Recently the Telegraph, a Kolkata-based newspaper published what I can only consider an attack piece on Bangali men in the same vein that Karan Johar attacked Marathi manoos by using the “B” word in “Wake Up Sid”.
It is just because we Bengali men do not have a Raj Thackeray in our midst that Telegraph can get away with this. In an ideal world, we would have an army of MNS (“Moonmoon and Nirad Chowdhury Shoinyo”) supporters throwing smelly “shoontki maach” in front of Telegraph offices till the said reporter apologized and the paper retracted this insulting article. But since most Bangalis have no energy left over from burning buses and singing along with Babur Suman to protest on the things that matter, namely the vilification and the emasculation of the Bongosontan, nothing like this will happen.
Given that, let me make my humble attempt to frisk this piece as a representative of those who have been so ridiculed.
A significant number of contemporary Bengali men, unlike their forefathers, condemn fish. Excepting ilish, for the men love it too. “I don’t have fish, only ilish,” many men have been heard confessing in a tender moment. Since they love ilish, they will not care if others do so as well.
Now I know that there are a few Bengalis, the same minuscule minority who detest Sourav Ganguly and support Salgaocar in football, who say “ami maach khai na” (I don’t eat fish) and may be prejudicial when it comes to fish. But I can say, no assert, as a representative of the contemporary Bengali man, that just like our forefathers we not only love ilish but also swear by chingri (shrimp) and kaankra (crab), worship our bhetki and bhola maach, lust for small tengra maach cooked with brinjal and salivate over pabda, parshe, pomfret and rui, in the same manner that we do over Roopa Ganguly. The day we cease to do so, Bengal will become like Gujarat in that there will be development and industry. Since that is not so, it shows that we still love our fish. Of all types. QED.
There is also some other innuendo that Bengali men are petty enough to hog the “peti” pieces and more specifically leave the “stricken with thorns” gada pieces to the women. Alas the author knows not the pleasure Bong men derive from munching on fish bones though yes sometimes they do have a nasty habit of getting into the windpipe. If you ever see a Bengali man silent, then that’s possibly the reason why he is so.
A similar Powerpoint presentation will explain why the leg piece of the chicken is also reserved for the man at the table. There is an additional reason here. Growing Bengali boys, who keep growing into growing Bengali boys, need more “protein”, which is good for the “brain”. The “brain”, when encased within the head of a boy, is a collective Bengali obsession. Nurtured by his parents, Horlicks and chicken legs, it will be a potent weapon when he grows up: it will be the highest point reached by a man with a steady, decent job, besides being the embodiment of sex appeal. A Bengali man draws women towards him with his “brain”.
Again I do not see where the problem is. According to legend we like to believe, millions of years ago, when the Great Enlightened One (whom we Bangalis call Jyoti-Babu) made the universe, he asked the Bangali man which organ would be like to be made robust and strong. To his surprise, the Bengali man, perhaps to be contrarian, said “My brain”. And from that time onwards, Bongo-sontaans have stayed away from the light in their dark studies solving “sums” from KP Basu and KC Nag and studying the intricacies of gerunds from Wren and Martin while every other children of man have gone about exercising their powerful organs in more pleasurable ways.
Given the choice that the first Bangali man made, what is the problem if he likes his Horlicks and has a Maltova Mom and has a fondness for chicken legs—why should that be a matter of derision? What is the problem if the second most sold medical product in Bengal is the brain tonic Brainolia (the first being Livosin which no self-respecting Bengali with his chronic stomach problems would ever be caught without).
And before I forget. The chicken leg. Every waking hour the Bangali man leads a meek apologetic life, being flattened like sardines in a sweaty public bus, working low-paying jobs under non-Bangali masters, forced to endure the increasing insignificance of our state to the rest of India. Beaten and bruised throughout the day, when he sits for his dinner, his equally bent and ancient stainless steel plate becomes his castle and empire. There he wants to sit, like a king for ten minutes, his hand balanced on the side of the plate caressing the grains of the rice like a tender lover as his hand sensuously gets wet with the watery daal. It is then that he expects and demands that his chicken not be a size zero Kareena Kapoor bird. Is that too much to ask ?
But men actually look down on women for chewing fishbones. Or for eating green chillis on the side with their meals
Bengali men do not have green chilllis? Really? Dear Telegraph author, what kind of Bengali men have you been interacting with? Do you not know that the first quadrant of the Bangali man’s plate, right next to the leboo (lemon) and salt is the region we call “Sri Lanka” ? (Lanka is Bengali for chilli)
Many men still make that slurping sound as they eat. They sneeze, cough and yawn louder.
Here is a question I want to ask the author. Has he/she ever experienced the pleasure one gets from draining the tea from the cup into the saucer and drinking it with a noisy contended slurp? Note the double-standards dear readers. While the newspapers sex columns will advice the female reader to vocalize her pleasure, the standard are different when it comes to men. Cause if a Bangali man, deriving carnal pleasure from his lau-sukto so much as makes a contented slurp then it is derided as downmarket, sloppy and so very “issshhhh”.
In public, they admire Nandita Das. In secret, they want to be Salman Khan
Please do not generalize. I for one do not admire Nandita Das one bit. For me there is only one. Nandana Sen. And as to our desire to be Salman Khan, thank your lucky stars it is a “secret” desire—-if we started taking our shirts off at every opportunity the sight will not be pretty I tell you.
