Homecoming for a hardworking warrior
What is this with us Bong Boys? Or, is it simply that I am one too.. And hence sensitive. To both the nuances of the spoken word around me, and the access I have to so many of those vulnerable souls, all good Bengali boys that is.
When I go home, I wake up. Immediately Ma is next to me. “Tea? Porridge? Fruits?” (Apples too, for the apple of her eyes of course). “Or maybe an omlette with toast? Luchi, perhaps for good order too.”
Then the question. “Are you having lunch at home?”
If the answer is Yes, there is a glitter on that tired face…. a beam that means action, a spring in her step that defies age. A flurry of activity. Driver sent to shop, cook told to dish up, all or nothing. Literally. And you dare not say you like something, it means you have to quite simply finish the whole thing off. Or else clearly you were lying. Or maybe even worse. The cooking was not upto the mark! In between of course, interspersed with questions, peppered with observations, come a flurry of queries:
“Is it nice? Is it tasty? Would I like some more. Why have I started eating so little. How much weight have I lost? When I go home I should diet. How I used to eat so much once. What happened?”
And then the dreaded one…..while you are still half way through those maze of dishes. “Will you be having dinner are home? What would you like.”
And all this, while subtle movements are ongoing to keep pushing the odd dish your way, or even getting up to get more out from the hard-working fridge, left overs, in case you want it too.
Any vague reference to simple things like age, health and sleep are scoffed at, waved away with derision. It is said ‘Bong boys don’t age.’ Nor do they have any health problems. Nothing that a quick trip to the corner pharmacy can’t fix. After all, what are medicines for? If you are a good son, you digest all that. The food will later cause you indigestion of course. But remember it’s all about soaking it in. And hope the juices inside dries it all out. Lest you disappoint them by your ‘new found’ penchant for defiance and disrespect.
Fish is a must, sweets are mandatory, rice must be in copious quantities, and ‘Kosha Mangsho’ is only a meat. No one from our family has ever had a problem eating it all. But us Bong boys are resilient. We give in, as we do to our wives, and to our daughters. We are naturally soft, when faced with woman power. Retreat to us is not a ploy. It’s a survival tactic, beleaguered as we are with such hostility around us. Assertion is silly. We internalize it instead. We chew it all in. We don’t spit it out at all. Manners take precedence over the odd belching, flatulence is just another measure of a meal well eaten, a fat lot of good it would do, to complain and resist. For us food is sacred, moms are holy. Acidity is normal, a small or large belly is prosperity and Diabetes is inevitable.
And then when you leave, for a business trip or simply to return to your place of work. Thanks to 35 years of communist rule in Bengal, most educated Bong boys made their career outside their home city. And they come home when they can, to be feted and fawned, to revel in their sense of entitlement, to rejoice in their moment of glory. Homecoming for the hard-working warrior, soldiering on in distant lands all by themselves, without their moms of course.
Nostalgia and pride --- a potent mix that leads to opinions, and fury too at times. Vindication of sorts. For the homeless coming home. The economic refugee coming to life. Full of Memories, stacked with success, reeking of intent.
So back to when you have to go back. Finally, the time to say goodbye. Usually a sad occasion. A sense of fore-boding. A pall of gloom descends. The night before, if you are leaving in the morning. The morning, if you are leaving that afternoon. The afternoon, if you are leaving that evening. People talking without speaking, hearing without listening, sounds of silence all around, deafening in its unsaid words, profound in its depth, subtle in its profanity. A stake out indeed, a wake of sorts, a denial of the imminent.
I WAS IN MY HOME CITY KOLKATA
Food is pushed your way. The Dhobi is reminded that Khoka is leaving. So all clothes must come back on time. The maid hovers around you in mock sadness whilst hoping you are not short of currency notes. The security guards compete to take your bag. The driver washes the car that day and is awash with smiles. You are king. You are leaving. You must ask. You shall be given. And then you get into the car. The neighbourhood watches. The sniffling around is overpowering. You call within 5 minutes of leaving, to tell them you are ok. You advise them what not to do, you tell them to get their check ups done, assure them you will be back soon.
After check in at the airport, you call them to tell them you are ok. That the driver was not rash. That you didn’t have a crash. And you promise not to be brash. For the unfortunate NRIs, you then do immigration. Without fail you are asked why you work abroad. Sometimes they confide in you. Those officers…Seeking advice which are but proxy job applications. You look keen just to cross that last line. Lest you are kept in line. You navigate through them. You pop into the book store, have a look at the sweet shop, allow yourself a slight dose of pining and wanting.
The foodie in you reminds you. The intellectual in you excites you. But your well trained mind hits you and you shake it all off and go into the lounge. A little drink. Sit down. Think. And then you reach for the phone. You call home to tell them you are ok. You speak at length. Punctuated with ‘please don’t worry.’ Laced with ‘it was so nice.’ Adorned with ‘I know, I should have stayed longer.’
And then the flight. You sit down. You sip that champagne. You call. Again. As it is about to take off, to make sure you are still grounded. You tell them you will be fine. That they must not worry. That you will be in touch, because the flight has wifi and you will be in touch. Very touching. And yes, most certainly you assure them ‘All will be well.’ You will not miss your connecting flight (another Kolkata special as hardly any direct flights exist).
And of course you will take care. Yes you have warm clothes because every self-respecting Bengali boy knows you must never catch a cold, and since monkey caps are not in vogue, you promise you will cover your head and not feel cold (Thanda legey jabey na).
Love means not to make them worry. Sincerity means to keep saying that, attachment means enveloping them with inanity lest they become insane at the thought that you didn’t say for the umpteenth time, ‘I am ok, don’t worry, flight is showing on time, I will call.’
Because how else will you assure them, and you too till the food comes for the quintessential BB, usually preordered ‘Non-Veg Hindu meal.’ Pretty much means no beef, but flesh otherwise. The starters usually however have their own course, but not meaty enough for the Bong Boy palate, and if on EMIRATES, it could be Arabic Mezze. The fellow next to me, complained bitterly, as he put it, in his own words: “I asked for non veg Hindu meal, this looks South Indian.”
You must understand one thing. For a Bong, anything south of Kidderpore is what they call ‘Madrasi.’ A throw back from the time, when anyone who wanted to go south from Calcutta had to take MM (read: Madras Mail). This is actually a compliment, since everyone who is not a Bengali, are usually referred to in extremely furtive tones as ‘Non Bengalis.’ No wonder the average Bong Boy has no time to relax, he has to handle everyone, and there is just another 99% of the world who are curiously enough, Non Bengalis.
So, here’s our Boy, sitting next to me, trying to make head and tail, out of the fish curry that has been served, which regrettably had neither of those in it. Familiarity breeds contempt, not for our Mr BB on the next seat. He is familiar with contempt, that comes with everything, that is not familiar. There was, for good order, a little bit of Bong veg sides, next to the fishy fish. He ignored it, as it’s mandatory, that greens are for the lesser fortunates, not to be touched, lest his grooming becomes a matter of conjecture and worse still, a simple case of lack of greenbacks, that couldn’t buy him the obvious pleasures of life.
It’s important to be doing what you do, always. You got to believe that you never left home at all. You have just been away, that’s all. The little boy still snug, however smug he may try to be, because you must understand, more Bong boys leave home than any others. But they never leave their moms.
And that’s how they make sure that home is after all where the heart is…And a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and who knows it better. Mum is the word on this one.
Go figure it out ....
Image - Saheli Das