The Argumentative Bengali – Chawm Ganguly

chawmWe Bengalis love our Adda’s. Over endless cups of syrupy tea sipped in a road side tea stall: aptly named “Bekar Parliament” (Parliament of the jobless / useless) with a killer, obnoxiously Bengali,  punch line “amader Dilli te kono sakha nai”(we don’t have any branches in Delhi ) or over any other drink covering the entire spectrum to Single Malt from the Isle Side in the swankiest Bar or the Drawing Room (with muted lights and period furniture). Whatever be the locale, or the poison that is imbibed, it is a pleasure to be in such august gatherings with the dramatis personae, each one of them, religiously trying to outwit and out talk everyone else to win some imaginary trophy that is never there.

Opinionated to the point of being loathsome, alternatively nihilist, narcissist and elitist, they need just a nudge to do a “zero to sixty MPH in less than three seconds” and once they reach full throttle, there is no stopping them from launching their vainglorious or verbose discourse on any matter esoteric: real or imaginary. There is only one way to stop this ultimate blitzkrieg known to mankind – to unleash a Bengali counter attack. And seasoned hosts around the world are known to spend months at an end preparing topics that have arguments that are equally weighed so that the impassioned free radicals can be led into an arena of no-returns for the evening to scale the heights of a Roman gladiatorial joust for the assembled crowd to quench their thirst for intellectual, almost ceremonial, cerebral bloodletting.

Having “participated” (read contributed my insights of manic proportions under the influence of alcohol), I consider myself a “Teacher” of some “Antiquity” with my highly acclaimed “Signature” outpourings of vitriolic diatribe, to which the discerning have been known to raise their glasses. A word of caution before we progress any further: do not try to unearth the underlying logic of the arguments you are subjected to – they are not meant for “lesser mortals” anyway. What else can you expect from a people that have Rabindra Sangeet blaring from the traffic signals, even while Rabindra Nath’s birth anniversary is celebrated with the loudspeakers blaring “Hookah Bar”? In plain speak, that is akin to one leader mumbling Tchaikovsky even while the other sways to the beats of Tollywood with the audience equally appreciative, irrespective of tamasha being enacted, mostly at their expense.

To cut a long story short, here are a dozen speaking points that Bengalis will lap up anywhere in the world to instantly turn Doordarshan fare into Discovery quality. For the absolutely bored ladies in the company who normally sulk and lament the effort they had put in for the evening being wasted on intellectually intoxicated brawling Bongs  (designer dress, visit to the Nepali beautician masquerading as Chinese, Trinamool Green eye shadow, Scarlett “Go-Hara” Red Nail varnish, blister inducing stilettos), here is a little game you can play. Just as the principal opponents warm up to the topic you have to identify and zero in on the Duracell from the Chinese made ones. The last Bong blabbering wins!

01.   Satyajit Ray Vs. Mrinal Sen Vs. Rittick Ghatak. This one is easy. An open and shut case of “our films vs. their films”.  Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa … the more exotic names you can drop to bolster your argument the more sheepish nods of appreciation you will receive. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the difference between a can (beer or film) and Cannes – nobody else does, either. We love to watch the latest fare from Bollywood like the rest of India, it is just that we have to hide our hypocrisy behind films about poverty that we have never ventured out to see. Yes, reading the reviews in film glossies help and least I forget, we condemn Nargis’ (or was it Jaya Bachchan’s, or Jayalalitha’s) comments about legendary Bong Filmmakers having bought their fame by selling Indian poverty to the West with the strongest words.

02.   Darjeeling Vs Assam.  Golden Orange Pekoe from the North Eastern side of the mountain, that too, second flush – this is what the typical Bhadrolok sips. Yet there are philistines that will talk of Assam – of body, of strength, blissfully unaware of the fact that flavour is all that matters. Who will tell them that wrestlers from the cow belt may be good as menial laborers but cannot be made to write poetry? And whether you look like the “before” or the “after” in the weight loss advertisement, in the discerning Bengali eyes, you are no good, unless you can write a poem or two! Or for that matter, recite Sonkho Ghosh verbatim!

03.   Lenon Vs. Lalan. The average Bengali approaches teenage, ensconced firmly in the Beatles. He murmurs “love me do” when he sees the first lass that makes his heart flutter. Mumbles, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, when he does his first “trip” (Dark Side of the Moon being a close second, but that is another story). Plagiarizes the lyrics of “Across the Universe” for his para’s Bangla Band and identifies with the words of “Imagine” when he generally grows up. The trick is to go one up on him by talking about Lalan Fakir and the influence of Bengal’s Boul Bards on the Beatles – especially the Yellow Submarine years. You can flummox the sods by claiming that Sergeant Pepper (of the Lonely Hearts Club Band fame) was actually a Boul based in the Chitpur area who had really founded the Mehboob Band! The “Concert for Bangladesh”? It was in fact a reaffirmation of a little known fact, that the Beatles were diehard East Bengal fans.

