Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Makes a Bengali?

Bijoya Dashami, which is happy Dussehra for most parts of the country, is a day of some sadness for the Bengali. After the intense festivity, the Goddess goes back on Dashami and despite the social gatherings, there is always a bit of melancholy in the air.
I did not know – introspection, even.
Because this Bijoya, I pondered a lot on a question a Bengali friend asked me ‘what makes a Bong?’ And he locked out my penchant for vague, tangential answers with a stern brief – ‘what are the 5 defining things that are required to be a true blue Bong?’
I am inclined to list procrastination first since I promised to write nearly a week back!

Seriously, what defines a Bengali?

Is it parochialism? Not really. Pride about one’s region & race is a very common trait among Indians –where regional identities are often stronger than the national identity.
Is it fish? Or sweets? Cannot say that either. I know many Bengalis who abhor either or both.
Is it sports? Or more specifically, watching sports? But then, a great sporting spectacle unites the country and not only Bengal. And as Bangalore just showed us, packing cricket stadia on weekdays is no longer an Eden monopoly!

So, what are those Elusive Five? Let me try my theories… every one can jump in after that.

Food
The Bengali cuisine is not about fish, biriyani or roshogolla. It is about investing deep thought and taking immense pains to eat well – and equally importantly – feed well.
Calcutta is a place where wedding menus are fixed long before the match. It is a place where people travel long distances early on Sunday mornings to capture the best cut of mutton. It is a place where people get violent discussing the relative merits of their favourite biriyani joints. And the smell of broiler chicken in a meal is a curse that requires seven baths in Ganga to expiate.
Anjan Chatterjee (of Mainland China and Oh Calcutta fame) once wrote about Chitol Machher Muittha (inadequately translated as fish balls made out a particularly fleshy fish) being prepared for special occasions and people considered it to be a scandal if a bone emerged out of any of the fish balls… That’s vintage Bangali for you!
Malayalis love eating fish. But only a Bengali would carry ilish in a cold case on a flight. And only in Calcutta airport, would they let you pass security with that. Hyderabadis invented the Paradise biriyani & haleem. But only a Bengali would know Gati does express delivery of those to Delhi. Every Bengali has at least one hole-in-the-wall joint which – he is convinced – serves the best Moglai Porota in the world and he is willing to defend it till death.
Such passion is, of course, a by-product of the wonderfully diverse Bengali cuisine that straddles a million tastes, uses a billion ingredients and engulfs the five senses.
Think about it, God gave South Indians curd and they made thayir saadam out of it. Bengalis made mishti doi.

Sense of Humour
Well, how many stand-up comedians do you know are Bengalis? Zero. No filmi comedians since Keshto Mukherjee either. Authors? Very few. Bloggers? A few, maybe. So?
Well, I should have said the ‘democratization of humour’. Because I don’t see any other state in India where the humour is so well spread out. The funniest Indians may not be Bengalis but the average Bengali is about a million times funnier.
Recently, I went to the local Bengali Society to pay the Durga Puja subscription. In the 7 minutes I spent there, two gentlemen (who – I am sure – hold very serious day jobs like database architecture and trade marketing) had me and my wife in splits. Allow me an example:
Gent 1: Kothai thaka hoi? (Where do you stay?)
Me: Sohna Road. Oboshsho road nei ekhon. (Sohna Road. Though, there’s no road left now.)
Gent 1: Kothaoi nei. Brishtir joley rasta porishkar hoye gechhey… (No road anywhere. The rains have cleaned the roads.)
Gent 2: Rasta nei. Ektu rustic. (Untranslatable.)
Okay, okay – one more.
Imagine an evening flight leaving for Delhi and turning back mid-way due to fog. And re-starting for Delhi, this time with a CAT-trained pilot. If the flight had originated from any other major city in India, there would have been aggression, raised voices and threats of legal action. I was fortunate enough to leave from Calcutta and overheard the following:
Gent 1: Bujhlen toh, aager pilot-ta CAT pash koreni. (The earlier pilot was not CAT qualified.)
Gent 2: CAT paini? Joint peyechhilo toh? (Didn’t clear CAT? What about JEE?)
This, at 2 AM!

