardars…lovely,monty,pinke,sweete,etc in place of bhupinder,harjinder,baljinder…plus you cannot make out if they are male or female by just their names!)
    since i was educated in kolkata,your piece brought back memories of puchka,jhalmuri,kabiraji cutlets,jhalmuri and mishtidoi…lovely

  46. “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”

    — Dude, you’re just too hilarious! Or maybe your life is just too much fun for you to think of such awesome lines! Wonder if before you got married, there was another such ‘Debolina’ whom you met recently at a re-union..[;)]

    Anyways, very cool post. I’m not a Bong, but my interaction with Bongs in the past 2-3 years has shown me one unmistakable and UNdying trait that Bengalis have – they always, always flock together no matter what – to the point that sometimes it gets absolutely nauseous for a non-Bengali..

  47. A staggering number of bengalis marry into other states (more so than any other state). would be interesting to know how their partners adjust to these “bongisms”.

  48. Coming as I am from Kerala, which shares the ‘Bandh Karo’ culture with Bengal, I can see lots of parallels….

    -The lungi is long gone, having been elbowed out by the bermuda and stretch pants

    – The Shakeelas, Silk Smithas, disco Shantiis (all vamps in movies) ve long proved impotent in the era of lindsay lohans, shakeeras.. etc

    -Football which once was the only sport played in the fields has to give equal rights to cricket in the IPL-cheergirls-‘Moses’ Modi era

    -The homemade lemon juice and delicious sambaram (curd milk with chillis) the staple drink of the summer has to vie for space in the fridge with the pet-bottles of the MNCs

    – The humble coconut (nariyeel pani) available like ubiquitous Oxygen in Kerala, has to contend for honors with pesticide Colas.. However the presence of Milma Milk (the original big-daddy of Amul Kool) has limited this damage..

    sigh..
    I dread for the time, when Bandhs and hartals become unfashionable too 😉

    http://maskasjhatkaas.com

  49. AS I cna safely assume that there are quite a few experts of the domain being discussed, I would like to raise a query…:

    How and when did the name Monalisa enter into the mainstream of Bengali culture and expression?

  50. What? You didnt know that Leonardo-Da was Bengali? Where do you think he got his all round genius from? Old timers still remember him at Das-babur Cabin having paaon roti with rosogolla syrup and painting “The Adoration of the Magi” with the word “Magi” being Bengali of course….

  51. Dear Arnab da,
    im 22,and i came across this article since it was forwarded to my mail box.so i can pretty much write for this generation,as a representative of the very herd who is “missing” out on the nuances of being the quintessential bangali.yes you are right,but i guess we’re evolved.for good or bad,we’re still bengali at heart.yes we have tried to move ahead with the times,but even now you can more or less identify a bangali in a heterogenous group.yes we have tommy hilfiger ,yes we cannot live without barista and yes inox is the “only” hall playing a movie in the city right now,but i can tell you this,40 years hence when i’l be writing a blog, i’l be missing the hilfigers and the multiplexes and facebook,cuz then the youngistaan would have moved ahead too.but still then,i can say that once a bangali, always a bangali.its a genetic footprint, which cannot be erased by the sands of time.
    i must compliment you on this wonderfully written article.its simply, “hyabok”

    cheers

  52. great post…

    amongst all the comments on the maachh bajar episode leaves a nice feeling….i have lived in bangalore and have been to madiwala (used to at BTM then)….and remember the bangla cut…suprising…now that i live in singapore and visit a somewhat bigger in size tekka market for my fishy pellette….the chinese fish vedor asks for the same “bengali cut”….he speaks somewhat clear bangla….and the only other thing he reminds me of (other than madiwala of course) is kali bannerjee in neel akasher niche….”shishtaar…braathaar…no money…”

    …wish the 20SGD a piece fresh padma ilish came a s a gift as well….

  53. Fantastic! I haven’t laughed so loudly in a while. The little details like “shaking voice for the abriti” and the swagger while fish-shopping are dead-on and hilarious. Brings back tons of memories of growing up. And you are right, while adda is replaced by Twitter and thermals replace monkeycaps, there is that unique Bangaliness within us that is irreplaceable.

