Tag Archives: Bengali people

That Bong Connection…

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Gurulakshmi Iyer-Hait in this special one talks about the plight of those in her and her Husband’s family while the two of them were happy getting united in an inter-caste, inter-language marriage. She fondly calls it the Bong Connection. Read on and enjoy.

As I listen to the tunes of Biren Krishna  Bhadra, I realise the Bong connection in me despite being a southie by birth. And when I ponder and introspect, I have a hearty laugh on how much difficulties both the families faced to connect me to that connection!

When I found my Mr.Right, I was in cloud nine unaware of the situations that might arise when we break the news of getting married to our families. While the role played by both our families in our marriage is really appreciable, few incidents are worth recollecting. Oh and did I mention it was a pure inter-culture, inter-language marriage(all sorts of inter applicable here). Yes a Southie Iyer bride and a Bong groom.

They say marriages aren’t union between two individuals but between two families. People preferring love marriages know how expensive such belief can be for them. Every inter community marriage has its share of dissimilarities in terms of eating habits, culture and communication. In my case the realization of the differences dawned on the families on the very first visit. While Bongs prefer different varieties of fish, my parent’s preferences were simple and vegetarian.

I remember this instance, when my parents, during their first visit to my in-laws place, were offered Mishti Doi in the end. They thought that curd was being given to finish the meal with curd rice only to find that the curd rice tasted sweet. Embarrassed to ask about the sweetened curd, they just assumed that Bongs prefer sweetened curd rice. It made sense to them that Mishti Doi(sweetened curd) is a  dessert for the Bongs only after our explanation.

The common medium of communication for both the families is Hindi, one could guess the dialect and accent. If a Hindi scholar comes around while its being spoken by the families, he will commit suicide I assure you.

Differences were many. To start from, debates began with the Benarasi and Kanjivaram. There was definitely stubbornness from both the families. Finally a decision was taken and I ended up wearing Kanjivaram and husband dear was in traditional Bengali kurta. And the discomfort about what the bride would wear, a  Mangal sutra- the Thaali-or a Shaakha Paula after her marriage, both of these symbolizing marital status. Finally I ended up wearing both.

Very few couple opting for love marriage have the privilege and pleasure of getting married with a mix of two different cultures and rituals acceptable to both the sides. As a tradition, my parents would not give up on getting the invite cards printed in Tamil. So it was really funny to see our names flashing in both the languages on the cards.

My parents almost fainted when they were told  by some distant relative about the bringing of live fish as a ritual. However luck favoured us as both the families compromised on some customs that weren’t favourable to each other.

Bong marriage without sumptuous non vegetarian food is a crime. Ask any Bong, and within a wink, pops out the answer. Marriage and food are synonymous, go hand in hand, no compromise on food in marriage. Finally the menu consisted of Southie main course with Bong deserts and offcourse 100% vegetarian food. I just imagine the plight of all the Bengalis who attended my marriage and had no qualms whatsoever.

Trivial issues can create so many problems in marriages. Not to forget such issues are usually raised by some distant relatives. One thing that worked to our advantage was language barriers. There were so many trivial tribulations which could not be redressed due to linguistic barriers from both families. The grievances still remained unaddressed.

After all the overwhelm and anxiety, a connection was knit. And I name it a Bong connection…a hybrid Bong connection for my generations to come!!

Inter caste marriage

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Posto: A Rare Vegan Diet for a Quintessential Bengali

Sampurna Majumder shares her stint with a rare vegetarian dish – posto (khus khus or poppy seeds)

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Bhaat e Macch e Bangali (Rice and Fish make a true Bengali), so goes an adage. True. Food has always been a weakness for Bengalis. The quintessential Bangali Babu’s meal would be incomplete without these ingredients – bhaat, machher jhol and a bhaja (any vegetable fried, brinjal or bitter gourd/uchhe bhaja). However, Bengali cuisine offers a whole range of vegan delicacies as well.

