Friday, October 12, 2007

Going Bong-kers

'Tui ki ghoti?' she asked me.

(Are you a ghoti?)

'Huh?' I responded brightly, while my mind cartwheeled over thoughts of ghoti (a metallic container for water), baati (bowl) and other such utensils.

'I mean, are you from West Bengal or East Bengal?' she explained patiently, treating me with the upturned-nose tolerance a fish-hating, probashi Bengali deserves from a blue-blooded Calcuttan.

The brass, steel and aluminium vessels making towers in my mind came crashing down as I thought for a second before replying.

This was Delhi 1999 and I had never been asked this question before. When I came home and related this conversation to my grandmother, who had left Calcutta at the age of 20 and refused to learn Hindi or what gender a car was when you referred to it, hooted with laughter (if you can imagine a 70-year old lady doing so).

As a probashi Bengali (one raised outside of Bengal), Kolkata as a concept, as a city, as a living breathing entity has always been just outside my reach. My parents were hopeless - hailing from UP and Delhi, they ensured that I spoke Hindi as a child. Ostensibly because it helped me communicate with everyone, but in reality because it helped them use Bangla as a code, against me. When I caught on (at the tender age of 5), I tenaciously tried speaking Bangla, though even today I translate from Hindi and all my true-blue Bong friends/relatives/in-laws laugh uproariously/smile tolerantly/smile indulgently respectively.

Eta shotti hocchhe.

Is what I say, which translates from wrong Bengali into wrong English as 'It is being true.' For that's what I'd say when I translate 'Yeh sach hai' into Bangla.

As you can see, my ignorance of all things Calcuttan and many things Bengali did not work well for me when I got married. After all, I chose to marry a Bengali, from Kolkata, who loves fish, who gets all mushy at the thought of Durga Pujo and can spend it nowhere but Kolkata, whose idea of keeping in touch with his roots (in extreme circumstances) often includes checking vegetable rates at the para market on some obscure website while he sits in the Middle East, whose mother mastered Bangla literature, who grew up reading fantastic, homegrown, children's Bangla literature where they eat monda-mithai rather than the unknown and unknowable scones Enid Blyton told me about, who reads and writes Bangla like a natural while I labour over the joint letters and must read out loud.

On a serious note, the one thing I regret in all this is that the beauty of Bangla literature, to me, is like outer space. I know it exists, but I have not experienced it first-hand. I want to remedy that, because my probashi father, Premchand-reading and shaayri-reciting, educated himself in Bangla and can now hold his own in a conversation on Bangla prose and poetry. So I have no excuse. I read Bengali bloggers and they are all steeped in knowledge of their literature as well as the world's, and I feel ashamed to know only Shakespeare.

In the one year since I got married, I have had several occasions to realise how little Bengali-ness pervaded my growing-up years. Sure, Thakurmar Jhuli (Grandma's Bag of Tales) was read out to me and my brother at bedtime, but so were Russian fairy tales and Noddy. Durga Pujo meant new clothes, but the thrill of Bijoya Dashami and the bhashaan (immersion of the idol) went unfelt as I watched the Ravana effigy at the local Ramlila park explode while a tape-recorder played the giant's raucous laughter and people shouted 'Siya pati Ramchandra ki Jai'.

I think I am a bad Bengali. No, I know I am. My sweet tooth may have been a saving grace, but brownies and besan laddoos win over rosogollas every time. About fish, the less said the better. I dislike shukto, faint at the thought of shinni. I feel no regional affiliation at all. I don't scan admission lists or colleagues' names to see how many other names are Bengali ones. I don't go insane with joy if Sourav Ganguly scores a century. Nor do I allege regional bias when he is kept off the team. And, my goodness, I don't ooze horror like my Dida used to at the new breed of 'shekshy' (sexy) Bengali sirens 'Ghenna' (disgust), she would say, and stomp off when Bips pouted on screen.

Which means that when I am roaming the pandals of Kolkata next week in my notun-bou avatar in my first ever Kolkata Durga Pujo, I will need to lie low. Kolkata's going nuts about, and because of, Pujo as it probably does every year. But this time I watch in alarm the building tide of enthusiasm as seen on Bangla TV, because I'm going to be there. And, since I do love mishti doi, rolls and phuchkas, I will be part of the traffic jams and the serpentine queues, of the crowds at Kalpana Mishthanna Bhandar, at Samrat's Hot Rolls, at Annapurna Mishthanna Bhandar, at Bedouin's Biryani outlets, at Madhukshara Mishthanna Bhandar, at Dolly's Tea House, at Maa Durga Shooeets, and, eventually, I will be trying to cut the line at Maa Kali Chemists, asking for Pudin Hara.


eve's lungs said...

