Saturday, 7 November 2015

The lovely Bengalis - Bongs and their “Adda”s

‘Bongs, don’t you love them?’- Vir Sanghvi

Its unlikely you have never met a  Bengali (or bong as the nickname goes) if you’ve been brought up in India.  I had the pleasure of getting to know a few of them in the industries I have worked in, as well as the schools and colleges I studied in. It was a ball getting to know them.

How does one describe a bong? You really cant fully – has to be experienced firsthand, and boy, can that be a great experience!!

One of my colleagues talked about how interesting it was to work with bongs, because… in his words ‘they are unpredictable’ and ‘no one really knows what their motivation is’.  Deepika Padukone talks about her bong director of 'Piku' - 'he's got a theory for everything''.  In a way, that sums it up. The sanest Bongs can have moments of mercurial meltdowns which no one can ever be ready for, or figure out what it was akk about. Similarly, no one knows what really drives a bong – is it ego, money, power, fame, all of it, none of it?
No let me correct that I know one which they absolutely love – Kolkata (but more on that later).

Bongs can revel and so can you in their oddities.  There is a bit of commonality they have with the South-East Asian folk. For e.g. in terms of the nick names they have – so there’s a school name, and then there’s a shorter nick name, just like the Thai folk. The Indonesians can be as hypochondriacal as the Bongs and they take their "Masuk Anggin" fetish and fear to the same levels like the Bongs (who offer mustard oil and homeopathy as a solution to every ailment under the sun).


They have their own standards.  One thing I personally have noticed is the relative lack of cosmopolitan-ness in this community unlike the others in India. You can have meat-eating, alcohol-swilling South indian Tam Brams (Tamil Brahmins) who sound more like Haryanvi jats and be more friendlier with the northerners than their own family – but unlikely to ever see this among bongs – even the second and third generation folk in the US.  

Image result for piku
Over the years, I'd like to think I've become almost an expert on bongs, I could see a lot of false notes in the movie "Piku" both from Bachchan Senior and Deepika Padukone. But still Chittaranjan Park can rub-off some of the hard tough Jat language into the bongs, but cant wash away much of the Bengali-ness out of them.

They really flock together, no not so much in the parochial sense. They just love to hang out together, and that’s where the Adda comes in

About the standards for their language and culture, they can tend to be a little snooty (Naaka and Paaka are words they frequently – don’t ask me for the difference or what they mean, ask a Bong, its quite enlightening) where they feel the ‘Probashi’ bongs (the prawasi, or itinerant/ settled abroad for rest of us) have lost touch with their roots, and it makes them inferior. 
My funniest story about this is my colleague who travelled to Kolkata for some fieldwork.  As she was talking to some housewives there, they mentioned her Bengali was quite good. So she tells them I am a bong – why are you surprised?. And they tell her: no, its just that we thought you are from Mumbai, but still your language is quite good. So she tells them – actually I have been in Mumbai only for the last couple of years, y'see I was born and brought up in Calcutta till then. The moment she said that, the ladies were alarmed and there was an about-turn in their opinion. Soon they were telling her how bad her Bengali was and shame on her for forgetting her language within a couple of years of being in Mumbai. :-)

What I love about them best is how they simply love hanging about with fellow bongs.  There is a movie by Gulzaar called Kitaab where he makes fun of this where Asit Sen a passenger on a train grudgingly makes space for some new passengers who want to sit next to him. But when he figures out the new passenger is a bong, the grudge makes it to delight and he calls out to his wife excitedly that the new passengers are bongs.

Coming to their "Adda" where bongs can meet and keep chatting for hours together.  Why does this sound so un-common?  Arabs do it, so do the French, not to mention the Indonesian 'nong-krong's and the sheer joblessness this seems to reflect. (Liz Gilbert calls this the fine art of doing nothing – i.e. the Italian way of life in her ‘Eat, Pray, Love’)

The difference between these, or a Panju hangout or a Marathi baat-cheet and the bong’s adda is the capacity as well as the sheer intellectuality of an adda.  I, personally, get exhausted by human company real fast (that’s me, not a reflection of the folks I hang out with) but even I can easily sit through an Adda.

The interesting bit is it doesn’t matter how qualified the folks are  - could be an accountant, a housewife,  or a scientist – all of them can talk about great authority on ANY topic under the sun, and it can be complete entertainment.  Also if you know Hindi, you can catch some of the words they are talking about – so, even if you don’t know Bong you can figure out what they are discussing so animatedly.

Therefore this video just about sums it up, and I had such a great time watching it.  Film critic Anupama Chopra manages to corner three bongs into creating an Adda (without speaking Bengali please, she urges which they cheerfully ignore) and boy is this one of the best ones yet – I think they must have edited out 90% of it as surely the discussion would have gone long and strong.  They even gently chide her for asking a somewhat naïve  question, but it seems so un-offensive and done light-heartedly.

Ah the Bongs and their Addas – one of the true joys of life!

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