Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Big Bong Theory

he above may not be the ideal nomenclature for this yet another harangue of mine but again, nothing may describe what is to follow better.
The term, Bong may literally be a shorter and cooler adaptation for the term, Bengali but for someone akin to me the word has much wider connotations. To me Bong would mean, ‘the new-age Bengali’, the culturally rich and liberal Bengali, a more considerate people who respect and believe in and subscribe to cultural-unity and oneness.
I am Bengali, in every sense of the term and whatever insight that may give you on the individual that I am. Although my mother hails from an orthodox Telugu family replete with their traditions, customs and strict rules pertaining to everything from dressing to cooking, my bringing up has had a stronger Bengali influence than the latter, and am absolutely proud of the fact that my life till now has been a collage of experiences so hilarious and interesting none of it would be possible had I been just Telugu or just Bong!
I shall now talk about a few peculiar, rather screwy characteristic traits we Bengalis reflect irrespective of age, education, place of stay, social strata, anything, its something I’ve been noticing for a while and dying to write on, am so sure so many will identify emphatically with what’s to come. A few of what’s mentioned below is ‘classically Bengali’, if you’re one of us you’ll know;

(1) I am sure I am not alone when I say I hate attending boring family get-togethers and religious gatherings but what I particularly hate is attending Bengali marriages in Kolkata, even the ones held at the classiest of places. Here are the reasons;
#At the venue there’s sure to be at least a hundred ‘grandma’s who’ll ask you at least a hundred times each how old you are; by the end of the tiring sermon you’re yourself confused!
#There’s sure to be at least a hundred ‘grandpa’s some of whom you must’ve definitely met at some previous gathering, wanting to know where you study and how many more years you have till graduation and you more often than never end up telling the same person for the fiftieth time where you study and how many years you have left. By the end of it, yes, you wish you were dead!
#And of course, there’ll be a gazillion ‘uncle’s who’d ask you over and over and over again about your plans after graduation, or if you are in school, how far your preparations for the Board exams have gone and after that a lecture on how important these formative years are, shall follow and if your lucky enough you shall also get hear about how worthy and virtuous his son/daughter is.
#And then, there’ll be ‘aunties’ badgering you with the same lame questions you’ve been subject to rigorously throughout the evening and every now and then, for no reason at all exclaim loudly with both hands on their cheeks, “Aaaaah!! How GROWN up you are” (Of course, I eat hence I grow, go observe your pet dog, imbecile!) or “How SMART you’ve become” or even “What does mummy feed you??”(Complan) and of course the, “How handsome you’ve become!” to which I don’t have much of a disapproval.
#Suppose, me and dad are standing in a corner chatting about something a certain ‘uncle’ will show up from nowhere, uninvited and ask my DAD, “So how’s your son, by the way what’s he studying now??”!!!!!! Funny, does he not see me standing there or is he scared that I might bite his face off if he asked me??
#Bengalis love to be photographed and what better occasion than a marriage could offer one so fine an opportunity? Bong marriages have as many as 2-3 photographers and cameramen and they usually employ old fashioned video cameras from the stone-age that need an extremely bright light to be projected on people to video record them. That scorching, roaring light is cast on you unexpectedly, when you’re eating, when you’re talking to people, when you’re enjoying a quiet moment in some inconspicuous corner far away from the raucous, bejeweled crowd and even when you least want to be video recorded i.e while emerging secretively from the washroom. No formalities here, if you’re attending a marriage you HAVE TO be videotaped and photographed for at least a million times!!
#Then, the most bugging of all…..coercion to overeat. The air in all Bengali marriages is thick with pleasantries like;
Mr. Ghosh: “No, you must eat three more rossogollas!!”
Mr. Dey: “Not at all, I’ve had enough, thank you”.
Mr. Ghosh: “Aare ki bolcchen……you must have at least three more…don’t feel shy…consider this your own daughter’s marriage….have at last two more…with love!”
Mr. Dey: “No really, Ghoshbabu I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes… already on pills, this is suicidal!!”
Mr. Ghosh: “Aaare, I will suggest a very good doctor to you, but for now, DO have two more rossogollas…..!
Mr. Dey: “BUT THIS’LL KILL ME….!!!”
Mr. Ghosh: “Let it!! You still MUST have 2 rossogollas… ke achish re?? Get Deybabu THREE of the juiciest rossogollas QUICK now!!
I, Ronojoy Basu in the capacity of a bothered Bengali marriage-party regular bona fidely certify the above conversations as true and absolutely to-the-point.
And finally, if you happen to be on the right side of twenty BEWARE, in any and every marriage you attend, the jobless grannies will start finding matches for you even without you or your parents knowing it and before you know it some photograph of yours has already become a part of someone’s family album!!

