So the topic of my musings is 'Who is a Bengali?'. Surfing the net I found countless takes. What struck me as unusual is all these are written by quintessential Bengalis (this is a very very large category, describing the qualifications will take a long time typing and by the time I finish, I will forget what I intended to write originally). But what about people like me? I have been born and brought up outside Bengal, my parents never enforced anything markedly 'Bengali' on me. I hate the sight of fish and sweets and think Bengalis don't know what a real Biryani means. I am not a rice eater and I swear by 'ata poories' and cannot digest the 'moida lucchis'. I do not sing, dance or write poetry. I neither listen to Rabindra Sangeet nor do I claim to be a music connoisseur. My sense of humor is just about average and no I do not understand the Bengali dry humor. I get very peeved by the idea of bandhs and hate effortless people and underdogs, and term them as looser. The only story I ever wrote was for my compulsory paper in graduation and was precisely two paragraphs long, and for which I scored the minimum passing marks. I do not like participating in intellectual discussions and quit within minutes when forced to be part of one. I have never participated in the para adda and I don't see what is so special about 'adda' which is more like a wastage of time gossiping about topics irrelevant to your actual existence. I do not understand the shopping madness before Durga Puja or even the frenzy of the puja days themselves. I am perplexed as to why Bengalis presume that Bangla is understood and spoken universally and why are they so hung about their typical accent on other languages. Oh, the list can go on!
And yet there are so many things unexplainably (i just invented this word!) Bengali about me. I am an avid reader. My boss visited my house and was so perplexed by the sight of heaps of books across my room that he commented 'oh but you did not warn me I would be visiting a book store!'. I hang on every single line of Rabindranath's peotry and even though I am illiterate in Bangla (I can't read or write the language), my fondest childhood memories happen to be the poetry recitation sessions with my dad. When it was time for choosing college for graduation, I chose St. Xavier's Calcutta even though I could securely get admissions in colleges in Delhi or Bombay. And even after having no Bengali friends (the only ones I was friends with were pseudo bongs like me), I managed to pick up the language I could speak barely to the level people stopped being surprised at my diction. While in Calcutta, I loved having the most characteristic Bengali snacks (puchka, jhal muri and egg roll) and like all Bengalis sweared by my favorite Mughlai joint. The book fair was my most 'must visit' event of the year and college street the abode of goddess Saraswati. I think Feluda is the best detective ever and love the Ritwik Ghatak movies. And I loved my tram rides across Maidan.
I know of all the flaws in Calcutta (which like most Bongs I fondly call Kolkata in Bengali but refuse the change the 'Calcutta' in English) and summarily criticize it in front of my Bong friends. But if an outsider (read non Bong) does the same, I don't waste a minute in counting the Calcutta positives and the negatives of their favorite city.
And yet I did not flinch once when I left Calcutta after graduation, to pursue my dreams where there are opportunities. I miss the place but I don't identify it as my 'home'. But whenever I visit it, I feel I belong. I happily participate in the Bengali's bias for the 'North Indians' and yet get extremely annoyed when stereotyped as a typical Bengali.
And the most ironic of all, after declaring my dislike for Bengali boys all my life (I even refused to date any), I fell in love with one who is in every single parameter a Quintessential Bengali.
I can write on this forever, but where is the answer?