Friday, July 22, 2005

Ba(g)chi Karkaria in good form :-)



Economic Times [ SUNDAY, JULY 10, 2005 01:54:32 AM]

"There is some corner of a foreign field/ Which is forever Bengali." Ki
nonsense kotha. It's not a corner, it's the whole blaady expanse. Ours is an eenbhasion, a coup. From which the attackee will never recoupaarate, I might add.

It's true. Suddenly the Bengalis are everywhere. So many, taking over so much, in so many places that I wonder if there are any left in Kolkata. Formerly, you saw Bengalis outside Bengal only when you went on holiday. There they were, the men in Fair Isle sweaters knitted lovingly by their mothers, their wives in blue cardigans, the baachcha in monkey cap. Wherever you went, they were always there, a swagger to their step and boxy
camera around their neck along with the matching "maaflar". Whether you werein Kashmir or Kanyakumari, in Nepal or Neyvelli, in Sri Lanka or Sariska,you always found one Bombay Photo Studio, one Madras Cafe, one Tibetan curio shop, and one Bengali family.

When Hilary and Tenzing climbed Everest, did they find a mysterious mishti syrup stain on the snow, irrefutable evidence that The Bengali Was Here? When Jacques Cousteau plumbed the icy deep, did he find a trace of maastard oil on Antarctic ocean-bed and telltale signs of a neatly-picked rohu
skeleton? When Armstrong floated on the lunar surface, had Neel-da already taken one small step for Bongkind in his trusty Bata sandals? I am prepared to bet on it, whatever may be the conspiracy of silence which has prevented the inveterate Bengali traveller from being given his due (LTA already collected, thank you).

When I began to venture abroad, they would be there not just as tourists, but as NRBs. Keep your motel, Mr Patel, Shri Banerjee has spread himself wider, higher, deeper across the globe.

In the suburban Cardiff of the early 70s, there wasn't anything non-Welsh for miles around. Anything except Mr Palit. He was the husband of one of the secretaries of our Thomson Foundation and, taking pity on us for having to face the bland hostel fare, she invited us for dinner. We expected a tastier version of our usual cod and chips. But what a spread we got: course upon
course of authentic Bangla Ranna, whose aromas wafted out of the chintzy windows and unleashed all manner of uncharacteristic urges in the staid neighbourhood of Penarth.

Three decades on, I can still recall that we had a chochchori of very English vegetables, ghoogni, chingdi malai curry, even chaatni. True, it wasn't today's beeay-bari favourite, the "plastic" variety.

Procuring aamshatto anywhere in Wales in those pre-Curry Colonialism days would have defeated even the enterprising Palit-babu but the tomato version he dished up was properly spiked with raisins and suited us fine. There was a fiery fish which could pass off for rui. And we rounded it off with
homemade shandesh. It was amazing. Was it a waking dream, we wondered as we were driven back, gently burping all the way.

Then, of course, came the rising Diaspora, so dominated by brilliant Bengalis that it came to be called the Daspora. It occasioned no surprise to encounter them all over the States, deep in the mid-West or on the farthest Hawaiian island. Somewhere, somehow, one caught the whiff of begun bhaja in
the air. "Is that a narkel bora I see before me, glistening through the Minnesota mist? It is. It is the Mistress of Spices at her magic. And should something go awry, the other Bengali, the Interpreter of Maladies, will Jhumpa up to set it right.

Yes, Bengalis are certainly no slouches, either, in all the English-language fiction that has stewed in Indian creative juices.
Slouches? They're winning both the marathon and the 100-metre dash in the race to literary glory.

It's the same closer to home. There are so many Bengalis occupying pole positions where I work that, if you don't speak the language, you might as well take the golden handshake. Being an Hon Bong, I scrape into the club by the skin of my teeth.

When I left Kolkata - when it was still Calcutta and Jyotibabu was not yet CM - to join The Times of India as a trainee, Sumitbabu, my journalism professor at Cal U gave an introductory call to his in-laws who lived in Mumbai. At least one Sunday a month, I took the bus to their terrace flat in Parel where, to the gentle flap of drying Dhonekhali saris, I would savour posto, papad and payesh and dispel the homesickness.

In later Mumbai years, the Bengali population spread like waterhyacinth in a Beliaghata pukur, so much so that there were almost as many Pujo pandals as Ganapati ones and any market worth the name boasted a sweet-water fishmonger - Anwar, Bishuda, Chanchalbabu - right down the alphabet. The Sunday crowd thronging his stall was there as much for the community camaraderie as for the golda chingri. So it didn't really matter if it was "Bombay bekti" or if the ilish did not come from the Podda, but from the Narmada in nearer Bharuch.

Moving to Delhi, of course, I was in clover and kashundi to my heart's content. Chitto Park is a microcosm - and not a very micro one at that - of para-Kolkata. Oh bliss it was in that den to be eating shinghara, and to be there in Pujo time was very heaven. Boudis in lal-paars, dhakis, bhog, Bijoli Grill's kobiraji caat-let, Nizam's kathi rolls. And crowds to rival Gariahat on Mahashtami night. Bhaba jaye na. If you can't be in Kolkata, Delhi is the next best thing.

Generally speaking, if you want to survive into the future you'd better cross over. Learn the language, buy a Dhakai, get a Bengali son-in-law. Me? I'm changing my name to Bagchi.


Blogger Not Applicable said...

Man, has she got it right??

Bongs never exist in isolation - they are always in the plural as will be evident from the Bangla that booms loud and clear irrespective of surrounding noises.

And its surprising to see the number of Bongs at positions in the HR function in organisations!! (Or have I been exposed to too skewed a sample?)

12:29 PM  
Blogger the still dancer said...

na, na,
NA babu, not shkewed. hiuman reshorshes eej beein awar shpeshaliti.

10:42 PM  

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