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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Aimless Meandering of a Bong Head

I have been born and brought up in a typical Bengali family. My grandmother had some influence on me when I was growing up. But she passed away when I was 13 and I think that is when it started. My mother even though the typical dutiful wife and daughter-in-law never forced me into anything that is essentially Bengali. For example being religious. I do know that being Bengali and being religious has no connection whatsoever, but what I want to tell you is that it matters if you had a pious grandmother like I did. I have no idea how I turned out the way I did, but I am now what I am. I have no inclination towards religion, or “Pujo” in general. It gets embarrassing at times because I have no clue what to do when there is a “Pujo” at our house. Which is what happened today. My mother decided to have a Pujo on the day of “Dol” (Holi). Please go ahead and judge me because of what I am going to say now. She did tell me what the Pujo was for and I listened but I didn’t bother to let it sink in my mind. While most of my friends are fairly well conversant with the etiquettes of organizing a Pujo, I can shamelessly declare that I have no idea what those etiquettes are. And that doesn’t bother me one bit. This is what bothers me - that it doesn’t bother me. And I do nothing to improve my ignorance. The Pujo is over now, and I am as ignorant as I was before. Being the only child, it is essential to perform certain rituals. I couldn’t have been more nonchalant about the entire process, which disturbed both my parents, especially my mother. But I have a line of defence. She never said that I must absolutely follow the footsteps of a typical Chatterjee; she let me choose. And I chose not to be a part of all this. I have no qualms with religion or God. I just like to be left alone. I am not like my colleagues, who whenever we go for a walk would bow their heads and clasp their hands, every time when we come across an idol. To me the thought just doesn’t strike. The learned Pundit who came over to perform the whole ‘event’ was very displeased by my attitude and actions. I held out the wrong hand, did the wrong things and ended up saying a bunch of gibberish when he asked me repeat after him the ‘mantra’ in Sanskrit. So in the end I just gave up saying anything. When everything was over and done with, I was told that I could ask for blessings. I felt I didn’t have the right to do that. I didn’t do anything that I was supposed to, made it abundantly clear that everything about it bored me and now when the time comes to relish the fruit of the entire process, I get to participate in that?! I’m sorry, I might be a lot of things, but one thing I am not is a cheat. 

I was sent to an English medium school and as I grew older, English was the medium of conversation among our friends. We didn’t do it because it was cool, we did it because our teachers levied a fine on us if we would speak in any vernacular language. And the habit stuck.  I am a Bengali and am proud of the fact, but there are so many things that clash with my Bengali identity. I don’t like fish, simply can’t stand the smell of it. I haven’t read Tagore. If I am asked to speak my mind in Bengali, I will not be able to do that. And I tell myself that this is the result of the battle between nature and nurture. At school, the wholesome experience of having Gujaratis, Mawaris, Rajputs, Punjabis, Oriyas, Tamil, Kannad, people as friends made me very accommodative. But at the cost of being a weak Bengali. It clearly shows that in my case, that only my parents’ influence wasn’t enough. Or maybe because I simply didn’t heed their instructions or advice too much. My friends were an integral part of my life. Growing up without a sibling made me extra dependent on them. My mother often laments now that there is very little ‘Bongness’ left in me. I disagree. I may not have turned out to be the perfect Bengali girl she wanted, but now that I am living away from HOME, I take care to see that my roots are always sorted.

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