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Monday, January 11, 2010

A gem of a wit

I was thrilled to read a sarcastic article titled Happy New Havate in the robibashoriyo pullout of Anandabazar Patrika of January 3, written by Parimal Sengupta. I provide my own (somewhat free-) translation of the same herebelow. I could have used louts or layabouts for ‘havate’, but I decided to stick to ‘uncouth’ instead.

Let’s call a spade a spade. In Calcutta Christmas and New Year these days mean carte blanche to the uncouth. So I stay away. A lot of people are going to be up in arms the moment they read this, but I don’t care. I owe nothing to either Santa Claus or to the magi (half-literate Bengalis pronounce the word as maagi), so there’s nothing to be gained by glowering at me.

There was a time when people like you and me really knew a thing or two about ‘western’ culture. I am not talking about heavy stuff like they store in the Asiatic Society library. I am talking of the days when Bengalis who rode in Fiat Mini Centos, Standard Heralds, taxis, or merely trams and buses, and who looked a bit like Nirmal Kumar, N. Vishwanathan, Sumita Sanyal, Subrata Chattopadhyay, Hemanta, Soumitro, Subhendu or Pahari Sanyal, knew the difference between rock, jazz and tango. They could promptly tell you the names of four movies in which Marilyn Monroe or Omar Sharif had acted. They had heard about Billy Halliday, and knew that Charles Lorton was a great actor.

Even then the whole of Bengali society had not become divided into the panchayat and promoter classes: the one addicted to mindless flicks like Punter wife and Hunter Hubby, the other falling drunkenly asleep before websites pandering blue movies. Then Christmas had some meaning. The more we have become ‘English-medium’ en masse, the more we have taught our children to parrot dad and mom for baba and ma, the more our Christmas has become merely an occasion for the uncouth to freak out. The ‘cultured’ Bengali of today is thrilled to bits over rotting chicken drowned in chemical-soaked soya sauce; there is sure to be trouble at home if biryani from Babur’s is missing from the Christmas Day menu. Earlier in very middle-class families our mothers had mastered with difficulty the art of making passable stews, soups and puddings at home. As Bengali midriffs keep swelling, so does ignorance about good food. You can’t have chicken without piling it over with kheer and cashewnuts and raisins and khobani … they call it value addition. One family I know recently went overboard by throwing a few prawns into the chicken curry. Having plastered the flat with marble and force-fed the kid into looking like a mini sumo wrestler, we are now hell bent on adding value to our dining table, too. How else would others like us get to know that we too have made money without getting an education? This new breed actually eats money. Perhaps they ought to be labelled mudra-rakshash?

It is this ignorance combined with gluttony that swells like a tidal wave at Christmas and New-Year time. At the celebratory hot-spots it’s a free for all between the haves and the have-nots. I am not talking about the Marxian rich-poor divide: it’s the difference between those who have females on their arms and those who don’t. The have-nots, again, are of two sorts. The first type consists of those who are too young, but with bloated egos, and strut as though they are quite sure they can pick up any female they want anytime. They are the uncouth of the first degree. Then there are the permanently drunken older louts: those with and without vast beer bellies. Many of them, having failed to hold in their lust, had got married to females even more ignorant than they when they were 21, and now, in their early forties, resemble nothing more closely than the 300-year old tortoise at the zoo. The wives, having gorged for decades on fatty delicacies of the worst sort, are just as vast and as ugly. Any kind of intimate contact, physical or mental, among such couples has of course long become out of the question. But these people have a lot of money, too, and they are adamant that their money can buy them all the pleasure with all the nubile bimbos who catch their fancy. They buy everything, from land to trade permits to lobsters and meat, so why not bimbos? ‘Let me know. How much? Know who I am?’ What self-righteous fury. And seconds later they are throwing up their last dinner all over you. They are the second-degree of the uncouth. All these types need the third degree if you ask me.

