I was trying to get the little woman to leave her Jap and Mexican authors aside and read Sankar's Middleman.
"Why are you Bengalis so clannish?", she exclaimed in exasperation.
She would know, being married to one. And, being in advertising, quite a few of her close friends are Bengali too.
I have heard others smirk and say that two Bengalis always break into Bengali when they meet each other, even when non Bengalis are around.
Well I have seen Malayalis, Tamils, Parsis and Gujaratis do that too. So do people from the Hindi belt except that Hindi doesn't stand out as much as quite a few speak it.
But yes, it is downright rude to break into a language when there are others around who don't understand it.
Put two Bengalis together and they will rubbish Bombay's biriyani in comparison to Shiraz's and Chowpatty's paani puri's in comparison to Lindsay Street Phhuchkas. And nothing will convince them that even Golden Dragon or Royal China or China Garden are a patch on the Chinese of Barbeque, Tangra and Jimmy's Kitchen or that there will ever be a continental dish which matches up to Mocambo's fish a la diana. We are food chauvinists.
But I have seen Tam Bran friends go weak in their knees over tahir sadam (might have spelt it wrong) or curd rice and Punjabis who go to buffets and fondly call dahi vadas dahi vallas and black daals maa ki daal.
You would also find to the last existing die hard fans of Saurav Ganguly amongst Bengalis. But cut us some slack. There hasn't been a single Bengali sportsman of note since Netaji kicked his Principal down the steps of Presidency.
While I am not much into it ... Bengali books and papers are widely read in Mumbai. And music from Tagore to Hemanta to Bangla Rock would be in quite a few Ipods of Bengalis outside Calcutta.
But then I have Malayali friends who would be in seventh heaven when they found Malayali films in grocery shops in New Bombay.
And if there are eight Bengalis, one more than required to start a trade union, then you will surely find a Durga Puja. Even if its on the surface of the moon! I think that's where we over shadow festivals of any other immigrant communities.
The Bengali accent and their way of speaking English and Hindi are often subjects of mirth in pop culture. But then show me a single Indian community which doesn't have its own way of speaking English and I will show you an American who spells correctly.
I think that the one reason why Bengalis and their idiosyncrasies stand out is that you have a disproportionately high number of us in circles such as arts (films, music, literature), media, advertising, market research and even marketing. Circles which a number of Facebookers and Bloggers belong too.
On the clannish bit... I think that there is a certain comfort that emigrants, or probashis as they say in Bengali, find in shared memories. This, I think is fine and innocuous in comparison to the communal diatribes, lingual xenophobia, religious posturing and cultural intolerance that surround India today.
I have heard out of towners say they find it tough to mix in and feel at home in Calcutta. I agree with that.
But then show me any other city in India, apart from Mumbai, where people can feel at home so easily.
So are Bengalis clannish?
I would think so.