I have been lucky to meet, befriend and get to know a bit about the Bengali way of life. Over time, I have made some truly fascinating friends from the great city of Kolkata (prefer calling it Calcutta). Though I have had Bengali friends since school, it was only when I left home for my MBA and later in my working life that I got to know a lot about Bengalis. They are one of the most interesting creed of people that I have ever known.
My first taste of Bengal was back in school at the famous K.C.Das restaurant in Bangalore. I still remember the few evenings when my dad used to bring back a pot full of rasagolla (I later on learnt that it is roshogolla!). Gradually, I picked up the other wonderful savouries that the Bengali had to offer, for desserts - mishti dohi being an all-time favourite. But, my interesting association with Bengalis went far beyond food. I got to meet some really interesting people from that part of the country.
The one thing that has stood out for me, always, is the sheer amount of time that Bengalis seem to have in their lives. I have never understood it, but, they just seem to have that much more time for everything in life. Time to study more. Time to discuss a topic more. Time to admire the charm of nature, a bit more. Time to immerse oneself into the depths of a subject. Time to remember the famous verses of a Tagore. Time to watch the timeless classics of Satyajit Ray, starting with Pather Panchali. Time to start talking about a subject in the evening and still talk about it well after dinner. It’s amazing, how they just seem to have that extra bit of time, compared to others. Maybe, I am biased, but that really has been my standout experience in all of my interactions with them.
The other unique thing about every Bengali that I have befriended, is their eyebrow. It is thick, period. And, all of them, without exception have thick eyebrows. Is it because of the amount of fish they eat? Or, is it because of anything else that they do, which others don't? The size of their eyebrows becomes even most pronounced when a brow is raised, or if there is a quizzical look, or if enter into a debate with you. That's the first thing that I observe about their facade.
Talking of facades, their women are so good-looking. Be it at C.R. Park in Delhi, or Park Street in Calcutta, or the Bengali community in my lovely city Bangalore, all the women that I have ever befriended just look stunning. Added to that is their intellectual horsepower, which makes it an even more engaging proposition. I think, that really seals the issue of the Bengali charm - the sheer combination of intellect combined with beauty. Over time, I have reached the conclusion that the Bengali woman knows that she is very, very good-looking and hence perhaps goes out of her way to look good.
There are other things about the Bengali life that I have loved. The interiors of their houses are so tastefully done. There is always place for a classy gramophone, or a violin, or a guitar, or sitar. Most of them will ensure that there is some form of a library, or at least a bookcase to store/showcase some of the choicest books written in the history of mankind. Not to mention, the Bengali choice of colours - quite breathtakingly unique. There is always a brush of one colour interspersed with the other. For example, the sofa may be brown or purple, while the gramophone sitting alongside it will be shining golden with a Tagore record player soothing an audience on any given evening.
Tagore reminds me of the other thing that I truly cherish about Bengalis, their interest and choice of music. It is quite amazing how they manage to learn that much about music of different kinds and also manage to build a collection based on their individual tastes. After all, it was the Bengali community that gave us a timeless legend called Kishore Kumar, who I am a very, very big fan of. A talent like no other, and a man who has a song for me, raised in the south of India, for every mood and occasion or situation of life. Genius!
Of course, in all my interactions with my wonderful Bengali friends, I have hardly heard them mention about a certain Sourav Ganguly or about the closely related priceless jewel, the Eden Gardens. That pride with them is a given, though, not all of them have talked to me about it. I experienced the sheer passion for these two truly iconic symbols of Bengal in 2008, when I visited Calcutta for the first time. The acres and acres of the cricketing maidans and the quality and competitiveness of club cricket there was an eye-opener. I had only heard about English county cricket, or at best, Mumbai league cricket being that competitive. But, I saw true passion for sport on the maidans of Calcutta. Those places are so well-maintained too. And for a person like me, having grown up in the south of India where information technology rules, I found it fascinating to see a universal adulation of that great ex-cricket captain of India and sport overall. He really is the prized sporting possession of Calcutta, and indeed, all of Bengal. It is understandable why. That man showed the entire country what it means to be aggressive - a trait that you generally would not associate with most Bengalis.
Few things in Calcutta are as iconic as their famous yellow Ambassador taxis. It was an experience of a life for me to travel nearly 30 kilometers in one of those iconic vehicles during my trip to Calcutta in 2008. The vehicle has its own speed of movement, the drivers seem to enjoy owning one of Calcutta's pride, and there is always music playing in these vehicles. The driver can also be an engaging conversationalist. And the minute he realises that you are not local, he will start showing you Calcutta's famous landmarks. You needn't be a formal tourist to see that city. A normal taxi ride will do.
All in all, I have loved the Bengalis. Their celebration of the Durga Puja is a celebration like no other. But, my only grouse is, Bengalis don't easily seem to understand vegetarian, except a few. I was lucky with vegetarian food just once when two absolutely lovely Bengali girls from work, were kind enough to host me and made specific vegetarian food for me. However, I did not find vegetarian food easily when I visited Calcutta. Thank god, I knew about mishti dohi and roshogolla, before I landed there!
To all the lovely Bengali friends that I have, I just want to say one thing. Your culture and way of life has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. And I just love spending the time I did with you. As much as I like learning about new things and meeting new people, the charm of an evening spent with a Bengali friend is something to treasure. Like I said earlier, their taste, intellect and ability to hold a conversation, not to mention their good looks (not that it’s essential, but helps), has provided some terrific memories of terrific conversations. I can now say that I do know a few things more than roshogolla and mishti dohi...!