(2) Dad absolutely insists I follow him and mom to every party we’re invited to, even if I do not know the people I am visiting, something I despise wholeheartedly.
I could never relate to dad’s old buddies who’re always more interested in downing Scotch and spending the evening chatting with him and mom than sitting around discussing career stuff with me and I don’t blame them, therefore I often find myself seated, quite uncomfortably amidst his friends (as fate should have it, at most such meets I always somehow land up in the same sofa where 3 or 4 of dad’s friends whom I’ve not met forever are seated, and damn! It feels odd) not knowing where to look, or what to do, trying to finish that little glass of Coke as slowly as possible and every now and then producing those forced grins that give you a jaw-ache by the end of the day. Now comes the Bengali garnishing;

#The minute you enter the place, you have to touch so many people’s feet it becomes a painful ordeal! And mom whispers affirmatively into my ears, “Everybody!!!!”, but of course there’s confusion again, you can’t just grace those whom you know, there’ll be a handful of other elders too in the house who you think might feel offended, rather left out if not greeted in that particular way, and yes there’ll be more coming in too, therefore so as to save hearts and traditions from breaking you’d rather break your back wandering around the room, bending down and ‘pranam’ing everybody.
#The moment you inform an aunty or an uncle at the get-together that you are surviving outside Kolkata, that’s it, the next few minutes you shall spend answering a battery of finely selected questions high in intellectual value such as; “Where do u live in Pune, son?”, most of them having never had visited Pune before, “What do you eat in Pune?”, “How are the people in Pune, what do they eat?”, “Do you get fish in Pune?”, “Do you get sweets in Pune?”, “Are girls in Pune dark?”, “Why did you decide to travel that far, wasn’t the colleges in Kolkata good enough?”
But, the question that takes the cake was once asked by a certain person at some party, this gentleman, I don’t know who he was and neither am I inclined to, asked me; “Son, how lucrative is this, ‘Law thing’, and why Law when you could’ve taken up engineering or medicine, your dad is an engineer right??” Not knowing what to reply I sat staring at him.
And of course, in my personal experience, every time Pune is mentioned it quintessentially reminds the listener of some long lost distant relative who might’ve lived/still living there, and a long story of how that individual made it to the US follows.
#You must be on your guard and armed all the time cause any lame thing may be thrown at you anytime, any smart-alec comment will only lead you into more trouble and embarrassment and any attempt at making use of subtle humor shall meet with a cold reception and you wont know if they’ve got the joke and they won’t know how to conceal from you their failure at comprehending what you’ve said, therefore what follows is utter confusion and a frosty silence for a few seconds.
#At the party, if you happen to be seated with strangers for dinner, and if they happen to be Bengali, few things you’ve never experienced are about to take place;
You smile at them to break the ice, they look away.
Your cell phone starts ringing; all of them freeze their activities and stare at you and your phone, two or three of them will eventually shall start whispering and discussing among themselves the possible brand and price of your cell phone, without, of course showing any inclination of making you a part of the conversation.

(3) Train journeys can be quite lively and enlightening if there is a talkative Bengali ‘babu’ traveling along. These soda-glass adorning, ‘jhaal-muri ’chomping and extremely animated’ babus are repositories of information and can debate on anything under the sun, be it India’s foreign policy, Terrorism, poverty or hunger and often even the UN!!! They have an answer to almost everything, and they love speaking in Hindi…..with a heavy Bengali accent and expletives in Bengali!!
Now, the one and only occasion when one can see their true fierce passions surface is when particularly two topics are brought up, the CPIM government in West Bengal, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan; Communism and football!!…..lots of football!! Matches between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, being two supremely rival football teams in this part of the hemisphere, are well known for intensely impassioned competition and equally fevered exchanges on and off-field. But, here are a few things that sometimes mess up the experience and if it’s bad enough you’ve had it;
#Discussions on football or Mamata Banerjee can be quite infectious and our Babus can jabber on well through the night till dawn, to the intense ire of everybody else.
#They absolutely insist other unwilling Bengali co-passengers to join in.
#They hate us Bongs.
#The Hindi accented Bengali gets on everybody’s nerves but at times can be quite side-splitting too.
#Discussions on where steamed Hilsa originated from and who fried the first piece of Hilsa is of nano interest to me.
#Babus absolutely hate Marwaris, so if there’s one seated in some corner of the train, you can expect more exchanges than just snide remarks.
#Finally, these babus have an uncanny knack of getting into brawls and arguments with everybody.