Posto (poppy seeds or khus khus) is an integral part of Bengali cuisine. The use of posto in Bengali cuisine dates back to almost two centuries. Posto finds its place in Bengali literature as well. Bankim Chnadra Chattopadhyaya’s Kamalanter Daptar (From the Desk of Kamalakanta) is one such example. Written on the lines of De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Bankim’s protagonist remains inebriated most of the time as an aftereffect of consuming too much opium (drug obtained from poppy seeds). Opium dens are known to exist in Kolkata’s China Town as during the 1940s.

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The sole purpose of penning this note is nothing but nostalgia buffs. Few days back, the quintessential Bengali in me was craving for some kaancha posto (raw khus khus). I remember way back in the 90s when I was barely a decade old, my granny would pretty often make kaancha posto. She would grind them mixed with water and some salt; then add some chopped onions, green chilies and a zing of strong-smelling mustard oil.

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As a kid, my share of the yummy kaancha posto would be devoid of the green chilies. However, as I grew up green chilies made their way to my kaancha posto and thus began my never-ending love affair with this sumptuous vegan Bengali dish. Pretty often I have eaten all my rice with kaancha posto! Yes and it gives me a high till date whenever which is followed by the afternoon siesta which comes as a booty along with it.

From Iyer to Hait…The Journey Continues

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Gurulakshmi Iyer- Hait writes about her transition from being a South Indian idly-dosa lover to a full-on good Bangali Bou, cooking great maach bhaja and maacher jhol and celebrating Durga Pooja with all its fun and frolic. A Must read.

Over the years I have realised that when something has to be written, the best thing to share is one’s own experiences, and to share experiences of life no one needs to be a great orator or a poet.

Being born and brought up from a conservative middle class Iyer family, who are mostly contented with Thayir Saadam and Urookaai, I never from childhood times reflected those typical Iyeric qualities. Neither did I like Thayir Saadam nor was I content with it. Though being brought up in Mumbai, Amma and Appa always ensured that me and my sister have our cultural roots imbibed somewhere in us. My mom’s friends -all gossip Maamis- used to tell her “Your daughter has Saraswathi sitting in her tongue” in a typical Iyer dialect since I knew all the Mantra chants by the time I was 12.

My mom would be very happy and imagined that I would get her similar praise from a family I would get married to (yeah, she believed I would marry an Iyer). I was a rebel from the very beginning but still never had believed or imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that I would marry anyone else than a Tamil. See for yourself though what destiny can do. I am Mrs. Hait now from Ms.Iyer-Tamilian to a Bengali – youngest Bahu in a conservative Bengali family.

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Once upon a time when smell of fish curry or fried fish used to be YUCK, not in my last thoughts I knew that it would be the staple food of my in-laws and I would myself fry maach to serve them. Now that’s the destiny you see.

I remember this instance when one of my dad’s friends got a shaankha for me from Calcutta (now Kolkata) when I was around 6 years of age. Only after wearing that did I came to know that it is to be worn by married Bengali women. I realized it after being teased by my Bengali classmates. Marriages are made in heaven and I realize this now when I have to wear shaakha and paula and that the incident that happened 20 years back was an indication. Incidentally, I have still treasured that small sized shaakha with me.

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Difference in the customs and culture seemed tremendous when I tried to know Bangla culture before marriage. I still remember, the first time in my life, when I saw fish marinated for frying at my in-laws place. My mind, heart and body together said yuck but to not be an odd man out and be a good Bengali bou and to not be a thorn in some yes, I actually learnt making maach bhaja and maacher jhal.

Whenever I sit back and think, I wonder with astonishment how I switched from sambhar rice to a totally different cuisine. The Kanjivarams, Dhaakais and Balucharis have not made much of a difference though. Blowing of conch shells on all auspicious occasions was the strangest thing for me after marriage since it wasn’t considered auspicious for Tamilians.

Durga-Maa

I had heard prior to marriage Bengalis talk about the fun and frolic that Durga Pooja brings. My feelings were ‘big deal’ because Phadke Road during Diwali was great fun too. But all this remained till I attended my first Pooja after marriage. The change in thought has been such that I wait the whole year for the Durga Pooja to come.