If this is your idea of a festival, go ahead and celebrate without me. A long time ago a babe was born in a manger. When he grew up they killed him in the name of a king. That sort of thing calls for politics, not festivals of louts. And as for New Year, both you and I know that nothing’s going to change. We have seen a lot of dadagiri, now it’s time for some didigiri, that is all. 2009 wasn’t a ‘new’ year for Bengalis; neither will be 2010.

[P.S.: Formal permission for this translation is pending. I hope they will grant it gladly, because I am only giving the paper and the author some free publicity before a non-Bengali audience - and also lots of Bengalis who don't/can't read Bangla. In case they let me know about any objection, I shall take this post off my blog.]

16 comments:

Tanmoy said...

Thank you Suvroda for sharing this excellent article. Very rightly put by the author. I had similar feeling of Kolkata this time around.

In malls like South City, the Bengali babus were arguing among themselves in atrocious English. I wondered if they are fighting why cannot they fight in Bangla. It is easier isn't it? However, they would not because from somewhere they have learnt, if you go to a mall you should speak in English.

Rajdeep said...

Good one. Thanks for sharing and translating. This trend has happened in the past with other developed countries that are facinated by Western culture, enough to think of even changing their language and education. So as India "develops" it is taking the course already taken. But unlike India, these few countries that I have in mind have fortunately not in reality given up their entire culture or their language. They continue to teach in their local language. For India, the scenario is different. Regarding attrocious English, it cannot be helped. There is nothing called "Indian English" as most people speak their own pidgin brands. And they are proud of doing so. So we can only smile and have some fun.

Subhanjan said...

Undoubtedly, the article had placed some of the harshest truths in a way that could not have been more eye-opening. But then again, I believe many must have called the writer a mad man and the rest would have not gone even beyond the title.

But it is not only the Bengalis who have degraded to such a level. I am not aware of how bright a history people belonging to other parts of the country have. But many of them are equally worse. I stay in Delhi. And over here capitalism is so much triumphant that ‘values’ hardly exist. A batch mate of mine commented, “Bengalis are such misers that they do not know how to enjoy. They only spend money on music, books and all those stuff. They do not know how to enjoy life.” Another of my batch mates said, “Money is everything in life. Everything else is ‘bakwas’.” When I said one of my friends that I cannot stay back at Delhi during Christmas as I want to go home to decorate Christmas tree with my sister, I was said that enjoying party in Delhi would have been a better option. Such kinds of statements throw me into states of shock.

It is so true that we absolutely know nothing and pretend that we know everything. My roommate reads ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, and exclaims what an awesome book it is. But he has neither heard of Leo Tolstoy nor Vikram Seth. He does not even know what Asterix is. But somehow he is more worth his salt than a Bengali who neither knows his literature well nor can mint money. If you give my roommate ten thousand rupees, he will give you back double that amount by playing it in the stock market. And that is how he and his dad had made their crores. But it is a pity that a Bengali youngster, who has a lot to treasure, has forgotten Tagore, and crams books thinking that mugging up notes will save him from the world.

When the writer says that gone are the days when people could promptly tell you the names of four movies in which Marilyn Monroe or Omar Sharief had acted, I am remembered of a dialogue of one of my batch mates when he said that I must be ashamed of myself and must not call myself an avid movie lover when I do not know about ‘American Pie’, whereas that friend of mine had never even heard of Gregory Peck or Toshiro Mifune. Sometimes I really find it difficult to realise what to expect from people and what not to. And in addition to that we have this serious problem with value addition and brand equity. We define our lives on terms of brand value and addition of value to the existing value. There is nothing wrong about that unless we are seriously perverted in our mind in terms of materialistic pursuits. We have gone confused so much that we do not even realise how confused we are when we stop seeing what is ‘valuable’ and what is not. No amount of screening of ‘Blood Diamond’ can convince us that the diamond we are buying might be a conflict diamond. We forcibly state with ignorance that conflict diamonds are a history of the past and celebrate on notable jewellery brands. We talk of creating brands out of individuals and cite examples of Mittals and Birlas when we have forgotten of Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. We talk of value addition in services and products when we quarrel with rickshaw pullers on five bucks. We talk of dancing in discos during Christmas Eve when we hardly know that there is a red-nosed reindeer with the name ‘Rudolph’. And this is true not just with Bengalis. This is with almost every Indian I believe. At least that is what I have personally noticed, no matter where I am. And I am glad that I had a teacher who had taught me to think differently. Or else, on this date, I would have been entirely like them.

