Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bangla Rocks

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.


Rhea said...


Also, we (for the most part) tend to think we're superior to other desis for some odd reason. I find that "not nice".

Also, "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.
" - Loved this! He he..

Scarlett said...

I too think Bengalis are extremely clannish (though I'm not denying that there are other communities who're clannish as well). They bond with you automatically if you can speak Bengali too, irrespective of what kind of person you are. This is particularly frustrating when it happens in a professional setting. You wouldn't normally see Hindi speaking people do that. They aren't likely to bond any more with someone whose mother tongue is Hindi vis-a-vis someone who has a different linguistic background.

Also, I too think it's extremely rude to break into your mother tongue when there are non-speakers around. Very rude & disrespectful.

k said...

is a non-bengali allowed to comment on this post?

The knife said...

@Rhea: the word hubris was invented for us. But at the end of it Pranabda will remain a Rambo dousing fires while Madam and the Dr take the calls

@Scarlett: I can totally empathise with what you are saying. I felt that when i returned to Cal years back after a 6 month training in Mumbai. I used to wonder about how outsiders would survive in Cal offices. From what I understand, your ofice has become more Bangla dominated over the years

I used to be a subject of much wonder and mirth when I came to Cal as a kid from abroad. Specially my accent and attempts to speak Bangla.

Having said that, we just got off the phone with a client who broke into Hindi. Most Delhi office folks speak in Hindi. Except those in MR offices who speak in Bengali. And try surviving in Chennai without knowing Tamil. Or in Bangkok without knowing Thai.

I think Mumbai has spoilt us. This is the only place with truly cosmopolitan office. Most other cities are fairly closed and need to be broken into.

I don't think that all Bengalis bond only with people who speak Bangla. But generally people tend to indulge those who make an attempt to speak their lingo. Try a smattering of Marathi with a Mama here.

I have unabashedly used this to get discounts from Bangladeshi flower wallahs at Mumbai

@K: a non Bengali takes all calls in our house in case :)

Diwakar Sinha said...

Yeah we are...