Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Untitled

IMG_5012 Bangalore has quite an impressive mix of the Bengali Diaspora- some straight from Calcutta, others Probashis like me.Start walking on Brigade Road on a busy Saturday evening and you will invariably see quite a few of them- Khukudis holding dear bor’s arms, walking with absolute laziness, shankha and pola jingling away.Like almost all Indian communities, Bengalis have a special way of making their presence felt- from Calcutta to California, and sooner rather than later someone will definitely mention Rabindra Sangeet, notun gurer shondesh, mishti doi, and bhapa eelish- the soul of Bengal.As a Probashi (a term which I do not like personally), I made sure that I too belonged to this Bhodrolok culture!!However, the efforts sometimes did not miss the Calcutta true-blue Bengalis’ jibes. More recently, being termed as “Biharini” by one such snooty but hopefully true cognoscenti. Totally dismissing the fact that I being a Bihari-Bengali was just a matter of belonging to a particular state!!Still not letting it dampen my efforts to be a part of the soul of Bengal- I invited some of my Bangalore-based Bengali friends over for a Sunday afternoon lunch.A whole bunch of Rabindra sangeet CDs were stacked for the day. Cued in Aami chini go chini to sink in the passionate credo of the culture that am so proud of.Lunch was a simple begun/alu bhaja, cholaar daal with grated narkol, steamy white rice, and the mother of all Bengali meals- eelish maach. Tenderly steamed in shorshe baata (and my Mum’s tip of adding a little of the aphrodisiac poppy seeds), with peppery green chilies, mustard oil, and salt.The supreme culmination almost ready, I was waiting for what I had outsourced to a cook from 24 Paraganas- Shankor- who got a tray full of notun gurer shondesh and a maalsha of mishti doi.The scene set - the house smelt beautifully different with the strong eelish and the Rajnigandha sticks delicately stemmed in vases all over.How about some Rabindra Sangeet? Some one said so Arnabda was urged to regale the eight of us. And sure enough he said demurely- Gola boshe gaiche. Literal meaning- My throat has sat down. Real meaning – you want me to sing, baebyyy you gotta work at it.So after much cajoling Arnabda cocked his head artistically to one side- presumable to enable the “sitting down” vocal chords to a more elevated status. Arnabda gave tune to the words and everyone fell into a trance.We all looked like custodians of Gurudeb’s legacy. All of us- the pub –hopping tequila drinking babes clad in halter necks, and dudes smoking Marlboros. Particularly me – The Biharini!!We talked about phootball, the stunning taste of eelish, Momotadi, CPI, michhil and the new emerging Calcutta. While at the background Ei monihar, kusume kusume charana chinha and other high church songs written by Tagore played on. With Ei jibone purno koro playing melodiously on my SONY music system, I frisked away to get the begun bhaja in the mustard oil.Then the Karnataka electricity board purno karoed the epiphany through a power cut. SONY fell silent. The aroma of frying mustard oil receded. And from somewhere distant we heard a baaje Hindi phillum song filtering in…

Double Dilemma

Ever since I was fifteen, I was brought up on a double diet of mush, lavishly sprinkled by the Mills & Boons and the Harlequin romances that I read. Friends at the strict convent school always talked about boys, a topic of conversation that was sure to make the nuns pass out in shock! What a double life we were leading, in and outside the classrooms! At home, it was a different story altogether.My Dida was one potent figure at home, who made sure that we girls were brought up properly, as befits women! The infinite ways in which she brought all her hopes and aspirations in marrying us off at eighteen and declaring the Shashtras over and over again about marriage, family, children, etc., was a horrifying experience of sorts for my progressive parents! She would always make them feel like sinners with her patent- “Do you know the Shashtras say if parents die without getting their daughter married, they will be condemned to perpetual rebirth.” My father would give a feeble, “I don't believe in all that stuff, and I think, as an educated lady, neither should you.”Every time we had a puja at home, Dida would insist that I sit next to her. And I always followed obediently…well most of the times. Every time I closed my eyes obediently a delicious image of a romantic, somewhat shadowy young man holding me in his strong manly embrace conjured my mind. “Are you praying?” My grandmother would ask suspiciously. “Of course I'm praying,” I would reply indignantly, “you never trust me.”Giving a soul-killing sigh, I would think how would Dida dear know that I was prey to inchoate longings, desired almost every boy I saw, then stood long hours before the mirror gazing at my pimples, bug’s tooth, and the unmanageable pouffĂ© of frizzy hair, before getting ready for school again!