Easy Riders
Bengalis love effortless people. And underdogs.
India admires Satyajit Ray – the legendary filmmaker who wrote his own scripts, designed sets & costumes, composed music, wrote books and was a certified genius. In Bengal, Ray’s charisma is matched by Ritwik Ghatak, who made only a few films and died in poverty of alcoholism. But oh - what films they were! And with what little effort!
In Bengal, the heroes are never the class toppers. They are the bloody swatters, who had no brains and slogged their bums off (gasp – how ghastly!). The heroes are the guys who spent the night before the exams at Dover Lane Music Conference and managed to answer only one question in the whole paper. But man, you should have read that answer. Isaac Newton himself would have sat at that boy’s feet to understand its gravity. Of course, he flunked the exam, the course and is now an accountant at a private tuition centre in Jalpaiguri but I am telling you that boy had the ‘potential’ to become a Head of Department at Harvard.
The word ‘potential’ is a big favourite in Bengal. It brings out all the unsung geniuses (heroes or otherwise) who could have but didn’t.
And even the workaholic Ray reveals a soft corner for the unsung genius, in the way he wrote Sidhu Jyatha (Feluda’s uncle, played brilliantly on screen by Harindranath Chattopadhyay). When complimented by Felu (“If you had been a detective, we would have been out of work”), Sidhu Jyatha responds – “If I had done a lot of things, a lot of people would have been out of work. So, I don’t do anything. I just sit here and keep the windows of my mind open…”
If Bengalis were as rich as Punjabis, they would have thrown coins when this line was first said on screen!

Stories
Every Bengali is a storyteller.
The ‘adda’ is a common phenomenon across India, where people get together for some chat & gossip. But in Bengal, it is an art form – ranging from the organized (where famous authors are invited to participate in addas) to the impromptu (while waiting for the next bus and continuing till the last bus has gone).
If you read Anandabazar Patrika (or The Telegraph), the journalistic style is very anecdotal. More often than not, the reports start with a story. Descriptions of how political leaders were dressed at rallies are again common. And first person accounts are almost de rigueur for most stories. For example, when a Metro snag happens – Delhi’s Hindustan Times runs a story like this (“Longer Metro ride, technical snag yet again”). The Telegraph leads with “Pride Derailed”.
Every mundane, day-to-day event of no consequence gets suffused with suspense and emotion when a Bengali narrates it. A simple interaction with a parking attendant who did not have change can assume the proportions of a Rushdie novel. A joke is not a joke. With a virtuoso performer, a joke can extend over an entire evening – not unlike a raag – interspersed with mimicry, leg-pulling, social comments, jokes within jokes (meta-jokes!) and requests for more whiskey. The stories are always long, never boring and sometimes true, even! But then, the truth is never allowed to spoil a good story.
A famous Bengali litterateur (Syed Mujtaba Ali) was once asked if the story he just recounted was true. He said, “A prince went hunting in a deep, dark jungle. There, he came across a big, bad tiger. The tiger said – Prince, I will now eat you up. This is a story. But tigers do eat humans, don’t they?”

Culture
This is the easiest one to propose and explain. Let’s face it – the stereotype is true. And everybody knows it.
The average Bengali has read more books than the average Indian. Hell, he may have even written more! He has certainly heard more music (not counting DJ music, where Punjabis beat him). He has learnt to play at least one musical instrument (male) or one dance form (female) as a child. He has written more Letters to the Editor. The aforementioned editors also had a higher-than-average proportion of Bengalis. And if they aren’t Bengalis, they will soon be claimed as one.
Only a Bengali will ask what defines a Bengali. And only a Bengali will oblige.
And yes, only in Calcutta can Ritwik compete with Hrithik.

These are – what I think – defines the Calcutta Chromosome.
And while on the topic, Delhi DNA or Mumbai Mitochondria just doesn’t sound so elegant – no?

59 comments:

Abhishek Paul said...

Wonderful writing........To put it in word, BYAPOK !!!

Anonymous said...

Am not a Bengali but loved your post. Sharing it with my Bengali friends :) Shubho Bijoya to you.

Pallavi

# said...

Love your lucid style. Stereotyping has its own set of problems but this piece makes one's critical senses mellow. Good read.

Aneela Z said...

( apologies to Syed A Khan) but when God asks your friend what he has done on earth, he can say: nothing, but I had Dipta write this post. Excellent stuff.

Roy said...

besh bhalo!!!

the mad momma said...

:) good one

Lazyani said...

Jomae gaechey boss. Loved it, absolutely.

CMCK said...

you must love bengal :-) these words come straight from your heart! shubho!

Indrayan said...

Oshadharon..Shubho Bijoya..sharing it with my FB friends else they might miss out on this brilliant one!

sleepless said...

excellent post.....stereotyping has its own benefit....you already know so much about a person who is otherwise a stranger ....and the person about whom you know something is definitely not a stranger.....keep feeding us with these wonderful BONG stories.....

Sahana said...

Brilliant shot. Excellent post. loved the way you articulated things.

Anonymous said...

Amar besh legechhe. :)
Wonderfully understood and expressed. It should definitely go for one of India Today's Simply Calcutta.

sunny said...

If u ever write abt Delhi DNA ..also write abt the nature of rape cases in delhi ...what are the underlying causes that makes delhi the rape capital..

Ricercar said...

i loved this post so much! you reawakened my bengali chauvinism :D

Abhishek Mukherjee, BSc MStat said...

