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With Love – Subho Noboborsho & Rongali Bihu

With Love – Subho Noboborsho & Rongali Bihu

Pauline looking at the food

Will language be a barrier for Pauline? Will she understand the concept of Noboborsho and Bihu? Find out in the story of Pauline, a French research scholar, who visits Kolkata during the festive season.

By Somashis Gupta

When I told my mother, that Pauline is coming to town, her immediate reaction was “Kolkata eshe hotel keno amar bari thakbe.She wanted Pauline to stay here in our house instead of a hotel. This is probably what is called traditional Indian hospitality, where even a complete stranger is welcome in our homes. But in this case, it is partial not ‘complete’, as Pauline is somewhat known from her virtual interaction over the past few years.

Pauline, a research scholar in Indian History from Panthéon-Assas University, Paris, came across one of my writings and emailed me. Since then we are in constant contact. From Email it went to Whatsapp and eventually video calls. I enjoy these interactions. Not just because ofher gifted looks but also for the opportunity to improve my French communication. Now, don’t get the impression that it is a love story, it is not. I have always been a logophile.

The customary spring cleaning for poila boishak was special this year. After all not every day you host a memsahib (foreigner). The domestic help, the maids, even the cook and the driver joined the madness which went on in the house for 7 long days. Finally it was the 14th of April, the day for Pauline to arrive in the city of joy.

I received Pauline at the Calcutta airport after her 20 hour long flight from Paris. When I told her that she would be staying with us she was overwhelmed at this instant experience of Indian culture. The hour long drive from the airport mostly passed discussing books of interest. Pauline was the loquacious type.I was relieved, relived because words overpowered the never ending honks by the passing cars, which is equally unequal to the softness of Indian culture.

The next day, the 15th of April, Pauline walkedin to the living room wearing an Egyptian cotton spaghetti top and shorts, leaving the maids open mouthed. I quickly offered her some freshly brewed Makaibari to deviate the awkwardness. My mother realizing the situation did her part by wishing “Subho Noboborsho.

“Quell?” (What?) Clueless Pauline asked my mother. Getting the clue, I clued her in the wish of Bengali New Year, increasing her cluelessness of dual New Year. She asked “Nouvel An?”(New Year?).

To relieve her from the muddled state I said Les Bengalis ont le Nouvel An deux fois.(We celebrate two New Year in this part of the globe). It was then, as if to relieve me from further explanation, Runu my housekeeper walk in with luchi, alurdom, cholardal, roshogolla, shondesh, payeshand ammpannar shorbot.

Pauline was an inborn epicure, she loved the breakfast. With an intention to eat one more luchi she told my mother “une”(One more).My mother related it with shono (listen). She replied,“Bolo”(Tell me). This amusement of Uno-Shono went on for a while, before I diverted my attention from alurdom to the confusion, rescuing the situation with my translation.

A decision to take her to Adi Dhakeswari Bastralaya for hal khata maintained the continuity of comedy of errors. As we reached the shop, finding the decoration she asked quelle est l’occasion(What is the occasion?). I explained the concept of hal khata (new accounts book) and told her about the Pujas and rituals of the occasion.

As we entered, almost like a magic her woman instinct took control. Baffled at the display of the sarees she went on checking the collection of jamdani, dhakai silk, tant, baluchuri, toshor, gorod and many more. The discussion which went on between the sales man and Pauline was as follows-

“Bonjur commet allezvous?”(Hello, how are you?)Pauline greeted.

“Komola Lebu? Lebu toh nai. Jol khaben?” (I don’t have orange but would you like some water?) replied the salesman.

“je vais bien, merci” (I am good, thank you) Pauline smiled.

“Mashi anbe na, bahut demag, sorry memsahib” (mashi/maid won’t get it, she is too moody, sorry), apologized the salesman.

quel âge a cette boutique(How old is this shop?) asked Pauline.

“Boutique na amader dokan” (It is not a boutique it is a shop) replied the salesman.

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This burlesque went on for about an hour. Finally she closed upon a red and white gorodand it was time to pay. So Pauline asked combien ça coûte (How much is this?)