The maangsho bhaat that my husband Debasish and many Bengalis relish is like a Balaji or a Karthik or a Sriram enjoying Thayir Saadam,Thokku and Inji Puli. The daak naams (nicknames) like Totun, Boomba or a Topu are as funny to me like a Pattabhiraman or a Venkatakrishnan to Deb. These small things meant both of us, Debashish and I, always had equal reasons to smile.

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The good thing was my husband and I got accustomed to each other’s traditions very easily. Once that happened, the rest was cakewalk. We both now feel equally comfortable celebrating a Varalakshmi Nombu and Lokkhi Pooja and preparing Kozhukattai and Shirnni as Naivedyam. Love broadens the periphery of thinking and it was the love and respect that helped both of us sail together in a country where even today Inter caste marriages are looked upon as taboo.

Hence for me Journey continues from Ms.Iyer to Mrs.Hait…And, believe me, Pal Payasam and Rossogolla can rock together!!!

A Lifetime Spent

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It was her 25th marriage anniversary. They had decided to throw a party in the evening. But instead of being ecstatic she was in a reflective mood. Thinking, wondering, pondering…a whole series of events and images came to her mind. Not all of them were pleasant but definitely memorable. Sitting with a cup of tea in her hand in the small yet cosy balcony she thought about her marriage to a stranger whom she had eventually befriended.

They had spent twenty-five years with each other. This was unbelievable keeping in mind the first impression she had of him. Their parents had fixed up their marriage. He was thirty-seven years old. She had freaked out when she heard this. How could she marry a man ten years older to her? Her mother consoled her by saying that he was a rich and a self-made man. And although he was not good-looking by normal standard, everyone thought well of him. They were no longer wealthy enough to spend lavishly on her marriage as they did during her sisters’ marriage. Moreover, his family had no demands. They were strictly against any form of dowry.

She was not consoled but resigned to her fate. At five feet and one inch she definitely was not tall. And although her features were not as sharp as a classic Indian beauty’s should be, she possessed a complexion lighter than wheatish but darker than fair and an innocent face which appealed to most people she met. She had another asset – her keen sense of perception.

She had to go to Jamshedpur to meet him. Her relatives wanted her to see the groom once before marriage. She wondered why she was asked to do so since she did not exercise the actual choice of denying him. Perhaps, it did not matter whether she met him or liked him after meeting but that he wanted to see her. This very thought filled her with distaste. Moreover, she did not like the idea of living in a small city after being in Calcutta all her life. She would have to begin her life afresh in a new city, with new people. This terrified her. She would have to resign from her job in the Bengali medium school she was teaching in. There were no Bengali schools in Jamshedpur. How would she ever adjust was the question of the hour.

She met him in the evening. Her initial sense of repulsion, doubt and fear came back. She tried to fight back the feeling of being commodified; something that she always felt when any man came to see her with marriage in mind.

He was pitch dark. About two inches taller than her, his appearance was a far cry from all the good-looking men she had met and who had rejected her on the basis of being too thin or too short. She refused to look at him, partly because she was shy and partly because she was horrified to see her future glaring at her. Through the formal conversation which carried on for about two hours, in which her future was decided for her by her elders, but in which her opinion was not asked, she gauged that this man had a good sense of humour. He smiled quite a lot and made others laugh around him a lot more. Though she would have liked to be an audience to some of his jokes, this would have been unthinkable. So she continued her conversation with her prospective sister-in-law.

The date of their marriage was fixed on 24th April, 1983.

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The days after that passed in a daze. With all the clothes and jewellery shopping, distribution of cards, meeting the bridegroom’s relatives who could not contain their curiosity to see the new bride, she hardly had any time for herself.