Just to emphasise a bit on each of your points...
1. Food:
Last year I visited my friend in NOIDA twice in two months, and carried special mutton biriyani from Arsalan on IndiGo on both occasions. Arsalan told me that it was commonplace, and the Bengali IndiGo people never seemed to care.

2. Sense of Humour:
Bengali1: Ami ajkal beshi panu dekhina.
Bengali2: Ami ekhono bhorpur dekhi.
B1 (surprised): Ekhono?
B2 (embarrassed): Mane, ektana noy, khepe khepe dekhi.
B1 (with a grin): Khepe khepe dekhish, na dekhe khepe jash?

3. Easy riders:
You wouldn't believe how many people I know would claim that Snehasish Ganguly is the best batsman to have come out of that Biren Roy Road East house.

4. Stories:
Remember Brazil vs England World Cup Quarterfinal 2002? I was wondering what kind of a headline Aajkaal would put up the next morning, and every one I thought of was a cliched one. Guess what the real headline was?
"Nodi aapon bege pagolpara", sprawled across almost one fourth of the front page.

5. Culture:
The Kolkata Book Fair is the only place I know where a thief is never punished or bashed: the book is simply put back into place. Trying to acquire a book is, after all, an honourable act, irrespective of the methods.

A request, Diptakirti. Come back to Kolkata. You don't belong elsewhere.

Shubho Bijoya.

Raza said...

fascinating read!!

Anonymous said...

Dada! Bangaali na hua koi Tilasmi Jeev ho gaya hai! Khuafnaak Likhawat!

Debasmita said...

Hi..

Excellent post! Absolutely loved it.. Fatafati ;)

Anonymous said...

Baahh...

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Bengal for the early 20+ yrs in my life. Bengali's are a race(yes, a different race!!) adorned with regional pride and cultural superiority. WB is one of the poorest state in india. It is one of the most backward state too, not only in terms of education and industry but in upliftment of the downtrodden as well. Still, you will see all the bengali's strutting around proud of thier cultural heritage and the greatness of bengal. Ask a bengali *Who are the most hypocritical people in inda?*, And he will say that there is no bigger ****** than a bengali. I am not saying that this is not prevalent in other parts of india as well, but WB is going the maharasthra way. I have seen very few bengali's living in bengal who are tolerant of outsiders. And this is thier biggest fault. They are so proud of thier culture they do not acknowledge that other states have had some good poets or some good dancers.

They are proud of thier bigotry. That's what the true trait of a bengali is.

Anonymous said...

You can find some arses everywhere... But bengal is the only place where you find them in plenty.

Yeah ... bengali chauvinism !!!

If bengali's really loved bengal, they would do something about the shitty state of that state ...

Chandrajit said...

sundor.....

Anonymous said...

Well played...silken cover drives..like another bengal tiger! :)
Utteeyo Dasgupta

Anonymous said...

khoob shundor likhechho !
lorey jaao ...

- Dipen

Anonymous said...

forgot petty politics, chasing job titles, can never work together and loves working for others....lol

saurav said...

Wonderful wonderful post.the potential part had me in splits.awesome writing

sharmistha said...

great post!!and no Delhi DNA or Mumbai Mitochondria dont sound as elegant :)

Troglodyte said...

fatafati dada....

Arindam Sarkar said...

Khob shundor aar roshik bhabe lekha hoyeche.

Roy said...

Level er lekha... Onyo rokom...

MaihoonDON™ said...

Aupoorbo! :D
Keep it up!

Surajit Mahanty said...

Darun hoeche lekha ta!!!!

Prithwis Mukerjee said...

and only a bengali can write a blog post like this !! cheers

Rimi said...

Durdanto likhechho Dipta, as usual, kintu politics ta bhule gele? Kolkataye onekdin thaako ni bojha jachhe :-)

Aar thanks for the SMA quote. It always makes me very very happy to see him mentioned.

Shrabonti said...

Love the endorsement of The Telegraph, my favourite newspaper in the whole world.

Chuckle said...

too cool

Pikai said...

Excellent Post...love the way u write...

Anonymous said...

ekhon bujlam ami ki cheese :D

Anonymous said...

Daroon ... Shared with my FB friends :D

amrita said...

Hi, Amrita here from Mint. Daroon laglo, as usual. Have send you a mail on the id given on the blog, ofc mail was bouncing. Please do reply asap. I need some help urgently.

pallash said...

what makes a bong? simple they are as a race the most cowardly race on earth (save for a few individuals).
Bengal was overrun by Bhaktiyar Khilji by a handful of horsemen and they themselves were fleeing. And Bengalis have more pain and tears for other people than their own ilk. this is the quisential bengali trait.

SWATI said...

Enjoyed reading your post.
Cannot help wonder, did you go to St. Lawrence School and JU? If your name is unique enough (almost certain), you were my math tutor in Class 8 and 9. Remember?