Subhanjan said...

Undoubtedly, the article had placed some of the harshest truths in a way that could not have been more eye-opening. But then again, I believe many must have called the writer a mad man and the rest would have not gone even beyond the title.

But it is not only the Bengalis who have degraded to such a level. I am not aware of how bright a history people belonging to other parts of the country have. But many of them are equally worse. I stay in Delhi. And over here capitalism is so much triumphant that ‘values’ hardly exist. A batch mate of mine commented, “Bengalis are such misers that they do not know how to enjoy. They only spend money on music, books and all those stuff. They do not know how to enjoy life.” Another of my batch mates said, “Money is everything in life. Everything else is ‘bakwas’.” When I said one of my friends that I cannot stay back at Delhi during Christmas as I want to go home to decorate Christmas tree with my sister, I was said that enjoying party in Delhi would have been a better option. Such kinds of statements throw me into states of shock.

It is so true that we absolutely know nothing and pretend that we know everything. My roommate reads ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, and exclaims what an awesome book it is. But he has neither heard of Leo Tolstoy nor Vikram Seth. He does not even know what Asterix is. But somehow he is more worth his salt than a Bengali who neither knows his literature well nor can mint money. If you give my roommate ten thousand rupees, he will give you back double that amount by playing it in the stock market. And that is how he and his dad had made their crores. But it is a pity that a Bengali youngster, who has a lot to treasure, has forgotten Tagore, and crams books thinking that mugging up notes will save him from the world.

When the writer says that gone are the days when people could promptly tell you the names of four movies in which Marilyn Monroe or Omar Sharief had acted, I am remembered of a dialogue of one of my batch mates when he said that I must be ashamed of myself and must not call myself an avid movie lover when I do not know about ‘American Pie’, whereas that friend of mine had never even heard of Gregory Peck or Toshiro Mifune. Sometimes I really find it difficult to realise what to expect from people and what not to. And in addition to that we have this serious problem with value addition and brand equity. We define our lives on terms of brand value and addition of value to the existing value. There is nothing wrong about that unless we are seriously perverted in our mind in terms of materialistic pursuits. We have gone confused so much that we do not even realise how confused we are when we stop seeing what is ‘valuable’ and what is not. No amount of screening of ‘Blood Diamond’ can convince us that the diamond we are buying might be a conflict diamond. We forcibly state with ignorance that conflict diamonds are a history of the past and celebrate on notable jewellery brands. We talk of creating brands out of individuals and cite examples of Mittals and Birlas when we have forgotten of Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. We talk of value addition in services and products when we quarrel with rickshaw pullers on five bucks. We talk of dancing in discos during Christmas Eve when we hardly know that there is a red-nosed reindeer with the name ‘Rudolph’. And this is true not just with Bengalis. This is with almost every Indian I believe. At least that is what I have personally noticed, no matter where I am. And I am glad that I had a teacher who had taught me to think differently. Or else, on this date, I would have been entirely like them.

ginger candy said...

Very nice article, Sir. It is precisely because of these reasons that I don't go to new year parties, or marriage ceremonies, or birthday bashes any more. The last time I went to such a place, I cringed at the behaviour of supposedly well-educated people, who couldn't utter a single line without an expletive and couldn't hold up a decent conversation for five minutes. These guys frequently fly to the West for business trips, and kept asserting that that was the place to be in- a place that guaranteed a free license to shameless, wild debauchery. Now that sounds like a far cry from the 'western culture' that the author is talking about, doesn't it?

