The Bengali bhodrolok (gentleman) is not always bhodro(gentle). They too fly off the handle but unlike some places in India, a Calcuttan’s anger is limited to a riposte
By Somashis Gupta
Soybean is mutton. It was a thought I harboured until I was 7. It is incredibly hard to exert your individuality at that age. No one ever wants your opinion about anything, on any subject, at any time, about nothing. The summer holiday to Shillong also detoured to Calcutta without my vote. For a young boy from the hills, June in Calcutta is like mashed chilli on toast. I soon realised how a tiny changeof ‘y’ to ‘i’ in the words ‘chilly’ and ‘chilli’, makes the eccrine and apocrine glands, work over time.
However my dadu bari (Grand parent’s home in Bengali) was fun. Located in Goria Gardens, it was unlike the concrete jungles of the city. The morning tea amidst lush green trees of the bungalow were accompanied with Britannia biscuits. The other partaker of the morning adda included, a murder of crows, a swarm of sparrows, and a few lapwings. The feed of rice grains seemed luscious, until one day my courteous mother offered them some biscuits. The rice grain remained untouched since then, leading to prosperity of Britannia further.
In due course, I advanced from Mickey and Donald shows to Star Movies, and so did my opinions, as I moved to Calcutta to ascertain my carrier. The city of joy was not joyous initially but with each approaching gray hair the fondness towards the place enhanced, just like my gray matter. Today the city is a part of my life indelibly. Let me tell you a few stories.
It was April, I remember, when I arrived in Calcutta.The extreme climate mixed with a sense of loss due to migration had a deleterious effect on my mental health, but still I moved on ….
….and on the bus was the first escapade of the city.
The rear most seat of the public bus can accommodate 8 to 9 people. The additional number 9, is subject to the surface occupied by mass of the posterior. In one such bus, a heavy weight rushes in, and to embed himself goes to the pre-seated 8 passengers, and says “Dada, ektu chepay” (please let me sit), a prompt reply comes “Jayga nai”(no place). A few minutes later, a bantam weight approached our sitting 8, and is offered a place instantly. The furious heavy weight starts protesting and raises his objections, when suddenly from somewhere in the bus comes a voice… “dada, baari ferar shomoy pocket e kore misti-kumro neben na pati lebu neben?”(Is it easy to carry a pumpkin or lemon in your pocket while going back home?). What a brilliant whataboutery I thought.
But the Bengali bhodrolok (gentleman), is not always bhodro(Gentle). They too fly the handle at times, but unlike some places in India where a fight often ends up in shooting each other, the magnitude of anger of a Calcuttan is expressed by a waggish riposte.
I was standing in one of the road side stall having ordered an egg roll. A man after receiving his roll, belligerently speaks to the shop keeper, and says .. “I would need to ‘phone a friend’ Durjodhan to unwrap this, he would need to do the bastraharan, before I can eat,” as it was wrapped with too many layers of paper.
The intellectual capital of India has a unique way of disparaging as well. In some parts of the country people add a prefix of your female relative when they abuse, but here, you get directly hit at your intelligence by being called a boka@#$& … oops I meant … well you know what I meant.
I saw a group of people once engaged in a verbal fight over some unknown issue. A dhoti clad elderly gentleman walks up to the crowd, gives his bajarer bag to a nearby shop, closes his umbrella and flings it at the crowd, I thought he might have dropped a clinger, but then, he goes to the shop, takes his bag, and asked “Poltu ki hoyache ray?” (Paltu why are they fighting). A deliberate attempt to show protest, and I realized I am in Calcutta.
A bus ride in Calcutta is an experience in itself. You can often hear the bus conductor shouting at the driver “aaste, ladiz kole bachcha” (slow down lady with a kid), but the other day,a handyman called out “aaste, jama nabche” (slow down cloths disembarking). A surprised me looks out, and finds, the dupatta of the lady who just got down, was still in the staircase of the bus. Innovative humour at its best.
I have travelled far and I have travelled wide , but I have never seen a place so unique, which gives me warmth, which gives me laughter and which gives me life, perhaps that is why they call it “the sweetest place in India”, and that is why the city is a part of my life indelibly.
PS: Some portions are an adaptation from the jokes of Harry Belafonte, Dipangshu Acharya and Anirban Dasgupta.
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.