  54. Arnab,

    Would have expected a little more insight from you about the Bangali idiosyncrasies. The whole country uniformly mocks Bangalis on much the same parameters as you have highlighted here. I think the culture the Bangali is losing is not so much in his inability to buy fish in the right manner, though my father carries on the tradition in much the same way, or not drinking enough tea, but really in the fact that there is little pride that people take in being a Bengali.

    I think what is really lost is the acknowledged eminence that Bengalis had in the national political, economic and social platforms. And I am not saying that there aren’t enough Bengalis in those spheres who are doing phenomenally well, it’s just that as a “lingual group” we have been happy to fritter away the capital we got from the prominence that some of these individuals have gained by allowing our pride to get linked to one Saurav Ganguly or one car factory. We have a huge populace that has gone through many decades of poor education and intellectual development. I am a product of CU and one of the better colleges there and have seen how poor the input,the production process and the output is from those colleges. My wife is from one of the better colleges in Delhi Univ, and I see how different her experience has been.

    So to put an end to this rambling, I just feel disappointed that yet again we chose to mock some Bengali traits that are unimportant, but ignore the real issue that we have as a group – the inability to develop the current and future generations in the same way as our forefathers were created. And imbue in them the pride that comes out of genuine self confidence.

  55. looks like you have made a huge hit. every bengali i know is sending me this as a forward with a different and innovative heading ever since you wrote it 🙂

  56. GB .. u forgot to mention apart from viral & cold -bangali’s have the unique ability to suffer from “ombol” or “gastic” ..

  57. WHAT I WROTE SOMEBODY IN 2006 –

    There is a large number of people who have re-developed a faith in Calcutta. Every now and then one hears “Oh this is going to be the place again” or “Have you been to Rajarhat recently?” or “Azim Premji says so” or “Chhor-da is not another Bor-da” or something like that.

    I arranged a job in Ahmedabad for one such believer and he left Calcutta in four days flat.

    On a personal front, I had ported myself from a green jungle in today’s Jharkhand to a concrete jungle called Calcutta in 1965. I actually completed school, South Point, of course, through the Naxalite movement, Manu Roy and Debi Roy – opening the bowling against the former and throwing Shakespeare at the latter. Then in eighteen months of college I had four days of class at Presidency. I also had to identify body parts of friends fitted back as jigsaw puzzles. Then a brilliant friend had a police amputation without anaesthesia – the rest of her unconscious body lived on for another hour. The Bihari Brahmin butcher attributed it to her stars before he took four hours to reach his ancestors a week later.

    I had to leave. After a year and a half in Poona, two in Delhi and two in New England as the sole Dhanwantari Yajurvediya Jirat-Balagarh Baidya, I found myself once again in Calcutta richer by three degrees. Calcutta’s summer temperature behaved similarly.

    Respectability, meanwhile, had been restored to the family by my sister who had topped HS.

    Although in a very good job now, I was keen on enjoying Calcutta only on the weekends. It was happening the other way, though!

    Then around 1977, telephones, electricity, police and transportation started collapsing. It was difficult for many people to work at local speeds at local efficiency. My grandparents and parents also chose to leave (the city and this planet). During this period my wife married me. Our son and daughter arrived. I felt that I had to leave again. I abandoned my younger siblings, fleeing to the Southern geography in 1992. My Cal-fugality was established.

    Today after another fourteen years, no road in Calcutta seems to be good. Shops do not want to sell. Cell phones, pioneered by Calcuttans in India, drop calls all the time.

    Bad engineering everywhere. Population control by having tram stops in the middle of the road (really!). Importation of mosquitoes. Absence of Windows 2000 and later. High-priced videos. Bad tea (Radhu-da excepted!). No power cuts, though.

    ICICI Bank ATM’s, which work on Mars, refuse to cooperate in Calcutta.

    It is not widely known, but Calcutta is the last metro not only for hand rickshaws, but also for auction bridge. Commuters in Sealdah South still bid three clubs and make cold LS’s. (Just the other day, a week before my daughter’s marriage, I got so frustrated with this and other issues that I upped and left for my childhood forest village in Bihar, nay, Jharkhand without a word to anybody. Cal police and the hospitals had identified five “me”s before I returned, having saved an old Santhal woman from being beaten up by caste thugs who had never had a granny, because of their immaculate conception. My heaven, in the meantime, had evanesced into ether… )

    Gariahat used to have four decent and two passable book shops which could get you anything. Three survive, without stocks. The sidewalk book-vendors have passed on; their sons sell batteries for Chinese contraband merchandise. No poetry books – Valmiki gave rhythm to the world, it took a Bong to begin rhyme, and we now have “Rachanabali”s.