(4) Finally, we Bengalis have an unbearably irritating habit of questioning the obvious;

‘Ki Korcho?’(What are you doing?), is one such rage arousing question, as if the one asking can’t you see what I might be doing? Such a question is considered quite legitimate and extremely necessary to ask even if the concerned person has been sitting next to you for the past two hours in the Library or at the park bench.
‘Ki Khaccho?’(What are you eating?) and ‘Kothay Jaccho?’(Where are you going? ……even if you’re in full school uniform sitting in your school bus), are two such extremely essential queries that can drive our Bong brethren worried sick.

But it doesn’t stop here, Bengali quirks and eccentricities are well known, suffered and enjoyed. We ARE a distinguished entertaining lot. Now, in this context I would attempt to straighten a few perspectives and break a few myths that exist about my Bengali brothers and sisters;
#West Bengal isn’t all about fish and sweets and every Bengali isn’t wildly passionate about the former, the same goes for sweets.
#The plump gentleman sitting next to you wearing thick, black rimmed glasses with neatly combed hair may not be Bengali.
#Our women do not ALWAYS roam in white-sarees with a red bordering!
#Our men do not ALWAYS carry on in the proverbial, Dhoti and Kurta with a sharp-tipped umbrella slung on one hand and an end of the dhoti held in the other.
#All of us do not have revolutionary tendencies.
#All our women aren’t fat.
#Not all of us run away from fights and scuffles, most of us love burning buses though, there are just too many of them in Kolkata!
#Not ALL of us hate Marwaris and Biharis, I love Kaju-Barfi.
#No, Koena Mitra or Bipasha Basu doesn’t stay next doors.
#I don’t know why Sourav Ganguly is performing badly.
#No, all of us don’t bitch.
#‘Basu’ and ‘Bose’ isn’t one and the same thing, and so are Rai, Ray and Roy.
#Not ALL talkative Bengalis are surnamed ‘Chatter’jee.
#We are definitely not a predominantly snooty or arrogant people.
#Neither Sushmita Sen nor anybody of her like is of any distant relation to me, and no, if you come to Kolkata I can’t help you meet them.
#All of us do not have a thick ‘Bangla’ accent.
#Not ALL of us have a thing for Punjabi women (I do though).
#Not every Bengali is nuts about football.
#Not all of us get de-virginised after marriage.
#And……..Do not call us all, ‘dada’.

Well, these are for those Bengali comrades of mine who live confined at home and have a ridiculously confused outlook of the world and love to exist with myths;
#Kashmir isn’t all about apples and terrorism and Maharashtra isn’t all about ‘lively dances’ and ‘Vada-pavs’.
#No! we, Bengalis aren’t essentially the one and only intellectual and dignified community in the country.
#Just cause I live in Bombay, it doesn’t mean I go jogging with different movie stars every morning or party with models every week-end.
#‘Tendu-Mendu’ is not how South Indian languages sound!
#I am not entirely sure if Ma Kali or Ma Durga are/were Bengali.
#No!! Eating fish doesn’t make you extraordinarily intelligent and is definitely not the secret behind the Bengali dexterity!
#Not all south Indian women are fat and dark……sheesh!!
#Communism is not the ONLY reason why China is prospering, take a look at the Soviet Union.
#Lots of milk and Ghee ALONE don’t make Punjabi men tall and fair.
#Tea doesn’t make you dark.
#Sporting a goatee ALONE doesn’t make you Muslim, the actual test is the turtle-neck test, go figure!
#Not every Bihari is an IAS officer!
#There is no compulsion to eat cakes on Christmas or Biriyani on Eid.
#All Afghan men do not ALWAYS have dry fruits in their pockets.
#And finally, NO, we Bengali men aren’t specially sought for by women everywhere….hard luck fellas!

This exploration of mine therefore might appear to give off a slight negative whiff but what the heck! Quirks are quirks! We all have ‘em. I’ve luckily had a fair share of experiencing Telugu quirks too but to do justice to the thoroughly exclusive ‘Bengali-ness’ of this composition I shall have to put up with the pain of refraining from discussing them here, it’s highly tempting though.
At the end of it all, I’d like to conclude that, among others, being overly and unrelentingly subject to such particularly odd cultural behavior and practices that too from two entirely different cultures, can have an unsafe and long-lasting effect on ones psyche and can often tend to make one highly obsessive and nervous (what many call being ‘goofy’), but fellas, I see it as a small side-effect of being BONG!