Monday, April 27, 2009

Bengali A - Z

Something I picked up recently... The A - Z for Bengalis...

A is for Awpheesh (as in Office). This is where the average Kolkakatan goes and spends a day hard at work. And if he works for the 'Vest Bengal Gawrment' he will arrive at 10, wipe his forehead till 11, have a tea break at 12, throw around a few files at 12.30, break for lunch at 1, smoke an unfiltered cigarette at 2, break for tea at 3, sleep sitting down at 4 and go home at 4:30. It's a hard life!

B is for Bhision. For some reason many Bengalis don't have good bhision. In fact in Kolkata most people are wearing spectacles all the time.(too many plays to attend,shongeet programs)

C is for Chappell. Currently, this is the Bengali word for the Devil, for the worst form of evil. In the night mothers put their kids to sleep saying, 'Na ghumaley Chappell eshey dhorey niye jabe.'(remember ' so jao nahi to Gabbar aa jayega'....thanks Sippy sahab)

D is for Debashish or any other name starting with Deb. By an ancient law every fourth Bengali Child has to be named Debashish. So you have a Debashish everywhere and trying to get creative they are also called Deb, Debu, Deba with variations like Debopriyo, Deboprotim, Debojyoti, etc. thrown in at times.

E is for Eeesh. This is a very common Bengali exclamation made famous by Aishwarya Rai in the movie Devdas. It is estimated that on an average a Bengali, especially Bengali women, use eeesh 10,089 times every year. 'Ei Morechhey' is a close second to Eeesh.

F is for Feeesh. These are creatures that swim in rivers and seas and are a favourite food of the Bengalis. Despite the fact that a fish market has such strong smells, with one sniff a Bengali knows if a fish is all right. If not, he will say 'eeesh what feeesh is theesh!'

G is for Good name. Every Bengali boy will have a good name like Debashish or Deboprotim and a pet name like Motka, Bhombol, Thobla, etc. While every Bengali girls will have pet names like Tia, Tua,Tumpa , Tuktuki, Mishti, Khuku et cetera.

H is for Harmonium. This the Bengali equivalent of a rock guitar. Take four Bengalis and a Harmonium and you have the successors to The Bheatles!(2 lac impersonators of the bhetols and elvis da in North kolkata only)

I is for lleesh. This is a feeesh with 10,000 bones which would kill any ordinary person, but which the Bengalis eat with releeesh!

J is for Jhola. No selfrespecting Bengali is complete without his Jhola. It is a shapeless cloth bag where he keeps all his belongings and he fits an amazing number of things in. Even as you read this there are two million jholas bobbling around Kolkata, and they all look exactly the same! Note that 'Jhol' as in Maachher Jhol is a close second.

K is for Kee Kaando !. It used to be the favourite Bengali exclamation till eeesh took over because of Aishwarya Rai (now Kee Kando's agent is trying to hire Bipasha Basu).

L is for Lungi, the dress for all occasions. People in Kolkata manage to play football and cricket wearing it not to mention the daily trip in the morning to the local bajaar. Now there is talk of a lungi expedition to Mt Everest.

M is for Minibaas. These are dangerous half buses whose antics would effortlessly frighten the living daylights out of all James Bond stuntmen as well as Formula 1 race car drivers.

N is for Nangto. This is the Bengali word for Naked. It is the most interesting naked word in any language!

O is for Oil. The Bengalis believe that a touch of mustard oil will cure anything from cold (oil in the nose), to earache (oil in the ear), to cough (oil on the throat) to piles (oil you know where!).

P is for Phootball. This is always a phavourite phassion of the Kolkattan. Every Bengali is born an expert in this game. The two biggest clubs there are Mohunbagan and East Bengal and when they play the city comes to a stop.

Q is for Queen. This really has nothing to do with the Bengalis or Kolkata, but it's the only Q word I could think of at this moment. There's also Quilt but they never use them in Kolkata.

R is for Robi Thakur. Many many years ago Rabindranath got the Nobel Prize. This has given the right to all Bengalis no matter where they are to frame their acceptance speeches as if they were directly related to the great poet and walk with their head held high. This also gives Bengalis the birthright to look down at Delhi and Mumbai and of course 'all non-Bengawlees'! Note that 'Rawshogolla' comes a close second ! and a closer third is 'Robindro shongeet' ...every
child born first sings a verse of robindro shongeet before asking for mothers' milk)

S is for Shourav. Now that they finally produced a genuine cricketer and a captain, Bengalis think that he should be allowed to play until he is 70 years old. Of course they will see to it that he stays in good form by doing a little bit of 'jawggo' and 'maanot'.