    Not only has Calcutta started speaking bad Bangla, it has completely forgotten its once-admired forte – the “Ingriji” language. It had once vanquished superior occupiers with its formidable Ingriji.

    I think I know why all this is happening. Nothing to do with the LF or the creeps before them.

    (1) The tragedies of 1947, 1965, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, … 2005, 2006 twisted the demography. You can come to me for the math, stat and eco of this.

    (2) But the un-noticed 1961 tragedy was the most damaging. Bidhan Roy popularized “Rabindra Rachanabali” through a draft bought at UBI and deposited at SBI or the other way round. No author ever wrote “Complete Works”. They are too big to write, even for Leo Tolstoy. Also, they are too big to read in bed or anywhere else. These decorations and gifts quickly exterminated good old books, which till then used to be written, printed, published, sold, bought, lent, borrowed, read, dog-eared and lost. So, no books; hence, no reading. This led to the “invention” of the TV, which in turn finished off home cooking which represented real Bengali cuisine. The death of books improved the quality of the Book Fair cafeterias, though.

    (3) Stress release took place through “Free Verse”, which nobody should accept even free.

    (4) Puntiram became Puntiram’s, trying to sound like Haldiram’s, which had earlier emulated Ganguram’s. Even Ganesh Mallik has become Balaram’s!

    (5) The best, with get-up-and-go, got up and went.

    Despite all that, I still enjoy my visits to the narrow lanes on foot when I do turn up occasionally in the city. From Christmas to the Book Fair the city is still great; it also feeds you well. Additionally, you meet friends and relatives (why are they in Calcutta?). Further, you can avoid them if you want to.

    It is still the place for Bengali books and music, but how much longer? Dacca is about to overtake, albeit through a bit of piracy. (It is worth mentioning here that the Assyrians who came down like the wolf on the fold have started speaking, reading and writing the dialect of Hooghly!)

    BTW, theories have come up that Ishwarchandra Bidyasagar never existed, Bankim and Michael were the same person etc.! Call me if you want details…

    Still teeming with the most objective of brains in continental India (NoV), Calcutta wants to become the country’s software hub – whatever that might mean. Any takers?

    Can we call an International Conference to resurrect everything? As President I would visit Texas and study the latest iPods bought by NRI Bongs… (Am I an NRB?)

    What with very high mountains on one side and the sea on the other, Calcutta should have been ruled by Augusto Pinochet. Instead it got ruled by people left buh-hind…

    That’s it then. Writing is so boring – nobody to disagree at every step (Ek je raja… tham na dada… raja noy se, raj-peyada…).

    —————————
    —————————
    —————————
    —————————



    PHISH IN BONG-LAND
    ——————

    The 1911 edition of some encyclopaedia or other defined Bengal as “the area between the Irawaddy and the Mahanadi rivers in Eastern India, a low-lying land inhabited by low, lying people”. Obviously referring to the occupying hordes, they plumb forgot to mention the handful of Ghotis and Goths, both H and M, also living in Bengal. The occupiers have long gone, but the riparian emphasis on Bengal remains as strongly as ever – dictating much in its life. Specially in such surroundings it might be startling to hear that Ghotis never eat fish. Nor do they eat phish. Nor even phiss. Ghotis in particular, and many other Bongs as well, must know what specific fish they are wrapping themselves around. They are ichthyovores who eschew “Fish”. They do chew Bhetki, Katla, Ilish, Pabda, Chital, Rui, Koi and so on.

