Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Bong connection & beyond

Last weekend found me going out and doing something politically correct - watching Anjan Dutta's latest movie - The Bong Connection. The backdrop of this was that I spent the earlier part of the evening with a friend and a group of Delhi 'Bongs' who have connected through Orkut and had got together for a book reading session in Bengali. Well how did I feel at the end of the evening?
To begin with, the movie was very average. The new genre of movies on cross-border Indian families and individuals has caught up with Bengalis too. But then the phoney accents of the central characters didn't leave much of an impression as didn't the laboured parallel drawn with Satyajit Ray's Apu. Also there seemed to be an element of wardrobe dysfunction with one of the central characters lounging around in what appeared to be a cross between an overcoat and a raincoat in Texas! The guy is a Bengali IT whiz working in an Indian start-up - surely he didn't have to overdo this peculiar dressing style when everyone else was suave and well turned out!
In any case, I object to the concept of "Bong" - which was even stretched to encompass a Bangladeshi cab-driver in a Crash-esque immigrant sub-plot. Bengali is a language and a culture. Bengal is my home which is full of idioms that are very close to my heart as an immigrant Bengali - but what is Bong? I frankly don't understand. It may be a hip and happening concept - but I can't quite relate to it. This is despite wanting to call this blog - BLONG - since so far all us participants are Bengali Bloggers! OK, so Bong may be just another smart word!
To digress a little beyond the movie, cutting all the literature and poetry out of the immigrant experience - as a day to day story, it seems to have changed many of our families into dispersed entities. My mother and sister, for instance, are in Silicon Valley and I'm in Delhi - and I'm not even beginning to calculate those miles between. Our home in Santiniketan, meanwhile, is desolate and I don't even want to go there alone. Often, it's a logistical nightmare organising a visit by aged parents to Europe or America as the case may be - not to forget the visa hassles. So here's where I'd say cheers to the many new flights between India and US and Europe that are scheduled to be launched in the coming months - Continental, Air-India, Jet Airways and Delta. I think actual air connections are far more comforting than far-fetched Bong connections.
As for the Bengali poetry & prose reading session - I'm not sure that one can really share such personal experiences with a group of folks that one connected with on Orkut?


drift wood said...

this is a wonderful post. being a bong or bengali is a lot more than a bunch of people sitting and discussing ray films & the great ganguly comeback over 'cha' & 'shingara'.
i dunno if u've noticed this but 'probashi' bongs often go overboard trying to sustain their tenuous link with their native customs and language. the durga puja 'anjali' at c.r park or cupertino will have more women in white sarees with red border than the one at jodhpur park.

ishani said...

Absolutely agree! Don't forget the 'machher chops' - that's what we had last Sunday evening, delicious, but cha, singara and chops are not what being Bengali is all about! In fact, I'm quite tired of the Bong idioms that film-makers and the non-resident Bengalis have created as symbols. Like fish, Durga Pujo, Park Street etc. In fact, why can't we create new idioms & symbols. After all our culture is rich and dynamic and we're creative people. Satyajit Ray created a lot of new symbols with his movies - the GenExt film-makers too should do that. I think some of the Bangla bands can be congratulated in producing original work, as can be some of the TV producers. For instance, the second Hoogly Bridge or Vidyasagar Setu, which is a spectacular piece of architecture has been often used as a backdrop for Bollywood films - I would say that's a new symbol of Kolkata rather than Victoria Memorial which is pretty jaded. Or Kolkata's new shopping malls - very vibrant! Why should we hang on to our Coffee Houses which are really shabby and smoke filled! The movie Bong Connection had a scene shot at Someplace Else which every Friday hosts one of the old bands of Kolkata - the event is very popular and goes a long way in helping people come together - and pehaps create new idioms of Bong-hood. Or take Park Street - which looks real shabby these days, why not put up Eastern Bypass instead? I'm making my own list of 10 new Bong symbols, why don't everyone else come up with your own?

1. Second Hoogly Bridge - a Bollywood favourite!

2. Bhumi (Bangla band)& Barandai Roddur!

3. Someplace Else & Friday nights

4. Eastern Bypass with its seven-star hotels

5. Jhumpa Lahiri & Mira Nair's Namesake

6. Jazzed up Rabindrasangeet after Viswabharati's copyrights ended

7. Travelling to Santiniketan on the same train as Amartya Sen

8.Jadavpur University's new plush campus bookstore

9. Metro rail extension

10. Fremont, California!

11. OK had to add another one - Bips Basu.

12 ...and another...Veggie cuisine ala Kolkatar Marwaris & one of Kolkata's greatest sons - Lakshmi Mittal, who's rocking the Raj back in UK!

Raj said...

From Rajesh - Princeton, NJ, USA
The Princeton Perspective

Just read this post and the related comments – as an ARGUMENTATIVE New Yorker/Bengali (have lived in the US for almost 27 years) – I must add the following perspective:

I absolutely, unequivocally, HATE the word BONG – imho it’s a pejorative term to characterize the Bengalis – therefore, a self-respecting Bengali filmmaker shouldn’t have used this term to start off with

The stereotypes of US based Bengali IT professionals and Republican Bengali fat cats are just over simplifications – let’s not get carried away with these

US based Bengalis love to relate to memories of Victoria Memorial, Park Street and Coffee House because we grew up in these areas of Kolkata and reminiscing about these places makes us feel warm and fuzzy (and not because we are a bunch of retrograde immigrants). Need to remember one thing, we are used to western amenities – therefore, the places like Hyatt and such in Kolkata don’t really impress us much – we enjoy dressing up in dhuti/Punjabi and going to places like Bhaja Hori Manna for example – hanging out in Calcutta Club or Tolly Club is another favorite thing to do – we like the so-called shabby chic of Kolkata

The Durga Pujas in North America is a way for us to keep in touch with our culture and impart the same to our kids (admittedly, we go overboard at times with the outfits) – remember, we can’t take our culture for granted any more – even in today’s multi-cultural, global societies – it’s not gauche to expose our kids to our religious/cultural rituals – once again, one does not have to be religious to enjoy Durga Puja

Let me put all these in perspective for you guys: Bottomline, as a self-described New Yorker/Bengali (i.e., Cham Cham to Cheeseburger; Hemant Kumar to Hootie and the Blow Fish; Sarat Chandra to Shakespeare – kind of a guy) I love to fly around all over the globe, drive German cars at a high speed (as high you can get in New Jersey that is – LOL) and get into highfalutin cocktail party chitchats (after a few shots of single malt that is) but at the end of a long day – it’s nice to listen to Rabindra Sangeet and eat Dal, Bhat and Papar Bhaja and possibly watch a Uttam-Suchitra DVD