Once they would only be doctors, engineers or IAS officers. Now they will be MBAs. The rest is “same to same”.
Perhaps this is the only place where the author speaks the truth. Bengali men have two dreams in life—-to lord over others and to not do any real work. Getting an MBA allows them to do both.
Romance means lots of poetry and sublimity
Again this is shown as a negative. Evidently things would be better if we said “chalti hai kya nau se baraah” rather than quoting from Neru-Da, Nero-Da (any bald-headed intellectual) Deri-Da and the great Dero-Da (the bearded one—-Rabindranath Tagore). If indeed this be the case, women only need to say it. We will be equally comfortable singing “Challenge nibi na sala, panga nibi na sala” if that is what is needed to get the Suchitra Sens today all warmed up.
Which doesn’t take away from the fact that few Bengali men look good in jeans and a tee. For the same reason, they seem to be rolling on the dance floor. From where they are often not picked up. Understandably.
Don’t make me laugh. Bengali men do not know how to dance? Two words. Tito De. I challenge Prabhu-Deva to do Sukhen Das’s belly dance in “Hoyto amake karu mone nei” or Hrithik Roshan to execute Tapas Paul’s “Jai Baba Phootballnath” jig in as graceful a manner. If there is anyone who can out-dance a Bangali man it is one Gauranga Chakraborty better known as Mithun-da. Oh wait I forgot. He too is a Bangali.
For a video demonstration of the Bangali male dancing style, I ask you to watch this.
They think growing hair on their upper lip will make them more “manly”.
Yes right. All Bangali macho men have hairy upper lips—Uttam Kumar, Soumitro, Biswajit, Tapas Pal, Bumba-da? Right? Wrong. Let me say dear Telegraph writer, if you are looking for a region where the mustache is worshipped you are in the wrong part of the country.
Dressed as they are in their executive suits, they are often sighted at a sweet shop gorging on langcha, mishti doi or telebhaja at the para shops, looking guilty, before returning home from work.
While men from other parts of the country would go for comfort to a female friend, this act of eating sweets and oily fries is the most egregious expression of rebellion against marital authority that a Bangali man will show. Yes that is the sad plight of the Bangali male. From the mid 30s onwards, the Bangali body, not a marvel of engineering at the best of times, starts developing some problems arising out of a lifetime of sugar coursing through its veins both from rosogolla as well as from Subinoy Roy’s syrupy Rabindrasangeet and also from more than a bit of cholesterol accumulating in its plumbing not to speak of the whale blubber that cover the six-packs.
This is when their Bengali wives start “monitoring their diet”. Which shorn off the euphemism essentially means that they impose a regime of healthy eating at home through a series of measures even the Stasi and the KGB would find excessive. And it is to break those strict controls that scores of Bangali men stand in front of mutton roll shops or “mishtir dokaan”, furtively looking over their shoulders, as they bite into a chomchom or a Kobiraaji cutlet with the guilt and a fear of a married man going to a house of ill repute.
Now reading this piece, one would be surprised that this is the case. Cause according to the learned author, Bangali men totally dominate their women giving them the bad pieces of fish, making them do the dishes, being boorish and chauvinistic. Nothing can be further from the truth. In a Bangali family, it is the lady who cracks the whip and while the husband may be granted the odd bit of license like getting the gossip page of the newspaper first thing in the morning, on the things that matter the Bong woman is firmly in control. Of course the Telegraph plays up to stereotypes of the coy and submissive Bangali wife, oozing with sensuality and all eye-fluttering femininity. In reality, the Bipasa Basu thing is only an act and within a few years of marriage, Bangali women reveal their true selves and become a Mamata or Matangini Hajra.
Which brings me to the last line of the article.
The Bengali boy’s mother thinks he’s “flawless”. He secretly agrees.
The truth is slightly different. The Bangali’s “mama’s boyness” which is being lampooned here is essentially a concomitant of his being afraid of women. Before marriage, he is mortally scared of his mother as he is forced to, whether he likes it or not, to become a “khokon sona” . Then he gets married and a power struggle ensues. The wife is pissed at the son’s unquestioned subservience and the mother’s insistence that the son, being a reflection of the mother, is perfection personified—a sentiment reflected in this Telegraph piece. What it misses (mischievously no doubt) is the mother’s perspective as she rues how her son has become “distant” and “different” after marriage. Very soon brass utensils are being banged a bit too loudly, poisonous glances are being exchanged, mother tells son to “stand up and take control” (i.e. listen to your mother) while the wife says “How long are you going to let others take your decisions for you? Be a man” which is Bangali woman-speak for “Worship my every word”.
Torn between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (which is which I leave to the judgment of readers) the Bangali man sits at the dinner table, looking down at his plate, morosely biting into the chicken leg or the “peti” fish piece with the weight of the world on him, from the peasants of San Salvador and Singur to whether he should wear the punjabi his mother presented him (but wife says “It’s …mm….okay) or the Chinese collar shirt wifey insists looks smart on him (but mother looks and says “Does not bouma’s brother also have one of these?”) for Ashtami dinner.
And it is at this poor Bangali man that the Telegraph author unleashes his/her sarcastic bile , grudging him his only diversions—a bit of extra meat or fish or the privilege of massaging his pot belly or of liberally applying talcum powder to avoid “ghamachi” (prickly heat), a disease he hates even more than the common cold.
Shame on you. Chi chi. Khoob dushtu tumi. Very naughty you are.
[Picture courtesy Abhik Ranjan]