    Offer a true-blue Ghoti “Fish Amritsari”, and you will see him admiring its aesthetics and gradually, ever so softly, moving towards the “Chholar Dal”. Even the speciality eating houses and the best of clubs and restaurants in India, never offering “Animal Curry” or “Bird Roast”, unhesitatingly display enough stupidity to list “Masala Machhli” or “Fish Konkani” or even “Poisson a la Unhygienix”. The type of fish, ever so important, remains shrouded in mystery. In fact such places often use different fish at different times even for signature dishes. In the rarest of circumstances do we find listed items such as “Karimeen Pulichadu” or “Bhapa Ilish”. Shellfish, only to flaunt the price, do now and then get a misleading mention.

    This peculiarity is restricted to developing countries, who are perpetually developing and therefore think that they are the “International Community”, aka USA. They accordingly reserve the right to do whatever inconveniences everybody else. This is easy to prove – anywhere in such countries where the law urges laevo-petality you will notice leading citizens trying their best to keep to the right, and similar things. Even in a highly literate, erudite city like Madras, which renames its most important thoroughfares after characters from Tolstoy, you will note this civic excellence. There also you will order “Prawns”, fondly expecting Tigers, and will be served krill or their neighbours-in-law, not even cousins.

    To compound the woe of fish-loving (not fish-eating) Ghotis, sea fish have entered the picture now, and Calcutta’s hallmark fish Bhetki is being wrongly called “Sea Bass” in many places. The idea is that the last step before Heaven, sometimes abbreviated as “Singapore”, cannot be wrong in anything, particularly in ichthyology. Why, just the other day yours truly was at pains to describe Golda Chingri to a friend and had to sign off with “Bengali Lobster” – heads nodding knowledgably. Would a Frenchman ever rest at confusion between Homard and Langouste?

    Recently in a Calcutta market I was actually asked “why” I wanted real Bhetki – apparently Cal feasts nowadays fry anything that did not have hydrophobia and call it “Bhetki Rangpuri”, earlier known as Phees Phrai in Cal.

    Thus when you see a Bong-ish person accept a “Fish” dish, you may be sure he is not a Ghoti. There remains the marginal probability that he might be of Gothic origin and possibly a supporter of East Bengal Club in football. But Ghotis and Goths together make up Bong-land, and we should not quarrel. Let us then accept the explanation offerred by George Bernard Shaw (please believe this), just after he wrote Pygmalion, rhyming it with Apollyon.

    In the word ENOUGH – GH sounds like F
    In the word WOMEN – O sounds like I
    In the word IMAGINATION – TI sounds like SH

    Even if the LHS boggles some minds, the RHS does look appealing, doesn’t it? So you see that Ghotis are not cannibals, after all; they don’t eat themselves. They are also the only people in the world who, whenever possible, do not dry their fish into foul-smelling “shuntki”, and accept very few smooth fishes. Of course, this does not necessarily make them great people.

    Those of you who do not see my point of view, would you like to call Hilsa, or Ilish Machh, “fish”? Just try to say “Yes”…

    Recommended reading: The Rod in India by Henry Sullivan Thomas, 1928, Reprinted by Nataraj, 2001, Dehra Dun

    Having suddenly remembered better things to do (how odd that many Iyers and Iyengars drink like what they never eat!) I am logging off. Stop me if you dare.

  58. @Anonymous

    “It is worth mentioning here that the Assyrians who came down like the wolf on the fold have started speaking, reading and writing the dialect of Hooghly!”

    Factually wrong sir!
    The Assyrians never came.
    It is the Hoogly people all the way.

  59. Great post !!!!

    You missed mishti (raw so gol la & Doi). however that does not diminish the quality of the post.

    suggest you write a part 2 of the same with some other findings narrated.

  60. Lekha ta bapok hoyeche. Tomar lekhon ta ekta concise “Who is a Bengali” bolle bhool hobe na. Ami ekta probashi kintu chesta puro thake je Bangali Idiosyncracies ta maintain kori. Kichu jinish jemon – monkey cap, cha ta amar dara hoye na. Ta bole Pankaj Mallik ki Manna da baad nei. Amio ekta chotto lekh likhechilam 2008 a. Kichu ta probashi bangali r jibon dharar bepare. Janio..

  61. I am dying to know where I can find this “Frustration” song. Anyone? I haven’t had any luck so far. What’s the name of the band?

