I didn’t quite relate myself to the word or its connotations, until recently when I sat down to contemplate my prospects of leaving home for studies. It is a known law of the universe that you are capable of realizing the value of something you have been served on a plate for a long time only when it is being taken away from you. Bengal, to me, is not just a state but a state of mind. A color palate strewn with the red smear of our vibrant history, with the hues of our art and culture and the marks left behind by those who make Bengal what it is today. Bengal is the magnificence of the Northern mountains and the blue of the Southern seas, it is the rivers that cascade down the lush meadows, it is the azure of the autumn sky… It is the debate of the morning-walkers in a tea-stall, it is in the adda of the college-goers in Coffee House. Bengal is the celebration of colors in spring, and the celebration of the Goddess in autumn. It is the cacophony of College Street and the buzz of Sector V. It is the dancing Santalis of the red soils and the love birds strolling by the Ganga.
My first tryst with Bengali culture was when I was four. It was when my mother used to try and make me commit to memory the quintessential Bangla essay on Durga Pujo, that I finally put the elements of Bengali culture in sharp focus in the realms of my own vision. I was left awed. Durga Pujo was not only a celebration of the people, but also as if of Mother Nature. Having been raised in 21st century urban surroundings pretty much since my birth, Durga Pujo appeared to me as the sole and predominant element of Bengali culture. It is a wonderful concoction of tradition, art, spirituality, music, food and festivity. It was a grand fusion of people hailing from all classes and religions and races and backgrounds.
But as soon as I was done with my first Durga Pujo, I was introduced to Diwali- the celebration of light. And I observed in awe as the Bengalis along with the ‘non-Bengalis’ celebrated it with fervor. The festival fever didn’t end just then. Soon enough came December, and Bengal joined the rest of the world as they celebrated Christmas. Spring was heralded with the popular festival of Dol, when the young and old would smear color on each other as an expression of love. The warm and inclusive nature of the ever enthusiastic Bengali rendered me fascinated.
Growing up eventually exposed me to the other facets of the diverse Bangali culture. Say for instance, cinema. Be it a commercial film like Paglu or a National award winning film like Nirbashito, the movie-buff Bengali shall ensure Tollywood remains a force to be reckoned with. Literature too is an inseparable part of the Bengali soul, Thakuma’r Jhuli and Khirer Putul leaving their eternal essence in our childhood.Tagore would then hold our hand and guide us through the agonies of adolescence and adulthood- his words and tunes resonating with our hearts. And the quintessential Bengali detectives in the form of Feluda, Byomkesh Bakshi and TeniDa shall challenge us to a game of intellect as they solve crime after crime. For those who embrace literature like their clandestine paramour even later in their lives, there shall always be Srijato, Nabanita Dev Sen, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay et al as their refuge. And for those who can’t imagine their lives without the gramophone or iPod, maestros ranging from the likes of Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey to today’s Shreya Ghoshal and Lagnajita Chakraborti, genres ranging from Rabindrasangeet, Nazrulgeeti and Atulprasadi to the styles of Kabir Suman, Anupam Roy and Jeet Ganguly, our culture wonderfully caters to the music-loving Bengali. To me the most important aspect of the Bangali culture however, would be the food, not just for its gustatory brilliance but for the sentiment that all Bengalis share with it, especially with their ‘Ma’er haat’er ranna’ (food cooked by one’s mother). To the Bengali, ‘Ma’er haat’er ranna’ is a matter of immense pride, as if like a legacy of their family name or an exclusive cuisine characteristic of their household. This pride would originate mostly from the debate over whose tiffin is more delicious, as the Bengali woman would whip up delicacies to keep their children nourished in school. The celebration of ‘Ma’er haat’er ranna’ would extend to the grand feasts in family gatherings and even the occasional ‘mangsho bhaat’ on Sundays. And last but not the least is the quintessential Bengali enthusiasm of sports especially in football and cricket. If one takes an evening stroll through the lanes and by-lanes of any locality s/he would invariably encounter a fervent group of boys immersed in their game of gully cricket or football- come rain, come storm. And who can forget our very favourite Dada– Sourav Ganguly- when one speaks of sports in Bengal? A stark example of the fervor with which Bengalis celebrate sports would be the famous IPL match held in Eden, between the city team Kolkata Knight Riders and Dada’s team Pune Warriors. Almost every TV set was tuned in to the match, as Bengalis passionately voiced their support for the city or for Dada or just in celebration of the sport.
While writing this I realized what a minuscule part of the Bengali culture I have truly been able to absorb and make my own, and how much was left to discover and explore. No one can be quite done with Bengal and what it has to offer, which would be enough to suffice a lifetime. It remains deep in our core like an inextinguishable flame, molding us into the global citizens of tomorrow. It remains in us like a teardrop of a probashi Bangali (non-residential Bengali) when he Skypes with his mother from across the seven seas and the delight of a little child when he hears the fascinating tales of Apu and Durga from his grandfather.It is in everything that makes us want to come home even when we leave it behind. Bengal is truly one of a kind.