"What the horns are to a buffalo…deceit is to the Bengali. Large promises, smooth excuses, elaborate tissues of circumstantial falsehood, chicanery, perjury, forgery, are the weapons, offensive and defensive of the people of the Lower Ganges." said Macaulay about my brethren.
That, this and Bee's description of the Tambrahms forced me to write this. It has taken me over a month, and would be grateful if you let me know what I must have missed out.
There are two kinds of Bengalis that I know. Probashi or Expatriate Bangalees, a fairly large and diverse group about which I can't write as I am one of them.
And Bengalees who are from Kolkata. This group is incorrectly known as Bongs, as they are merely a subset. However, this is the only group which matters. Gokhale told of them, long years back, "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow." To which Rene Descartes responded, "I think (today), therefore I am (Bengali)." Like all other Nobel Prize Winners, Oscar Awardees and most successful Indian cricket captains, Rene Descartes was also a Bong (this fact is not known outside of Kolkata).
The Bong has a large head, glasses, glistening hair and dark skin. Older Bongs develop an ample stomach to balance their large heads. This happens by the age of 25. They smell of Keo Karpin. The average life expectancy is 65 years. What is even more impressive is what they do in those years.
Outside Kolkata, regardless of weather, sex or age, Bongs can be seen in Monkey Caps. This is a must-have accessory as well as a sign to recognise other Bongs. (please see second update for more)
The Bongling can often be recognised in either over-sized or under-sized school uniforms. The Bong mother's second biggest fear (See diet for the biggest one) is that the "porer bochor o lomba hoye gele abar notun skirt kinte hobe!!" or "Next year, if you grow taller, we'll again have to buy a new skirt!!". Thus, the school uniform is selected to last at least three years. Thus the uniform sits as conspicuously on the Bongling as the plumage of a macaw.
While most Bongs are born with innate talents in singing, dancing, painting, film-making, cooking or embroidery, their creative talents are honed even before they can start speaking.
Frequent meets are organised between infants and their successful ancestors and other relatives. MA degrees (preferably from Cambridge, at least from Presidency or Jadobpoor) are displayed over the cots. The infant is exposed to the best of Bengali thought - Marx, Bentham, Kalidas, Tolstoy, Chekov*. This increases the sizes of their heads and the height of their ambitions. Similar examples, though rare, can be found in European tradition as well, like in the case of Mozart. In India, however, Bongs have the sole preserve on such activity during infancy.
Soon, when they grow up a little, their characters are honed in the best of schools. Here, I am not referring to the South Points, La Marts, Don Boscos and all. They are important in the nurture a Bong child goes through. What is even more important are the schools the Bong child passes through before school and after school. Many a Bong child wakes up at five o'clock in the morning to attend swimming classes. After one hour of swimming, he attends tennis coaching before rushing off to one of the South Points, La Marts etc. mentioned above. School finishes by two or so, from where he scoots along to Singing/ Instrumental Music/ Dance Classes, then tution (for atleast three of all five subjects). He rounds off the day with coaching on either Debating or Quiz.
Many a Bong mother will carry the child along through this day, feeling equally energised. This behaviour is again not restricted to Bongs. It also seen within kangaroos in Australia who rush along from one clump to another bush.
Soon the Bong attains adolescence, doesn't find friends of his age (since everyone is competing for the Nobel Prize or the Indian captaincy) and finds intimacy in conversation in his/her parents and poems of T.S. Eliot and Pablo Neruda.
When school ends, they move on to the good colleges- Presidency, Xavier's or IIT Kharagpur. The best of them, though, move straight to Joo (Jadobpoor). However, in recent years, Dilli (Stephen's obviously) is becoming the preferred destination for some escapists. In colleges, they decorate their rooms with books or portraits of Robi Guru (Tagore). On the opposite wall, men would have posters of Che/ Maradona and women would have Enrique Iglesias, thus expressing solidarity with Latin American culture. All of them share equal interest in the Bong-Rock (Bhumi, Chondrobindu, Cactus, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple).
Bongs mature early. Critics have said that they grow old early, but that is nothing but old hat. Years of toil and Eliot would obviously bestow wisdom. The reason they look older is because the sole purpose of a Bong's life is to win the Nobel Prize or the Oscars (and in recent years, captain the Indian team). With great responsibility comes great age. Add to it the chlorine in the swimming pools and you know why Bongs grey prematurely.
As far as their mission in life is concerned, they have been very successful at it. Every Indian Nobel Prize winner has been Bong. So have the Oscar Awardees. And most succesful Cricket Captains. And Bipasha Basu.
Once Bongs have kids though, their mission on life changes. The only raision de'etre for them is making sure that their progeny achieves the heights that they could (or couldn't). Hence, they (mostly the female of the species) are mostly found outside of schools, colleges and tution classes.
