Typical as it seems, we often overlook the community we belong to and have views of other communities existing around us. This thought struck me recently when I was travelling in a train from Delhi to Mumbai. It was a sheer co-incidence that I was travelling with an assemblage of Bengali families who were going for a week long holiday to Mumbai and Goa. For me this 26 hour journey was the best way to observe and scan the community I belong to.
Bengalis are often seen travelling in a big group consisting of people of all ages and all the year round. A very common statement often heard in Bengali families-“Next week 3 din chhuti aachey,cholo bondhu bandhob miley kothaye bediye aashi”. They are found enjoying hot tea in hill stations to camel riding in desertlands to bathing in seas. Nevertheless, we are said to be the most prolific travelers in India constituting 60% of India’s 400 million annual domestic tourists.
Talking about Bengalis and not talking about food is something like discussing about the present Commonwealth Games without Kalmadi. We love to eat and have no issues showing off the various delicacies we can come up with by mix and match of spices, vegetables, fish, chicken etc. Fish is a part and parcel of our meal and I feel Bengalis are blessed with this certain kind of power that despite the fact that a fish market has such strong smells, with one sniff a Bengali knows if a fish is all right or not. That also reminds me of Ileesh maach, although having 10,000 bones we have it with great pleasure. I am sure Dhokar dalna, shorshey maach, malai chingri, cholar daal and many other mouth watering cuisines can make Haldirams or the Punjabi Dhabas a run for their money.
Another very aspect of us that really makes us different from others is the amount of nicknames we can come up with. Stand amongst a group of Bengali kids and each and every child will have a nickname and no two kids have the same one. Jhumpa, Tumpa, Dola, Laltu, Chotu, Bubul, Bulbul,Montu , Bablu- all this names also bring out the creativity of ours.
From sports to politics, culture to literature, no doubt we are the wealthiest society in the world. Football madness is evident when there is a Mohunbagan vs. East Bengal match and thousands of Bengalis are glued to DD Bangla channel. Even during FIFA World Cup, I think there are more supporters of Argentina and Brazil among the Bengalis than in the respective countries. Also reminds me of Ganguly-Chappell scuffle which shook the hearts of each and every Bangali in India. Korbo, lorbo, jeetbo is the spirit we have in the field of sports. Communism, Mamata, Jyoti Basu are hot topics discussed in all Bengali get-togethers and not to mention Kolkata coffee houses. Politics runs in the veins of khati bangali person.
Coming to culture and literature, nothing can be soothing to our ears than Rabindrasangeet, book shelves are not completed without Sarat Chandra and Bimal Mitra, still movies for us is Satyajit Ray’s Panther Panchali and Gopi Gayin Baga Bayin. Durga Puja is a perfect example of our cultural prowess. I can boast as a Bengali that no one else has taken a religious function of Puja up to this level. The folk culture and various songs written by our poets of the land on yearly home coming of Uma which has given a separate entity to the whole aspect and these songs are named as "AAGAMONI". I wonder, the untimely worshipping of Maa Durga by Ramchandraji in the period of unknown history, today has achieved a status of celebration not only as a simple puja but also enriched the bangla language with all those songs and poems, with an approach to establish a direct connection between human and God. Only we the Bengalis can do this sort of soul searching as we are blessed one.
Finally, the train was one stop away from Bombay Central Station where my journey ended. It was fun thinking of the eccentricities and idiosyncracies of my very own Bangla community. As Rabindranath wrote,- “My golden Bengal, I love You”, I am fortunate to be a part of this civilization which has its own charm yet well integrated with other societies of the world.
P.S. Written for a Bengali magazine a year back.
Photo courtesy: kigoobe.com