  62. Pingback: Bombay duck fritters | Cook like a Bong

  63. Great article and all true.No matter whether the Bong is prabashi or true blue Kolkatan,the traits remain embedded.Things like chiratar jal and Cantharidine hair oil are soaked into the genes.Who else can go into raptures over poshto and and arhar dal or Khichudi and begun bhaja.There is no other group that blames the local drinking water for gas and indigestion after feasting on shoshe ilish,kashamangsho,luchi, aloor dom and payesh.The bong is obsessed with his stomach and conversations usually begin with enquiries about each others “peyt”.Food is central to the bong and every meal is an event.One aspect the write up has missed is the bongs obsession with mangal-amangal,sattick-tamasik,shubho-ashubho and so on.In short every bong worth his name was brought up on a fair dose of superstion.There was alwayas the Didima or Thakuma to open the Panji and announce the best date for a journey or a event.Observe the fingers of a true blue bong and more often than not it will have a few ugly rings of different color stones.One for the heart,another for diabetes and a third to ward off the evil eye.No other city has the number and frequency of sweet shops, chemists and astrologers and babas than Kolkata.Perhaps now with globalisation and mobility things are changing and Cantharidine is passe.but hey the bong spirit and essential kaltaar will remain as sure as Joynagar er Moa and Mishti Doi.

  64. Despite agreeing with the sentiments expressed, I couldn’t resist responding,perhaps to add to the rather long list of comments. On a purely personl note, I believe growing up outside Bengal has made me an even greater ‘Bangali’. School was in Mumbai and College in Delhi, so there are fond memories of different markets of both cities where we went for ‘maach’.It’s almost 40 years, but I still remember Sassoon Dock, Santa Cruz & one really strange time when we went all the way to Chembur, for fish! Hauz Khas in Delhi was pretty ‘Bangali’, but we still went to INA market and when Chittaranjan Park began developing, there were some set shops there as well. My son has begun working in Delhi this month, living at C R Park, but even after almost a whole month he hasn’t bought fish even once! Perhaps his father wasn’t as much of a Bangali as mine!? I wonder…….

  65. Landed here googling fish recipes to link back in my blog ..Cant believe I spent almost half an hour here or may be more reading your lovely post and then the readers comments here..Is this virtual adda session about being Bengali..Such nostalgic memories..and so well written article…khob bhalo laglo..

  66. Hi – this was forwarded to me by email from a friend. And I read it with such nostalgia. When I go back to Kolkata, yes I miss the things that are dying out…but am so glad that there are some things that will remain forever. Nolen gurer sandhesh, rosogolla, and phuchka. Nowhere else do you get the phuchka that exists only in Kolkata. Panipuris and golgappas just don’t make the grade of the Russel Street/ParkStreet or any other street of Kolkata phuchkawalas phuchkas.

    Some of the things that you mention as ‘dying out’ are inevitable. Times have changed. The internet has invaded all the world. Instead of travelling to Digha for the holidyas, Bangalis are able to travel to Singapore, Dubai and even New York, London, Paris and the great fashion hotspots of the world. How can you expect them to remain the same? How can they sport a monkey cap with confidence anymore, it would draw derision from those who never did wear it and why should the bangali invite this?

    Yes, it is sad – somehow when a hindi/urdu speaker attempts to talk in bangla, it sounds sweet and charming, but when a bangali speaks hindi/urdu and pronounces culture as “kaalchar”, it makes people disdainful. I find something akin to “racism” here, and it is disappointing.

    So the bangali had to transcend all this and change himself. That is why we had to have a Sourav Ganguly, etc. To just keep pace with the rest.

    And yet, just like the writer, I also feel that the romanticism of the bangali, the Debu-da type, will take a longer time to die out. I am a bangali (in spite of my name) and for me, one of my many dreams is to be sitting in front of a pukur in a bangali graam, with jhaal muri being handed around and my mother reciting some passage from Rabindranath’s writing (so much of which she amazingly seems to know by heart).

    Long live this kind of bangali.

  67. Loved it 😉 Being a ‘bangali’ who’s been born n brought up in Delhi forever n now calls Mumbai home, I must say this was quite an amusing as well as nostalgic post…amusing coz yes, I too have been guilty of laughing over these ‘typicals’ that our people have…especially the monkey-cap…seriously yaar, whats with it??!!!!

    And for my few trips to Calcutta where most of my relatives still reside, I still have fallen in love with the city and love to spend the few days I get there….