The male of the species doesn't stay behind. Not only do they contribute to their child's success by polishing their Black shoes (Mostly Bata's Bubblegummers) every morning, but also they create a culture of achievement and challenge. Every morning, they wake up around five-thirty or six to run to the market. The best fish has to be found and somehow, every Bong family gets the best fish in the market every morning. This fish sometimes helps in making murighonto or brain food, which can't be explained to non-Bongs and doesn't need to be explained to Bongs.
The other way the Bong creates and maintains a challenging environment is by standing in lines and gathering in groups. Many a Bong father has refused to go to the office on entire days, if he has spotted some michil (literally, a rally; mostly, six people standing in a line), on the way to work. They will instantly join the line at the end and start protesting or challenging. Sometimes, they find that the others in line are not alligned to the cause. A famous 'challenger' stood in a 'ration shop' line for two hours, protesting against atrocities in Vietnam all the time.
Some Bongs also get to start such movements. Everyone will claim that they did. This is analogous to finding the best fish.
Diet is as important as Robindro Shongeet. There's nothing that a Bong can't eat. However, they prefer protein over other food groups. The largest source of protein for them is fish, then meat, and then mishti (sweets) made from milk. More than fish itself, it is the knowledge of fish which is coveted and enjoyed.
Carbohydrates are tolerated if they are fried in oil or if it is accompanient to fish. Luchis (somewhat like a Puri), Telebhajas (pakoras) and Phuchkas (Paani Puri) are the favoured source of carbohydrates.
The young Bengali though invariably always has Farex, Lactogen and Waterbury's Compound.
As far as they most important meal of the day is concerned, please do note that what dieticians have been saying in the last few years, Bongs have known for centuries. Breakphast/ tiphphin is an occasion where the entire family comes together, to watch the office-going Bong male and school-bound Bonglings eat. The Bong woman's biggest fear is that "Shokale bhaat dal mach bhaaja na kheye beriye gailo" or "In the morning, He went out without eating rice, dal and fish fry." To round off the calories, Dal is often accompanied by aaloo bhaate, aaloo bhaja, potol bhaaja and various other heartily fried stuff. Not for the faint-hearted.
Mating and procreation:
A few Bong end up being in relationships, which lead to love marriage. This is sometimes shown in movies and song. However, most do not have any such social malignancy and end up marrying the woman of their mother's dreams or men of their father's choosing. This results in mixing the right genes for the next cycle of Bongs. Love marriage, by its very nature, is random. It sometimes results is tragedy, like marrying into another country (like India). Hence, it is avoided, wherever possible.
Adda, robindro shongeet and cha. Repeat. Do note that the young Bong doesn't have a social life (at least not till he wins the Nobel or gets a Government job).
And phootball. The Bongs have had an illustrious history of achievement in football. Every para (neighbourhood) has stories of when they won the World Cup at the expense of the next one. The last time it happened in my parent's para was in 1986, when Argentina won in Mexico. Diego Maradona, who looks Bhodrolok enough, give or take a few lines of coke, scored famously using his hand, a skill which he learnt in Kolkata. Over the last few years, Brazil has been gladdening the hearts of many Zicos who were born in Kolkata around 1982-86. The only team which is not Bong is Germany as they play with more efficiency and no creativity, which thus is not amenable to adda.
Do not ask of a Bong doing anything on the phootball field as then the Bong will keep you occupied about Jakarta, 1962. "Chuni Goswami je Ball tule dilo PK ke. Match-er aagei bolechilo, "Ekta Ball debo. Daam kore maarish. Gol hobe"." Chuni Goswami put a football up for PK (Banerjee). He told him before the match itself, "I will give you one ball. Hit it with a bang. Goal will happen." Obviously, it is also the crowning moment of Indian phootball.
While you may find a Bong in other places (like occasionally in offices), the best time to observe a Bong is in his natural habitat - the best of colleges, the best of schools, the best of coffee houses and the best of culverts on top of drains or on verandahs on the side of roads (aka the Rock). It is here that he will tell you about Balzac while she will recite poetry with gay abandon. To mix in with the Bong, apply Keo Karpin to your hair and carry a jhola. Hopefully, they won't notice your small head. Do not worry about not knowing the language as the Bong likes being heard.
A Bong's language is Bengali, which is amongst the top 10 languages in the world. However, it can be asked, as corrupted by CLR James, "What do they know of Bengali who only Bengali know?". A non-native speaker can make the mistake of asking "How are you?" to a Bong. In most non-refined languages and cultures, this is a question which is answered by aFine or a Sehr Gut or a Getting along. To a Bong, the question is an invitation to a discussion on logic and philosophy. And the state of the digestive system.