Diptakirti Chaudhuri said...

@Swati - Near JU, a little ahead of 8B - right?

Meghpeon said...

absolutely :) calcutta chromosome rules!

kknundy said...

The Calcutta chromosome is becoming Kolkata khepchurious anyway. Where do you live now?
and before I forget, mindblowing post. Pore dil ta khus hoye gelo.
Especially loved the Cat pash and the love for the underdog.

Reposting to correct a typo.

-Koushik Kumar Nundy

gargimehra said...

Came here via Kartik’s blog. Awesome post. If you ask my dad, he’ll tell you I’m not a True Bengali because I don’t understand Bengali jokes :(
But mercifully I qualify by all your criteria.

Anonymous said...

Fuck Bengalis.. they just ruin everything that is beautiful with their loathsome presence. The train lines to Bengal should be destroyed and so that they just stay in Bengal or go to Bangladesh.

iknowthemall said...

Ah those wonderful jokes, they almost killed me. This is what makes a Bengali: riding a cart with no wheels, believing cockily in a superiority that is obscenely non-existent. Ray, Ghatak, Mukherjee were sure admirable, but you just filled your lungs with the farts they let out and believed that you smell the same! This is what makes you- abominable insoluble impurities in any civic society. You admire unsung geniuses? Well, that is because each one of you can claim yourself to be just that, and sing for yourself! Food? Come to any part of India, each one has a flavor as unique if not more, but still they don't go vomiting the stuff they eat on other's plates, ruining their mood.
Culture? Borrowing like phonies and reducing art to a shameless assignment in your pathetic lives is what your culture is. Heck, the average Indian might not have read even a single book, but the average Indian is way more humble, a quality that comes from good reading, something you assignment show-off readers would know not shit about.

Whatever makes a Bengali should be efficiently catalogued and all such people should be gassed to death.

Shaapla said...

Fantastic. You got it bang on.

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

Spot on!

And just as a BTW to the anon, bong-hating comments here --
Yes, there are many, MANY things about us that are unpleasant; stuff that we ourselves are critical about. But at least we don't abuse others, post inflammatory comments and spread hate...and then hide behind a wall of anonymity! And you accuse us of being cowardly!

Simply Sourav said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your writing.A carefully taken snap of Bengalee character, with their merits and demerits.While it highlight the Bengalee claim to certain aspects like cusine, it is not just full of self praise. It is self-critical as well, though under the veil of fine humour. Some readers however missed the thin line and misinterprated the whole writing as an eulogy. That, however, I think supports our claim of a finer sense of humour than the lot.

iknowthemall said...

I will say no more, I was not anonymous, I spoke very clearly, but I don't think you have reached even the refinement to appreciate the obvious, leave aside a sense/pretence of humour.

myarrows said...

And yes, the anonymous guys are anonymous not out of some cowardice, for no one fears anyone on the internet, but purely out of laziness. See, again you prove yourselves myopic and cow-brained. Q.E.D

Diptakirti Chaudhuri said...

@ Thank you, all, for the perceptive comments. Since this is fast degenerating a slanging match, I am disabling comments.

@ myarrows: Anon because of laziness? You must be a Bengali!

Anonymous said...

Agree that Ray is easily the best movie maker India has seen. But when it comes to music, you have no idea how much music residents of Maha and TN (have you ever been to Pune or Chennai?) listen to. Also, every state has its favourite foods. Bottomline, when Indians give up their chauvinism and local feelings, India will improve overnight (that and when laws start working)!

Anonymous said...

The Arsalan biryani is mediocre..get a life you know nuthing abt biryani.Most of the culinary delights are gifts of neighboring states. You are lazy and pathetic. You crack bad jokes and never take bath inspite of being in a super humid climate. And what was tht f%&* all stuff about more books. Are their any scientific evidence to it or any factsheet which ranks you atop. Dont forget your forefathers who gave up and never fought for your land. You are the most anglicised people with a very bad MTI influence...I dnt have to give you examples for that..ur politician are goons and bad mothed..worst that narayan swamy n lalu :)

Anonymous said...

very well written.... see how this anonymous guy is jumping....... phew he seriously has a lot of hatered in him.... dude chilll... the entire country is like this.... race over and above nation....... regligion/caste/above everything else.... so why do you hate bengalis so mucch.... bengalis have contributed in each and every field be it science, medicine,films, music ,academics and now even business.... so have all the other communities...but still see where this country stands...absolutely nowhere...because we can never be united....but look at your language dude...look at the profanity....ours is a backward country and will continue to remain so for the next 5000 years... the entire country in particular ..atty

Roudranil Roy said...

Besh guchie lekha. Good read.

SatarupaSpeaks said...

Very Well Written..truely these things define Bengalis !