Sonar Bangla: My Fascination with Bengali Things

(A representational image)

-Amitabh Kumar Das

My love-affair with the Bengali culture began when I was a school-going kid! From 1975 to 79, I studied at the Public School in Laheriasarai, Darbhanga. There Bengali teachers were aplenty. All young ladies. With shining, black tresses. Gracefully draped in colourful saris. Banerjees, Mukherjees and Sarkars. I always stood first in the class. So these lovely Bengali ladies showered love on me. And I was secretly in love with each of them! During the lunch period, they talked loudly in Bengali, giggling non-stop and sharing “goram-goram” (hot) news of the Bengali Tola where they came from. It was harmless gossip, so dear to the fair sex. I didn’t understand a single word. But the Bengali language is so musical. I was captivated as I eavesdropped on them. They didn’t mind the presence of a wide-eyed little boy in their midst. Perhaps they knew that Bengali was Greek to me. I was a good cartoonist also. I drew caricatures to the delight of my teachers and classmates. One of these lovely ladies, we called her Pampa Sister was getting married. The news spread that her fiance was a bald guy. Her sahelis (friends) caught hold of me and asked me to draw an egg-head. I dutifully carried out their orders and they showed my drawing to the poor Pampa! After 40 years, my Pampa Sister may have become a “dadi” (grandma) or a “thakurma” as they say in Bengali!

Then there was Shyamali Sarkar, our drawing teacher. She was dark, as her name suggests. Plump and always grinning. Her eyes were as big as eyes in Jamini Roy’s paintings. She drew beautiful pictures on the blackboard. Litchis, mangoes and bananas. So real that we almost smelt them.

Darbhanga, my home- town, has strong Bengali connections. In fact, “Darbhanga” is derived from “Dwar Bang” (the Gateway of Bengal). When the Mughal soldiers marched from the West and reached Darbhanga, they thought that Bengal was not far. Maithili and Bengali have hundreds of common words. And even surnames. Many still mistake me for a Bengali, thanks to my surname! Then Maithils and Bengalis share their fondness for fish, the beloved “maachh”! Ponds, paddy fields and greenery, even countrysides of Mithila and Bengal look alike.

And Bengali cuisine! I regularly celebrate the Poila Boishakh, the Bengali New Year. It usually falls on the 14th or 15th April. As the 14th April is Ambedkar Jayanti too, it is a holiday in Bihar also. My Poila Boishakh lunch menu has not changed for years. Maach-bhaat and misti doi! Fish-rice and sweet curd. And the lip-smacking Jhaal-Muri. Whenever I travel from Patna to Ranchi in the Jan Shatabdi, Jhaal-Muri is high on my agenda. And the way they prepare it. Shaking puffed rice with the mustard oil in a small steel box and then adding green chillies, onion rings, slices of lemon to the mix. Yum, yum. My mouth waters as I describe its ingredients. There is still hope on the Planet Earth as long as Jhaal-Muri exists! And Mocha Torkari! Ever heard of it? Give useless banana flowers in a Bengali lady’s hands and she will turn them into the heavenly Mocha Torkari. And you will keep licking your fingers even when it is finished! Nolen Gur is the jaggery made from the date-palm juice. I first tasted it in Jamshedpur. It put Cadbury’s chocolates to shame. Deemer Jhaal (egg curry) and Siddho Deem (boiled eggs) are my all time favourites. And those syrupy Rosogollas. They were invented by a Bengali, Nobin Chandra Das. Puris are called “luchis” in Bengali. Puffed luchis with aloor dom! Can breakfast be better?

And those Bengali revolutionaries! Subhas Chandra Bose, Rash Behari Bose, Khudiram Bose, Master Surya Sen, Jatin Das. The list is endless. I read a book titled THE BOMB IN BENGAL written by a foreign writer. Tales of secret societies, conspiracies, bomb-blasts, death-defying bravery, court trials left me spell-bound. Let me tell you the story of Kanhaai Dutt. He was sent to the gallows when he was only 18! After his execution, his body was cremated. And when his body was reduced to ashes on the funeral pyre, his sacred ashes were looted by the fellow Bengalis! Kanhaai Dutt attained divinity after his martyrdom.

As a book – worm, I worship Bengali authors and poets. I owe my love for books to my mother. Maa was so fond of Sharat Chandra. Devdas, Charitraheen, Parineeta. Classics penned by Sharat Chandra were always on her bed. When I grew up and read Sharat’s biography “Awara Maseeha ” in Hindi, I was bowled over. Tagore’ s poem Ekla Chalo Re inspires me when I find darkness everywhere. And Feluda stories. Written by the legendary Satyajit Ray. I have travelled the whole world with Feluda, Topshe and Jatayu.

Now let me share with you my dream. I don’t dream big. One day, I will own a “bagaanbari ” on the outskirts of Patna. In Bengali, “bagaanbari” means a farmhouse. A small pond will be there. Some coconut trees. A few ducks. Like the old MacDonald, I will stay at my farm. I will read Feluda stories. I will fish  in the pond and eat maachh-bhaat. I will listen to music. In the evenings, Jhaal-Muri will give me company. Nubile Bengali beauties will also be there. But only in my dreams!

(Amitabh Kumar Das is an IPS Officer.)

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