On the day of her marriage, she observed the customary fasting ritual. She did not care much for it but with vigilant elders around her, she had no choice. She did not feel the pangs of hunger until late in the afternoon but on complaining she was reminded that she would have to go through it for her and her husband’s well-being since starvation on the big day would guarantee a lifetime of happiness. On inquiring whether her husband would also do the same she was told that it was not incumbent on men to perform these rites. Again the injustice of it all struck her. Everyone seemed to be implying that the welfare of her marital life would solely depend on her actions and her fate. But what about the person she was marrying? Was he not going to share her responsibilities? She helplessly accepted this contention too.

Her aunts tried to force her to go to the beauty parlour in order to look beautiful for her husband-to-be and the guests. She noted that it was not for herself but for others that she was supposed to look good. Immensely irritated by everything that had been happening to her for the first time she vehemently refused to comply. She was never fond of artificial colours anyway. People not so good-looking required make-up, she reminded herself. Her husband would have to accept her the way she was, she thought with some pride.

bouBut she did look enchanting. The lack of makeup heightened the quality of innocence in her face and everyone praised. Some neighbours and distant relatives congratulated the bridegroom’s family for having coveted such a prize. A prize indeed she was and she hoped that they would prize her even after her marriage. Although the stories she had heard from her married sisters about their married life was in no way consoling.

Vermillion was applied on her forehead at 12:00a.m. By the time the marriage ended it was well past midnight. Everyone, including she, was exhausted and in no mood of celebrating. But she had to continue smiling, looking interested and shy, as was expected of her. Next day the journey back to her new home was a tearful one.

A long time would elapse before she could start considering her husband’s home to be her own. Nor did he make any special efforts to make her feel at home. He was too busy with his newly set up business and did not spend much time with her. They did go on a honeymoon which was short but pleasant. She found her husband quite weird. Although he did not give her any reason to complain yet she had no reason to praise him. He never stood up for her in front of his family. He tried to even know her better. In other words, he never bothered himself with her and left her to fend for herself all the time. He did not restrict her movements but being a newcomer to the city she did not know where to go and was inevitably left to the mercy of her in-laws to entertain her.

borShe would escape to Calcutta every now and then. Although her husband did not object to it her in-laws would harangue her about the necessity to serve and care for her husband and her sister-in-law would sarcastically remark that her home in Jamshedpur was more luxurious than her mother’s place. She felt like telling them that the size of the house did not matter to her but the amount of love she found in that place. She felt like telling them that she felt suffocated in this huge house where no one cared for her but where everyone kept reminding her of her duties towards her husband, although none educated her husband of his duties towards his newly wedded wife, which he neglected most of the time. But this would have been blasphemous. So she told them that she was lonely here without friends. This merest self-defence elicited a grunt from her eldest sister-in-law who told her that she had to be friendly person herself to make friends. But later, her younger sister-in-law approached and told her that she would have to adjust despite all odds. This was the fate of all women. Perhaps, she detected a note of empathy in her words which warmed her to this otherwise stoic woman. But she did not get to know her well. The only person who empathised with her in the new household died at childbirth five months later.

She found it extremely annoying that it was her conduct that was always kept under tight scrutiny. No one bothered about her husband’s code of conduct. What was his office like? Why did he not come home last night? Why did he travel so frequently? Why did he not take her along in these long tours? What did he do there? Such behaviour which would normally be considered abominable in a woman remained unnoticed in a man. This irked her. If she came later than usual from the market her sister-in-law questioned her on her whereabouts under the guise of being concerned. If she visited her friend then her mother-in-law would insist that her brother-in-law drop her to that friend’s place. She was self sufficient. She did not need a protector. All she had desired was for a companion and instead of that she found tutors, guides and protectors.

But she was one of the few lucky ones. She realised this on speaking to her neighbours. Finding her a reserved but comfortable companion, some of them confided in her. They told her about the problems in their households. Some of them were regularly beaten up by drunken husbands. Some had mother-in-laws who made them work whole day in spite of the presence of servants. Some said that their husbands had extramarital affairs. Earlier they were quiet about it but on realising the helplessness of their wives, they sometimes brought their girlfriends home under the guise of friends or business partners. There was no way to retaliate against such humiliation.