    But oops…suddenly saw the ‘Debolina’ at the end of the post….hehehe….coincidence, that too so bhaari-bharkam….good job ‘bondhu’ 😉

  68. Amazing read what a laughter riot..
    Truly there are certain gems typical to us the bengalis..dying or not but a true bengali must have atleast acidity and gastric problems which can only be cured by regular intake of huge gulps of divol or gelucil…
    as for shopping for vegetable and fish “Hindustanis” and madrasis( people of india who are not bengalis or madrasis)eat just roti and achhar and madrasis shop a lil so we have a great responsibility of shopping in huge amount to create somesort of balance in the market…:-)

  69. awesome..excellently done..the “bangali” within us is eternal..no amount of western influence or “kaalture shock” as you would say, can change that…

  70. Awesome…being broughtup in Mumbai…its very difficult for me to have the typical bengali girl traits…But I love Bengalis ,my culture and my language a lot…Loved the bandor tupi fact…I hav seen almost 100 men roaming on the road wearing this…And the thing about acidity is totally true…Each and every bengali household(as far as i know)has a book written by Rabindranath tagore,a musical instrument(probably harmonium or tabla),and a packet of acidity tablets….And u forgot the three important P’s in a bengalis’ life- phis ,phootball and pujo….

  71. All facts are amazing…Though I am married to a punjabi…But Bengal is in my heart…and the fact about the fish shopping is 100% true…Khub bhalo…

  72. Hi All,

    I recently moved to Bellandur area in Bangalore. As I am working in Intel, Bellandur is very conveinent for me. Recently I came across a very nice Fish Store in Bellandur area. THe name is FRESCO ( Bellandue, Green Glen Layout, OPP Sobha Quartz). I was surprised to find lot of Bengalis shopping there. The Owner of the Store is also Bengali and they have lot of Bengali Varieties. One must also try their Mutton…..Too good. For all Bongs this one is a must Visit.

  73. Hello, hello, hello, maidan football and its fanatical supporters dying away ?
    That’s news to me indeed. Of course, it’s third-grade compared to what we see in tv every night but then when was a Mohun Bagan – East Bengal derby purely about football ?

    By the way, unless you are one of those Bangaal untermenschen ; you DO NOT term the derby as “East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan”; it’s correct to say “Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal”.

    there is no points for guessing which club I support.

  74. This is a comprehensive coverage of Bongs but there has been small misses …
    Boroline- bongo jiboner anga.
    The radio recording of mahalaya
    Saraswati pujo …bongs valentines day
    The iconic kader jhola..
    The wanderlust in bongs during pujo summer and winter holidays
    Madhyamik parikhha its a part of bong life but with globalisation of bongs its importance and significance …..
    Chotoder boshe ako protijogita….

  75. Well written, but it is about 80% accurate, 20% opinionated / generalisation. Take for example that Bengalis don’t go to the fish market, that no one discussed Camus over tea … etc. Having been there, lived there and knowing people there today who actually buy fish from the atypical fish market and who discuss not only Camus and Tennyson, but Shelley, Byron, Milton and who-not with enough depth of knowledge to carry on a discussion, I found some of these statements to be too “conclusive” in nature with no room for those who do not fall in a perhaps broad category. Otherwise, a nice essay that captures a lot of the old-time Calcutta where many of grew up. You should consider publishing a larger version (albeit, hopefully without these fatalistic conclusions that is bound to drive readers away). A few other additions – Statesman/Telegraph, ICSE/Madhyamik, Durga Puja Pandals and Pistols, School Buses and Tin Cars, Cycle Rickshaws, the obsession with Chowmein, Bengalis and Marwaris (+ Marwaris obsession with Pan Parag), British Council (for me at least), the World this Week with Prannoy Roy, Doordarshan I and later II, etc.

  76. Pingback: Ten Years Of The Blog | Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind

  77. I’m a young ‘probashi’ bangali (Atleast i think that’s the word i want), and couldn’t help the slow smile spread across my face reading this. I especially LOVED the ‘machher bajaar’ description. As a young child I used to go with bapi (that’s what i call my grandpa) to the fish market , and he might as well have been acting out your description. 🙂

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