T is for Trams. Hundred years later there are still trams in Kolkata. Of course if you are in a hurry it's faster to walk.

U is for Aambrela. When a Bengali baby is born he is handed one.(a statement for 'upwaardly mobile bengalis') A close second is Uttam Kumar.....the Rock Hudson of Goria..haat.....

V is for Bhaayolence. Bengalis are the most non-violent violent people around. When an accident happens they will fold up their sleeves, shout and scream and curse and abuse, "Chherey De Bolchhi" but the last time someone actually hit someone was in 1979.

W is for Water. For three months of the year the city is underwater and every year for the last 200 years the authorities are taken by surprise by this!

X is for X'mas. It's very big in Kolkata, with Park Street fully lit up and all Bengalis agreeing that they must eat cake that day,abandoning their roshogoollas and shondesh for a day.....

Y is for Yesshtaarday. Which is always better than today for a Bengali (see R for Robi Thakur).

Z is for Jebra, Joo, Jipper and Jylophone.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shubho Nabo Borsho

Not the very apt time to write about the quintessential 'Pujo' of Bengalis but with 'Poila Boishakh' (Bengali New Year) coming up tomorrow, I have suddenly started feeling very 'Bengali'!!! This, in a world where we are so cosmopolitan! In fact, coming to think of it, tell any Mumbaikar that he lives in a Maharashtrian city or any resident of Bangalore that he lives in a Kannada one and s/he will take immediate offence. S/he will immediately launch in a tirade of how high the pot-purri of cultual mix exists, of the wide roads, the night-life, the wi-fi and the wide and diverse set of people that inhabit the cities.

But then, there are those cities that are far away from the techno-babble (and bubble); that are rooted deep in their identity as a non-cosmopolitan, traditionalist city that takes pride in being just the way it is. Kolkata (or Calcutta as I have always called it, inspite of the fact that the Bengali pronunciation is Kolkata) is one such city.

I have not lived in this city for an extended period of time. A visit for a few weeks every alternate year was just about, more than enough for me - I always found the life there very slow and laid back compared to the fast life in Mumbai. But the true way to explore a city is by staying there on your own and I was given the opportunity to do so during my post-graduate internship with ITC. The two months that I spent there alone, without my immediate or extended family, taught me a lot about the city, its hues and cultures, its people and most importantly, changed my perception about the city.

Calcutta has deep passions, cheerful chaos, utter contempt for commerce and fiery responses to the smallest provocation. And at the same time, it has the love for culture, arts, intellect; it is bare in all its emotions - it is humane and exudes warmth and comfort. It truly is the City of Joy in many ways! We define most cities by the infrastructural / financial / cosmopolitan outlook and growth but Calcutta is one place which is defined by its people.

And this is where the 'Pujo' comes in... and it so much more than just worship! Calcutta immerses in the joy of celebration, of artistic expression and the brightness of colours and music of the 'dhaks'... the 'fragrance' of fried fish, the 'shidur khela', the 'Anjali', the competition between pandaals to see which is better, the riot of colours... The 'Pujo' is simply a celebration of life, for the City of Joy.

I was told that the city would grow on me. And guess what, it did. Without knowing, it quietly stepped into my heart and won over my soul!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sambar of '69

Was going through some of my old treasured mails and found this one...
(To be sung to the tune of Bryan Adam's Summer of '69)

I had my first real six rupees.
Stole it from my father's pants.
Went to a madrasi hotel,
to eat the Sambar of '69.

Me and some kadke dost,
Had it all and we caught bukhaar,
Jimy puked, Joey got ulcers,
And Bagga ne maari dakar.

Oh when I went back there now,
The food was as stale as ever,
And though it was 1999,
Still the Sambar was being served over there...
That was the worst food of my life...
Back to the Sambar of '69.

There's no use in complaining,
When you got no other place to eat,
Rushed in the evening to the doctors clinic,
But he too was at the toilet seat,

Yeah standing there waiting outside,
Nurse told me I will wait forever,
Oh and when I held my breath,
I knew that I had to use that loo there
That was the worst food of my life.
Back to the Sambar of '69.

Man I was getting killed,
I was full and restless,
I needed to unwind,
I guess nothing can wait forever - FOREVER... NO!!!!

And now the dhabas are changing,
New dishes have come and gone,
Sometimes when I pass that old Madrasi lane,
I still smell it, I can't be wrong.

Standing in those unwashed clothes,
The waiters still call me in there,
Oh the way my nostrils burn,
I know that it will be served forever,
What was the worst food of my life.
Yeah it was the Sambar of '69, the Sambar, the Sambar, the Sambar of '69 .....