Putting rights issues through the looking glass. Not seeking answers, just some food for thought to see whether things could be any different!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

These are a few of my favourite things...The Bengali must haves check list!

What is the one thing that binds together a community in a cosmopolitan setting like today? It used to be one's cultural identity, but today, when Bengali weddings have a mehndi and sangeet ceremony and Punjabi brides wear shakha-pala( the white and red bangles that Bengali married women wear!), such cultural divides are disappearing! Call me regionalistic, call me parochial, but I still hold my Bengali identity very dear to me, after my individual identity, of course! Yes, I would love to call myself an internationalist or multiculturalist because it's with it but I am sooo not so!
The question that I ask myself often is that how does one maintain one's Bengali identity, living in a metropolitan city and calling oneself cosmopolitan? I mean, what is it that makes me a Bengali, apart from my last name and the language I speak and distinctly so? Does it mean that I have to listen to Rabindra Sangeet, don a tant saree at every given opportunity or mouth lines by Jibanananda Das to express every feeling of mine? Hell no...On the contrary, I listen to Himesh Reshamiyya and will confess, that I actually like some of his songs, Jhalak Dikhla Ja, in particular, like wearing sarees only very ocassionally when I really want to look good (they are such a hassle otherrwise) and resort to poetry only when I need to quote someone on something and my limited vocabulary has completely failed me and this happens quite often!
As a child, unlike most other Bengali parents, my parents realised that both, my sister and I were normal children, who were no child prodigies, with any special gift! So, they put us in a decent Engliss medium school, not too far away from home and were happy. We were not asked to learn and master the art of singing, dancing, one or more sport/s, painting and as many Bengali kids, at the time, were not put into schools for learning recitation and stuff. My sister expressed a desire to paint and wanted to learn art, so I joined her for fun. Soon enough, I realised I am and never will be a Paul Gauguin or Ganesh Pyne and happily quit. Sometime later, someone told my mother that my sister and I could sing in tune, as we were both singing Hindi film songs all the time at home. My mother asked us if we wanted to learn music and we joined a music school happily, as it gave us something constructive to do on weekends plus you could tell your friends that you actually did something, pursued some arty-farty interests, outside of school. Off we went to music school, but even that did not last longer than a year. We were fed up when our mother, in collusion with the music teacher, of course, began coaxing us to rise early every morning to do riyaz, as if early morning school was not bad enough. Thus, we decided to quit and with that ended our mother's interest in actually trying to make us pursue a hobby. In fact, many parents found it strange that both of us tried our hands at singing and did not pursue it further. We were quite deprived as children, among our contemporaries. Untalented and unmeritorious as we were, our parents also made little effort to hone our lack of talent, so that we could blossom..poor us!
Be that as it may, we were happy. We could watch as much television as we could, as long as we did our homework on time and there was no pressure to excel in any other field, other than education. How much we have achieved in education, is also a bone of contention, among us and our parents and we never blamed them for it! Imagine, being a Bong, doing just one thing and not excelling in it...Such a shame!
What I am trying to say and not so eloquently is that we learnt a lot of things, despite not being taught to do them. I grew up to like music and art a lot, without learning them. I grew up watching my parents and other members of the family, read a lot, so I developed an interest in reading. No one in my immediate family showed great musical inclination, which explains my random, eclectic taste in music, of Himesh Reshamiyya and the likes but hey, I like classical music too, but not for very long, at a stretch, as it strains my musical senses after a while. That is why I like concerts like Music in the Park which have good live music, a good ambience and do not last longer than an hour. The lesser duration of these concerts are largely attributable to less payment to musicians by SPICMACAY, a cultural awareness organisation which encourages classical musicians to do some social good for a lot less money! Unfortunately, not all concert organisers are this generous!
Given the social definition of a Bengali, as being intellectually superior, culturally aware and socially distant from those unlike themselves, I fail to qualify completely. I donot wear dhakai sarees with dokra jewellery and donot celebrate Tagore's or Netaji's birthday, as if it were my own! Yet, when I look into my junk wardrobe and sparse cosmetics collection, I do find a few things that make me a true, proud Bengali, more Bengali than the Tagore loving, fish eating Bengali.
Bengalis have the unique distinction of taking many things from outside and making it their own. Yes, you can associate many things with a culture that is distinctly their own but in most cases, these distinct characteristics emanates from within themselves, like their eating habits or clothing etc, like Mallus and banana chips and Gujaratis and chiwda. But the Bengali case is quite different. Some call it brand loyalty but I call it Khaanti Bangaliyana.
Here comes my list of Bengali must haves, after a lot of rambling and several diagressions:
1. Boroline (Despite having maximum oil content and an atrociously strong smell, Boroline is the preferred cream for many Bengalis, over many new age non-oily, non-sticky creams!
2. Margo soap (What kind of a Bengali are you, if you don't emerge after a bath, smelling like some sort of an ayurvedic pure neem assortment?)
3. Monkey cap, also called Maankey cap ( I proudly proclaim that I do not own one but it is an absolute must have, protecting many a Bengali during the non existent winters that plague Calcutta at the end of the year. Come October and these caps, a species on their own, emerge from the hidden closets of a Bengali houselhold. Winter fashion in Bengal would not have been the same without this ultimate winter weapon!)
4. Britannia Marie Biscuits (No one munches Marie biscoots with chai, the way we Bengalis do! To hell with Parle Hide and Seek and Shrewsberry cookies; low on sweet content, donning a simple, saada look, packed in an equally boring and unexciting yellow packet and priced reasonably, Marie rocks!)
5. Keo Karpin Hair Oil ( The green fluid that has adorned and enhanced many a Bengali beauty's lovely long tresses...If there is an oilier oil than this hair oil, kindly let me know, as I will demonstrate for its withdrawal from the hair oil market. This crown should never slip out of the hands of Dey's Medical, the manufacturer of KK)
6. AD oil (If you have not been regularly massaged with AD oil, as a fat Bengali child, go sue your parents because they have deprived you of silky, smooth flawless skin! Go hide your dry, pimple, acne ridden skin until you buy your own pack of AD Vitamin Oil)
7. Robinson's Barley (The first thing that an overeating, obese Bengali baby is exposed to after a doting and overindulgent mom, Johnson's baby products and lots of food, is this product!)
8. Monkey brand toothpowder (The Maankey fascination continues...see, we constantly remind ourselves where we come from?)
9. Medicines (The Medicine box is an asset to a Bengali household and can put any small chemist shop to shame. Often the contents of such box is predictable, as most medicines are related to stomach ailments, tummy upset, indigestion, acidity, gastric or simple stomach aches!)
10. Finally, the jhola bag (The Bengalis have converted this boring potli where old travelling bards stored all their belongings into a fashion statement, so much so, that if you are in undergrad college and do not carry a jhola, you are sooooooo out of the loop! It gives you that vagabondish yet intellectual serious look!)
If you donot possess at least half of the items on the list, then get ready for your membership to the Bengali brigade to be unequivocally revoked. I am sure there are many such other things that we all-embracing Bengalis have made our own! We Bengalis, redefine the term, brand loyalty! Go conduct a survey of these brands (some of them, have even lost their status as brands, so we will call them products!) and you will see, that Bengalis are the highest purchasers of these products. Talk about being supportive and learn it from us! HAIL BENGALIS!


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