She felt mad with rage on hearing all this. Sometimes alone at home she would contemplate on such occurrences. Her mind would be clouded by doubt regarding her status in her husband’s life. Even he did not stay at home most of the time. Did he too engage in similar clandestine affairs? And even if he did what would she do to maintain her self-respect? Nothing was the answer. She could do nothing except for raving and ranting in front of him and even that would not help because he was hardly at home.

She decided to look for a job to save herself from such ignominy. She informed her husband about this and was a little surprised to see that he encouraged her whole-heartedly. She had not expected such cooperation. In fact she was banking on a lukewarm acceptance in a slightly disapproving tone since men in the modern days hated to seem outdated and yet preserved the centuries old chauvinist instincts within themselves. His enthusiastic response filled her with joy, moreover so, since her brother-in-law opposed to this decision. He considered this to be an insult to the supposedly hard working men when the womenfolk of the house took it upon themselves to earn a living. Very uncharacteristically and for the first time, her husband opposed to his brother’s viewpoint. Men should not take it on their ego when women try to be economically independent. After all, without economic independence all other form of independence is a farce, he told them. None dared to say anything to her after that.

Very soon she had to face a disappointment. Bengali, her mother-tongue and also the language in which she had been educated proved a drawback. She had to know English or at least Hindi if she wanted a job as a school teacher in Jamshedpur. There was no scope for Bengali and even the Hindi-medium schools were fast disappearing. On hearing this, her brother-in-law gave a triumphant smirk, her sister-in-law made a sardonic remark about the more luxury people get the more demanding they become and her mother-in-law refrained from getting into this whole discussion.

But one thing was clear to her by now – that her husband was not a bad person that she thought him to be all this while. He was a workaholic for sure and also seemed to be a bit insensitive since he never bothered about her needs. Yet he was more humane and broad-minded than any of his family members were. Since she could not meet the professional requirements, she thought of requesting her husband to take her along with him on the innumerable tours he went to. Emboldened by the fact that he supported her once, yet fearful that he would think that she was crossing her limits, she thought of putting this proposal before her husband. Although hopeful, she was not entirely sure of a positive response. She was in for a surprise again. He readily agreed to the proposal.

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In fact she had second thoughts after speaking out her mind. She was not sure whether she would be able to converse with his business partners or mix with the people he socialises with. Her self-confidence received a setback with her rejection in schools. But he husband pacified her saying that the people he socialised with were down-to-earth and nice people, in the midst of whom she would not feel out of place. He had thought of asking her to accompany him long time back but was not sure about her reaction since she seemed so conservative and introvert and a nomadic lifestyle would not suit her, or so he thought. Coward, she thought to herself. Or plain disinterested. How can one ever decide about another person without even trying to know her?

In spite of all her anticipation, she did accompany him to all her tours. It was in these tours that she discovered the person she got married to. She had only seen the serious side of him. Away from home, she saw the romantic side too. He remained busy most of the time. He did have a streak of insensitivity in him. Or maybe his business demanded such dedication from him. But the ogre had assumed a more acceptable and human form for her. He had his own flaws. He was extremely stubborn; always refusing to listen to any suggestions she gave. In spite of all his broad-mindedness, he felt that since she did not have a profession, she should concentrate on the duties of the house and not instruct him about the ways of the world. She thought this was unjustified since she had a strong sense of perception which he lacked and which he should exploit to his best advantage than refute it. Sometimes he would even taunt her for not doing anything and would refuse to understand that household chores were also difficult and deserved to be praised.