Been there ,done all that but love it now ,though I think back with love and longing for all things hinterlandish ! Are you perhaps a ghost edition of me

A Muser said...

I feel for you. As a Punj-Sindhi offspring growing up in Mumbai with knowledge of neither Punjabi or Sindhi (and truth be told, barely any Marathi), I'd elicit expressions of horror from sundry relatives for being sooooo "Western" (OK, my Hindi was pretty bad as well; we spoke English at home, how terrible is that!) My Hindi's improved by leaps and bounds, but those Sindhi relatives - and now Punj in-laws - still shake their hoary heads at me. Ah well. Have fun in Kolkata at your first Pujo!

The Weekend Blogger said...

My uncle calls me a "Synthetic Bong" because although I speak the language , I do things that no self-respecting Bong does "hate fish". My mom-in-law thinks that I come from some other planet.

Anyway, as a notun bou, your pujas in Kolkata are bound be special especially the "sidhoor khela". Please do participate and put up a post on your experiences. Just take care of your health.

Sandeepa said...

ha ha...prochondo hashi pache. I am the "hochche" kind having grown up initially outside Bengal and then outside Cal.

However I love being a Bengali, more so now when I am far from home.

But would love to talk to your hubby as I am a Bengali fiction fan. I read as much Gogol and Feluda as Enid Blytons. Even now I I get loads of contemporary Bangla Gopper Boi on my India visits including stacks of "sananda" ;-)(ask Eves Lungs if you don't know what it is, or your parar magazine wala)

have a request for you. Can you please, please post some pics of Kolkata Durga Pujo and write up ? I intend to do some Durga Pujo posts and would love to have other bong blog/non-blog readers to chip in.

If you have a write up, I shall link to it. You get time till Lakshmi Pujo for this. Pretty, pretty please.

Rastar Fuchka ar roll er chobi pele aro bhalo

Sandeepa said...

Kobe jacho Kolkata ?

Suki said...

Ei, you're coming to Kolkata? When, where? where? Email me!

No need to feel bad about the probashi bangali thing. Blood and birth are made a bit too much of nowadays. I was in pretty much the same boat till I came here to settle down, and my Bangla still sucks. I can somehow hold my own while speaking it, but writing is beyond me.
Worst of all, I apparently speak in a mixed-up dialect of ghoti and bati. Am sure you've been enlightened as to what those are by now! :P

(good to see you back! :D)

Anamika said...

Eve's Lungs: Ghost edition may be just about right. How else do you explain that we both read and liked The Chestry Oak, which so many people have never heard of?
Anyway, you give me hope :)

A Muser: Look at it this way, you are giving so many people an easy way to feel superior. Who cares. You should adopt one of my favourite Punjabi phrases: Sannu ki?

TWB: You hate fish too? Awesome. I want to start a club now. Yup, looking forward to all that stuff that I always saw my Ma and Dida do.

Sandeepa: Eta funny hocchhe :)
I go to Cal on Tuesday. I will try blogging, but cannot locate my camera cable. Lakshmi Pujo deadline...hmmm.

Yeah, thanks to Anando am getting initiated into books like Raanu'r Prothom Bhag which he reads out me and MIL and we all fall down laughing. And hmpf (!)...I know what Sananda is. Also, Nabokallol, Desh Pujo Shankhya and Anando Lok. Kemon???

Suki: We'll catch up. Looking forward to meeting you. I like 'blood and birth are made too much of'. I so agree.

the mad momma said...

:D so you do know how I feel! funny but in all these years i feel i didnt get to know you half as much as i do after we started blogging!

Sandeepa said...

Wow you know "sananda"...aparna sen would be mighty pleased :)

Amar cousin er abastha tomar moton, her MIL is trying to teach her to read Bengali and poor thing has started with Tagore's Galpo Guchcha !!!

OrangeJammies said...

lol! you should let me guide you, hon! not that i'm a kolkata expert. just a food one ;0) but what's the use, oh what's the USE??? You don't like phish!!!!

Dipta Chaudhuri said...

You know, the worst part of being Bong is having to live with the stereotypes.
Lots of Bongs don't like sandesh, can do without fish for long spells, hate Durga Pujo because of the crowds and feel Dravid is a better batsman than Sourav (though, not on the offside)!

So, I welcome Sympathetic Bongs like you - as you indulge your husband in his Puja-hopping trips!

And as the Bongs say, Shubho Bijoya!

eve's lungs said...

Tumi ki ekhono pujar jam a aatkey accho ?

Anamika said...

MM: The web's a funny thing innit?

OJ: Now don't YOU start on fish-haters. At least I like brownies!

Dipta: Thanks for dropping by. And for understandng. Am back now, and have survived all that, and will tell the tale :)

Eve's Lungs: Just escaped it (cough cough) and flew back to Bombay!