The Bong will not say, "Bhaalo Aachi" (I'm good) to "Kaimon Aachen?". Instead he will tell you about his piles, his pituitary issues, the prawns he ate last week and the stress he is going through at work which is the cause of his mother-in-law's ulcers. Frequent mention will be made of "Amasha" (dysentry) and "Ombol" (Burning sensation in the stomach). These are not to be taken lightly, in life and in conversation. Hence, if you want to get in the good books of the Bong, carry a strip of Gelusil or Pudin Hara, or even better, a bottle of Jowaner Alok. At the very least, drop those names frequently. Soon the discussion will reach rarified heights of Hegel and Kant.
Many famous Bongs have been referred to in this extract. Hence, this section is used to debunk that big myth about Bongs. People believe that Bong men can't be hunky.
If so, then what about Abhishek Bachchan (via mother), Saif Ali Khan (via mother), John Abraham (via girlfriend), Hritik Roshan (via grandmother) and Tapash Pal (photo attached)?
Bongs in Literature, Film, Art:
Everywhere you care to look.
Being Bong at the end of the day is a state of mind. Or, a case of being discovered by them. Best of Luck.
Find out about the adda here.
Find out about why you should also use Keo Karpin here.
Read the reason for the Monkey cap here (Scroll down a little).
For Jadobpoor University, visit their website. It says that it is University with Potential for Excellence. Soon, to be turned into performance, I believe.
Find useful uses of protein here.
Find useful Bengali terms here. Includes gems like Dishpenshari.
Find language speakers data here. Bengali does well.
Finally, find out about the kangaroo here and Mozart here.
Big thanks to everyone who has suggested improvements. I wish this could be made into a wikipedia entry and people could add their thoughts without moderation. However, since this isn't (yet), I would like to add that I will keep on updating my entry.
First update: 'Letter sets in the Alphabet' is a phenomenon strictly dedicated to Bongs. Till now, two examples have been found - P and M. These sets stand for a few things a Bong can't do without (Phish, Phootball, Phestibal, Mangsho (meat), Mod (alcohol)) and a few things a Bong wishes he can't do without (Phuck, Maagi). More details in comments.
Second update: Another way of identifying the young Bonglet is that he/ she will carry a water-bottle and an umbrella for the afternoon sun. This is similar to the Monkey Cap as it will be carried regardless of weather. I have mentioned in the comments that a Bongling's mother will wait outside schools with replacement water bottles and umbrellas. Except for during tests and exams, when the replacement water bottle is replaced with daaber jol (tender coconut water), which is to a Bongling what a Bhindi is to a Tam Brahm child.
Third update: I have been asked to write about phootball. Now, we can actually write many blogs on phootball. Hence, I decided to leave it out (other than a passing reference to Maradona). However, with popular demand, phootball is now featured within the social life section.
Fourth update: Two things have to be mentioned. 1) Rockbaji, which is confused with adda, but isn't. 2) Bisshojit, who is the father of Prosenjit, who slept with Aishwarya Rai and Raima Sen in Chokher Bali, in the hunks section. Bisshojit himself was the inspiration for such cinematic drama when he kissed a 15-year old slob called Bhanurekha way back in the 1960s. This was even before Bhanurekha turned Bong in Parineeta. Two things should be known about Bisshojit - firstly, he was quite a looker and second, he was always overshadowed by Uttom Kumar** (literaly Best Adolescent) as you can see in the photo attached. Bisshojit is wearing the white shirt and is not smiling.
Fifth update: Need to include terrific suggestions made by a reader. Diet section now has a special section on breakfast/ tiffin while physical description has been updated with a description of the Bongling at school.
Sixth update: Need to mention the Bong constitution which is under constant attack from pathogens and what Bong fathers do while Bong mothers run around a Bongling. Thanks for the tips. Am waiting for someone to update me on AP-gun snow and 'bangali cheler preme pora''.
*This is not a recent phenomenon. In 1877, Bankim Chandra described the complete Bangali:
"When we meet this character in the drawing room of the hero of the novel we find him opening his conversation with social and political topics, turning the pages of Shakespeare Gallery, discussing the characters of Desdemona and Juliet as well as the characters of Indian classical literature like Sakuntala, Sita, Kadambari, Vasavadatta,, Rukmini and Satyabhama. Next he takes up ancient historiography and gives a masterly exposition of classical historians like Tacitus, Plutarch, Thucydides and others. Contemporary philosophers and thinkers like Comte, Mill, Huxley, Owen, Darwin, Buchner and Schopenhauer also form the subjects of his discussion."
** Do not ask me write about Uttom, for there are waters that even I fear to tread. Well, not really.