It took some years for the stranger to become her friend. And their friendship consolidated with a birth of a daughter after two years of marriage. She had wished for a girl who would grow up to be her friend and companion. Her husband, laconic as usual, did not voice his opinion. So all her prayers to God would be a request for a girl child, which was indeed granted to her in December of the very same year. This gave a complete new turn to her life and filled the void that was created due to a very busy husband and lack of profession. Some of her neighbours expressed their sorrow on giving birth to a daughter but she was ecstatic. Her ecstasy was doubled when her husband’s reprove quietened the crowd who came to see the child and expressed grief in return. She had decided to live her life through the child, to give her every opportunity that she lacked in her life, to make her self-sufficient and in a way, make up for the shortcomings in her own personality. Many a time she had thought of breaking all the bonds that her marriage had imposed on her but she lacked the courage and even the financial means to do so. She was determined that her daughter would not go through the same trouble that she herself faced. And even if she would then she would also have the means to escape. She had reconciled to the fate that her elders had chosen for her but her daughter would decide her own fate. She was sure about that.

Twenty-five years seemed a long time ago but she still felt as young as before. She had not just adjusted but also adopted the culture of the place. Jamshedpur became her home. She never worked henceforth in spite of all the coaxing that her husband employed on her so that she would tutor students at home atleast. She decided that her profession and vocation would be to bring up her child. In spite of occasional bickering with her husband and the verbal clashes with her in-laws, she rated her marriage as reasonably successful although she was not sure if she was completely happy. Perhaps, she would have been if she could convince her husband to move out of a joint family and live separately and peacefully because the family never forgave her touring round the country with her husband. But her husband’s stubborn nature stood in the way of her happiness.

Twenty-five years later she was dressed up and still waiting for her husband, not for him to return from his business trip but from the other room where he was on the phone conversing with the organisers about the evening party. She was tired of waiting. After all she had waited all her life…for everyone and everything. At the moment she was eagerly waiting for the arrival of their beloved daughter from Delhi. They would have to go to the airport to receive her. So instead of waiting any longer she decided to call on her husband.

Celebrating the Day of Love – the ‘Bangali’ Way

Saraswati puja

As a community, the Bengalis have always been associated with the finer things of life. Aesthetics defined their very existence. For example, adjectives like gourmet and connoisseur of music and art are very commonly associated with them. Since music, art and scholastic are highly regarded by Bengalis, it’s no surprise that Saraswati Puja, the Goddess of Wisdom is widely celebrated by them with much pomp and pleasure.

There goes a traditional saying in Bengal – Baaro Mashey Taro Parbon, literally translated as Thirteen Festivals in Twelve Months. Well, true, from Poush Parbon in January to Bhai Phota (Bhaai Duj) in November – every festival is celebrated with much fervour.

Basant Panchami or Saraswati Puja is usually celebrated sometime in the month of February. Incidentally, the festival often coincides with Valentine’s Day. An interesting fact about Saraswati Puja is that, it is often considered to be the day where everyone has the full freedom to flirt around. Often young couples are spotted roaming around the para hand in hand dressed in new clothes. By the way, let me be more precise, the dress code is also somewhat defined – pyjama-punjabi (kurta) for the tougher sex while the fairer sex dawns a sari usually in various shades of yellow. This phenomenon has earned the day the sobriquet – Bengali Valentine’s Day.

And yes, even if Saraswati Puja means worshipping the Goddess of Wisdom with much devotion, as mentioned earlier, the gourmet Bengali will fish some lip-smacking vegan delicacies on this auspicious day.

Special menu for the day comprise khichudi, labra, beguni, papad and chatni – somewhat simple as compared to a usual elaborate meal a typical Bangali Babu would prefer having.

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The rice used for a typical Bangali style khichudi is Govindbhog. Other items include potato, seasonal vegetables (cauliflower, carrots), paanch phoron, tej patta and dried red chillies for those who like it hot.

Khichudi is accompanied by labra which is a medley of assorted vegetables; beguni – slices of brinjal deep fried after dipped in a batter of gram flour, fried papad and of course the sweet accompaniment at the end – kuler chatni.

A sumptuous meal of the bhog would wind up the day, while the fun quotient would still continue.

Though in the present times DJs belting out tunes of Honey Singh has long replaced the traditional Bengali ones, the essence continues to enthrall all and sundry.

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