04.   Football Vs. Cricket. Let Sourav Ganguly restrict his Dada-giri to the idiot box. The real dada’s of Bengal are the footballers. Nobody knows what India’s FIFA rank is (it’s even lower than her rank as a corrupt nation) yet, we swear by soccer, Dalmia’s dazzles notwithstanding. At some point during this argument, someone inevitably will retort: “My mom can’t dance like Madonna, or smile like the Mona Lisa… will I stop calling her mom, why single out football then?” This is when passions start flowing with the Bengali gentlemen reaching their emotional best.

05.   Oxford Vs. Cambridge. The Unknown Indians who go so far as writing their Bengali Autobiographies in English almost inevitably are from either of these two institutions. In fact, Samir babu, who is slumbering in blissful oblivion in the corner, had one Sonia Manio as his third sister’s class mate (yes, they actually claim that)! The term that is used with reverence by Bengalis is “Bilet Ferot” (literally, Returned from England) – which goes to refurbish what the uncouth say – actual degrees do not matter as it is enough to have visited the Queen’s land to qualify. A necessary rider of this logic is the brief-less barrister: legal luminaries (who never faught a case) but were much sought after in the political space once upon a time, before the era of Poriborton (Change).

06.   Cheema Vs. Majid. If Cheema was a medieval battling ram capable to making defenders bite dust with his sheer power play and created history by establishing the fine nuances of perfecting the art of using body weight, then Majid was a radar jamming guided missile that had both the range and the ability to carry an incredible amount of payload. It’s a pity that the seedy underbelly of Kolkata succeeded in doing to Majid what every defender worth his shin guard dreamt of – bottle him up (again, no pun intended).

07.   Kishore Kumar Vs. Md Rafi Vs Hemanta Vs Manna Dey. This one is a no winner. While Manna Dey, Md. Rafi and Hemanta (Hemant Kumar for the uninitiated) were galaxies on their own right, Kishore-da was a quintessential Bengali genius who, despite his cornucopia of talents (and perhaps because of it) was able to laugh his way through the complex tunes of life, reaching a tenor that others cannot even comprehend. His colourful life, ever smiling demeanor, and the ability not to take himself with the seriousness he rightfully deserved makes his contribution to the world of music pale into insignificance. And that is no mean an achievement by any standards whatsoever, making him the eternal favourite, a class by himself.

08.   Captain America Vs. Che Guevara. One is the star-spangled face of “Cola colonialism”, the other has achieved immortality on Bong T-shirts. We grow up eulogizing one in comic books and come off age riding pillion to the other’s “Motorcycle Diaries”. Did I hear you say both are ghosts of Christmas past in these days of Diplomacy by Drones? Perish the thought. We Bongs love our Che-da and still invoke him when we want to denounce something with malice towards one and all as in “Chee, Chee,dada”! (Shame on you, brother)

09.   North Vs. South Calcutta. Rajarhaat and the fringes near the Sunderbans really don’t count, The Kolkata Address is still a fight between what was once Sutanuti, Gobindopur or the so-called new habitats of Bhowanipur and the rest.

10.   Ghoti Vs. Bangal. They claim to have left behind more land than what is available on planet Earth when they were forced to seek refuge on this side of the divide and bring with them a joy de verve that can rarely be matched by the original inhabitants of “our” Bengal. Ladies and gentlemen, be weary when the arguments tread on this sensitive territory – for passions are bound to get ignited.

11.   Congress Vs. CPM. The Congress in the state is snidely labeled as a party that has been reduced to a sign board, populated by leaders who apply makeup to infest the television talk shows and can do no more. The CPI(M) now an excuse of its former militant self too, is no better, yet the arguments never cease.

12.   Chinese Vs. Moghlai. We Bongs swear by our Chinese, which is actually a “unity in diversity” kind of fare that has the influence of every taste that we have liked gastronomically. Our Mughlai is actually Punjabi red curry, faithful down to the sliced tomato and the boiled egg; and has nothing to do with what the Emperors we read about in school ate. But, debate? Ah, that is another story.

I am forced to signoff for constraints of space but I will be failing in my duty if I do not include a dozen more that are capable of igniting the passions for acrimonious diatribe. So here goes:

·         Bidyasagar Vs. Rammohan

·         Uttam Kumar Vs. Soumitra

·         St. Xavier’s Vs. Presidency

·         Netaji Vs. Gandhiji

·         Russia Vs. China

·         Mountains Vs. the Sea

·         Cinema Vs. Theatre

·         Public Vs. Private Sector

·         Statesman Vs. Telegraph

·         Khalashitola Vs Barduwari

·         Mao Vs. Mittal Vs. Marwari

·         Jamini Roy Vs. Nandalal Bose


You can follow me in Twitter: @CharmChawm