The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Oct 20, 2010


There are clannish folks in India, and then there are seriously clannish folks. The Bengalis are seriously clannish. There are tales told of not only how they not only congregate and ignore all others, but also how they can sense vibrations in the space-time continuum that help them identify a fellow Bengali in the vicinity. And then they talk to each other in that most polished of tongues, and all bystanders are left to marvel at the ways of the Bengali world.

And then there are the refined Bengalis - that is, those Bengalis who didn't study in Bengal - and so acquire a sort of polish that enables them to communicate unflinchingly with non-Bengalis for more than a couple of hours at a time. My friend Ganguly, though, is a doubly refined Bengali because he grew up in Assam and went to school in Delhi, and he was able to spend weeks, nay, months, without a word of his mother-tongue escaping his lips. That is to say, he spent most of that time with us uncultured boors speaking Hindi and English and even essaying the odd expression in Kannada.

But even he would succumb to his internal Bengalishness every Dussehra, and he would repair to the Uttoro Bongoloro Bongo Somiti to accompany a Rabindra singer with a tabla, and feast on some mishti-dohi, and revel in his Bengaliment, and recharge his Bengalic batteries so that he could tolerate us for another year.

One year, though, he committed a faux-pas of such staggering proportions that it very nearly derailed the career of a stellar Bengalic singer. After having drunk far more sugarcane juice than was healthy for his bladder, he abandoned his tabla and rushed out of the hall and ran up to the front desk and panted, "Bher ij the taayilet?"

Well, actually he didn't say that, because he said the equivalent in Bengali, as shuddho Bengali as you can prefer, and the lady behind the counter reeled in shock at his staring eyes and strained expression, and drew herself haughtily, and pointed in a random direction and said, 'Obher der."

No, no, she didn't actually say that; she replied in chaste Bengali, and as Ganguly was rushing off, it dawned upon him that it was not just any lady, not even any Bengali lady, but that nightingale, that doyenne of pop, that mistress of alto, Usha Uthup, whom he had so unceremoniously inflicted with his desperation.

By the time he had drained the equivalent of the Niagara and returned to the front desk to apologise, Usha Uthup had disappeared, never to be seen again in that part of town.

Well, we say she never appeared in Bangalore again because it suits us to say so, and Ganguly was filled with remorse, especially when we pointed out to him every Dussehra that she never sang again.

I'm pleased now not only for Ganguly but also for that great diva, that she has found it in herself to recover from that terrible experience. I saw her singing with her usual gusto and customary power and panache at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, and by thunder it was good. 

Ganguly, my man, your sins are forgiven. You can smile again.


Veena said...

Just realised while reading this that if one substitutes Bengalis with Malayalees, Pujo (can't believe you wrote Dussehra) with Onam and so on and so forth, this whole post totally works. Though not sure who shall take Usha Uthup's place.

Fëanor said...

Is there a bit of Malayali in Usha Uthup? Not even a Palghat Iyer connection?(You're right about the Pujo bit: don't know what I was thinking.)

km said...

Speaking of Usha Uthup, she once played with an African band called the "Fellini Five". They deserve a Grammy just for the band name.

Anonymous said...

Mr Jani Chacko Uthup Uthup is from Kottayam, Kerala, per wiki


Fëanor said...

And, it turns out, the wife played with Uthup's daughter when they were both around two years old. In Cochin. So there's a Malayali connection right there.

(And the word challenge is Karticas.)

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