Thanks,
Joydeep

Aakash said...

Dear Sir,

The translation reads without a hitch. It's fabulous.

As far as the article goes, well, doesn't it reiterate what you've always been saying. There's little difference between the Jat who's recently come into money in Gurgaon and the middle-class Bengali.

With regards,

Aakash

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks Aakash. Feels great to be congratulated by a professional editor!

What makes the Bengali's case sadder, I think, is that he has always had this pretension to culture. The Jat (and many other people, for that matter) has never carried that kind of baggage, and we know how long Bengalis have sneered at them for being vulgar, don't we? These days we don't have to go out of Calcutta to meet uncouth people. And a particularly weird sort, too: uncouth despite being both well-off and (formally) educated.

Also, the point I wished to make is that mercifully I am still not the only Bengali who thinks this way!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

People see only what they want to see, Joydeep. I have also met folks who came back from various countries and praised to high heavens their culture of quietness in public, and good manners with complete stangers, and cleanliness and punctuality and fondness for libraries and art galleries and keeping the surroundings lush green... but that's not the sort of 'westernism' that appeals to the taste of the average suddenly-rich Indian, it seems.

Anindya said...

Dear Mr.Chatterjee,

Perhaps you and your readers may find the following dialogue from Ray's Kapurush of interest. (Kindly ignore the subtitles.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjkpVwCwAhs

I have been enjoying your writings.

Yours sincerely,
--anindya

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Anindya,
Thanks for the input.

I wonder, though, why so many people feel that they should not give their full names while writing comments. My own name is there for all to see, and I don't have any reason to feel shy about it!

Soumallya Chattopadhyay said...

Sir,
I would just like to thank you for putting this post on your blog.
This time,I won't comment on it.....let the message spread to each and every one of your readers and let them justify this post and decipher it's true meaning according to their field of thoughts.
All that I would say that your work of translation has been a wonderful one..........so let it speak out on its own.
Yours faithfully,
Soumallya Chattopadhyay

Amit parag said...

This post had flair of Bertrand Russell running through it. Sometimes funnily, sometimes sarcastically and many times quite markedly, this post makes the reader aware of the faults that are overlooked by the people at large. I agree with Tanumoy da, some people have somewhere have learnt that if you go to mall you have to speak English. I went to Delhi recently for the SAT examination and was very well aware of this current "fashion trend”. I believe this kind of writing should be printed in millions and distributed to millions, might be that someone relates it to himself/herself; that would bring about the effect that this post intends to create.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Those 'millions' won't even bother to read it, Amit, leave alone understand. But thanks anyway...
Sir

Nishant said...

Dear Sir,

Thanks for the translated article. It was indeed witty and quite sarcastic. I had the misfortune of being in Kolkata once during New Year's eve and worse still, of being on Park Street at the stroke of midnight. You wouldn't imagine the sudden rush of drunk motorcyclists that ensued as soon as it struck twelve.
Sincerely
Nishant Kamath.

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I can only imagine the amount of thought you must have put into this translation, surely, it is difficult is it not, to let the author's voice completely override your own?

As for the article, I have not much to say, except that a lot of people looked askance at me when I told them I had no plans to go out on New Year's eve and blister my heels among strangers. Not that I turn my nose up on dancing or having fun, I simply did not have the inclination to go out, I preferred to stay at home with my family instead, I have come to realize, that it is almost a status symbol these days to splurge huge amounts of money on the 31st eve parties, the higher amount of money it takes to gain admission into a party, the better it makes you look! Consumerism has started to devour minds.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Actually, Vaishnavi, I translated the article at one breathless rush in about twenty minutes, and posted it without revision...

It started long ago, this 'devouring of minds'; these days it seems there are few minds left to be devoured. I find supposedly educated, mature and important people, all grown-ups, chattering on twitter as inanely as any 17-year old!