The only word the salesman could relate is coûte. He replied,“Petticoat is separatememsahib.” I could not laugh anymore. I decided to translate which resulted in the first sale of New Year for the shop. While driving back home I told her the history of Poila Boishak. She was fascinated to know the same. It was Akbar who asked his royal astronomer Fathullah Shirazi to create a new calendar called fasal e shan, combining the Islamic lunar calendar the Hijri with the Hindu solar calendar. This was done in order to help the solar agricultural cycle for collection of tax. I also told her about King Shashanka of Bengal who had started the solar calendar during Vikramaditya’s regime.  By the time we reached home, it was time for lunch. When Pauline saw the layout, she said “cette nourriture me rappelle la France” (this layout reminds of France).  I could relate to what she said looking at the spread. The Bong cuisine is very similar to the twelve course French menu. We had mangsher doi bora served with some tamarind chutneyas starters, followed by shukto, macher matha dia dal with jhuri alu bhaja, mochar ghonto, dudh katla, arr macher jhal, chitol macher muithya, kosha mangsho, which were served with basanti pulao and luchi. For deserts it was the traditional misti doi and roshogolla, and dudh puli. I being a foodie, concentrated on the delectable, completely ignoring my guest. My mother on the other hand was more sensible. She was helping Pauline to understand each dish and also taught Pauline how to eat with fingers instead of cutlery. I was surprised to see that in spite of the language barriers, the two ladies seemed perfectly comfortable understanding each other. Perhaps that is the power of love I realized.

Later that day I took her to the Rongali Bihu celebration in Rajarhat by Assam association. I saw Pauline was enjoying the Bihu tune so much so that she was doing the traditional double clap of Bihu. I asked her “tu veux danser?”(Do you want to dance?). She jumped to the stage and joined the dancers to the tune of “tuk dekhi murga keneba lage”.

Later she was mesmerized listening to a poem named Bohag by Syed Juneina Ahmed which was being recited.  The poem is…


পালো কি?
হেৰুৱালো কি?
আছে কি পাবলৈ!
জটিল প্ৰশ্ন।
হেৰুৱা হাঁহিৰ কল্লোল
উভতাই লবলৈও জনা হলো
কাৰণ বহাগ ফুলিছে
মোৰ চকুৰ পতাত।
খলা বমা মনৰ
আন্ধাৰ কোঠাত
জিলিকিছে এসোপামান
জোনাকীৰ দেহৰ লুচিফেৰিন।
নুমাব  জ্বলিব আন্ধাৰত
বাট দেখুৱাব।
চিটিৰ বিটিৰ হৈ থকা
সপোন বোৰক একত্ৰ কৰিব।
গোটমৰা ৰক্তৰ কণিকা
সিৰাই সিৰাই বিয়পিব,
গছৰ ডালে ডালে
মৌ মিঠা কুঁহিপাতক চুমা দি
নতুন আশা প্ৰতিশ্ৰুতিৰ বীজ ছটিয়াই
আহিছে বহাগ, সপোনত লাগিছে
ককালত ভাঁজ,
ৰংঘৰৰ বাকৰিত
ৰংমন ঢুলীয়াৰ আখৰা
ঢোলৰ  চাপৰৰ
ৰিণিকি ৰিণিকি
ভাঁহি অহা প্ৰতিধ্বনি।
দিখৌ পৰীয়া ডেকাৰ
ওঁঠত উল্লাসৰ সুহুৰি
চঞ্চল মন,
গাভৰুৰ হাতত নিজান ৰাতি
আক- বাক জেতুকাৰ বোল,
হৃদয়ত ৰসাল গান,
বুকুত লৈ আছো এৰি অহা
দিচাং, দৰিকা, দিখৌৰ বালিত
ভৰিৰ চাপৰ ভৰ।
গোপন মোনাত
সাঁচি থৈছো
এসোপামান  বেঙুনীয়া
কপৌফুলৰ ছবি।
হেৰুৱা হাঁহিৰ কল্লোল
বহাগতে উভতাই ললো।
যৌৱনৰ বন্যা নমাই অনা
বহাগৰ সতে ডেকা গাভৰুৰ
একান্ত নিবিড়।
বহাগ মোৰ মৰমৰ
বহাগ মোৰ চেনেহৰ
বহাগ মোৰ সেউজী বননিৰ
কোমল দলিচাকাঁইটীয়া জীৱনৰ।

চৈয়দা জুনেইনা আহমেদ।

Many years have passed since then, and today as yet another Poila Boishak and Rongali Bihu is just a few days away, I remember the incidents as if it was just yesterday. I know it for a fact that we have such beautiful traditions and customs that anyone from anywhere in the world would adopt it with love. I also feel…..wait someone is at the door. Why don’t you enjoy this Bihu Geet while I find out who is it…

Ah! Guess who is back. It is Pauline and do you know what she said as I opened the door. She said,“Subho Noboborsho ar Rongali Bihur subhechcha roilo.”


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  • A very well written and nostalgic trip down the memory lane for me who stays far away from my Bengali heritage. I have cascaded to all my au Bangali friends and especially my children.

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