There was a time when being born Bengali was a victory in the lottery of life. It put you in pole position with the British, who had all the money. Not to mention Rabindranath. Today, the situation has deteriorated. Saurav is no longer captain of India. Netaji is yet to return. Other communities have not accepted Robindro Shongeet to the extent that they should have. There was a brief moment of joy when Vidya Balan played a Bengali woman in Kahaani, but this did not last. Moon Moon Sen is doing her best, but once your leading sex symbol is in her sixties, it's time to worry. Not that Bengalis have much sex. Cooking and eating take too much time. The only reason we’re still reproducing is because sometimes the gas runs out towards the end of the month. Over in Bangladesh, things are even worse. Heroines are doing item numbers dressed up as Superman. The Jaamat is up in arms, and who can blame them?
What are the signs that CR Park is an ersatz, counterfeit or duplicate version of Calcutta? Initial impressions can be misleading. Much Bengali is spoken, and devilled eggs are in plentiful supply. The samosas are bland, the rolls are greasy, and hygiene standards in the fish market are reassuringly dreadful. But an expert eye can spot the discrepancies. For one thing, they don’t have enough pharmacies. The proper Bengali gentleman will have one shingara, two kochuri, a ledigeni, some mishti doi, and if he is feeling adventurous, the disco sandesh, after which he pops into the chemists next door and buys some Gelusil. In CR Park, this is not the case. Chemists are few and far between. Clearly, they have lost touch with their roots.
Pujo is the time when this fakery reaches its height. Pujo is very important for Bengalis. When three Bengalis get together, they form a pujo committee. When four get together, they form two pujo committees. The main purpose of these committees is to feed people. The public spends hours standing in line sampling bhog across pandals. The rest of the day is spent comparing these bhogs in detail. In the evening, they support talent. Committees who can afford him get Kumar Shanu. The others get Bappa from Pocket 40. Sometimes Rinku’s cousin performs dance drama, accompanied by Potla. They also have competitions. A popular favourite is “Who Is The Best Jamai?”, which is like Kaun Banega Crorepati without the money. The judges are all local mothers-in-law. Local jamais get on stage and try to convince them that they are worthy.
Which brings us to Boudis. In Bengal, we don't have MILFS, we have BILFs. Mothers are sacred, except during football matches. The forbidden fruit is Boudi. A luscious Boudi is a fantasy figure. Often she is neglected by Dada. She features prominently in Wild Stone deodorant commercials, which is why Wild Stone is the best selling deo in Calcutta. But she remains demure. CR Park Boudis are very different. Instead of receding necklines, which are a sign of looj character, they have receding back lines. Every year, they recede a little bit more. This is why so many men spend so much time in lines behind them.
Meanwhile, the men in CR Park are doing it with kurtas. Even though our Prime Minister is trying to set the tone, kurta-wise, making bold choices like fuchsia and periwinkle, a visit to CR Park will blow his mind. During pujo, all kurta-related restraint is thrown to the winds. The pandals are full of men in French-cut beards, wearing psychedelic kurtas. Some of them have lines of Bengali poetry on them. Bonolota Sen is a particular favourite.
It’s not all bad. The mood is cheerful, and the cooking never stops. But if you seek a genuine cultural experience, avoid CR Park at all costs. And remember, Gelusil is equally effective on all communities.
Shovon Chowdhury is the author of The Competent Authority.