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Book review: From the outside, looking in – GetBengal story

22 June, 2024 08:26:26
Book review: From the outside, looking in – GetBengal story

Title: Bangaliyana

Publisher: BlueOne Ink

Price: Rs 399

If asked to describe himself from a creative standpoint, Rajiv Banerjee would probably use the term ‘self-taught cartoonist’. Which is what he still is, in whatever spare time he can manage from his demanding job as a corporate bigwig in Mumbai.

That he can also write is evident from his debut attempt Bangaliyana, bearing the tagline ‘Doodles, Cartoons and Musings from a Probashi Bangali’. The slim volume, comprising 16 short chapters, covers almost all aspects of what the author sees as quintessential parts of Bengal’s socio-cultural life, sketched and written about in loving detail.

Banerjee is in that enviable position of being both an insider and an outsider, as a Bengali born and brought up in Mumbai (the Bengali word probashi literally means one who lives away from one’s original home), whose approach to his roots is often deceptively simple, and always gently humorous. There’s no mockery here, but there are plenty of jokes only an insider would get, combined with an eye for detail only an outsider would possess.

A pencil sketch of Uttam Kumar from the movie Chiriakhana (Menagerie)

A cartoonist is typically more than just a sketch artist or doodler. Cartoons are meant to tell stories, independent of any accompanying text. In that respect too, Banerjee’s illustrations mostly hit the mark. Which is not to say the text is superfluous, because it certainly adds to the enjoyment. However, the stars of the book are undoubtedly the sketches, a skill which Banerjee has clearly inherited from his father.

Sketches of Satyajit Ray with characters from his movies (left) and a Bengali family on vacation (right)

In conversation, the affable Banerjee laughs ruefully about his experiences as a non-fish loving Bengali, a sacrilege if there was one, and his tendency to pepper his spoken Bengali with Hindi words and phrases, a common probashi trait which provides Bengalis living in Bengal with much amusement.

“The book was mostly intended to bring my sketches to life. I stumbled across the term Bangaliyana and wanted to explore it further,” he says. “And friends and family have given me very encouraging feedback. Many of them are now probashi themselves, and are struck by the strong nostalgia component. Many non-Bengali readers married to Bengalis have also messaged to say they gifted the book to their partners.”

For a term as wide-ranging as ‘Bangaliyana’, encompassing all things Bengali, one book may not be enough, though Banerjee does cover most of what he views as quintessentially Bengali – such as the passion for alu bhaja (fried potato), the shock and horror directed at a non-fish eating Bengali, the obsession with Boroline, the daak naam (nickname) fetish, the famed Bengali love of travel, the disappointment of his in-laws with a jamai (son-in-law) who was practically vegetarian (unimaginable in most Bengali households), and much more.

All eyes on the son-in-law (left) and a jhaal muri stall in Kolkata (right)

Over and above all, of course, stands Durga Puja, and the Bengali attachment to pujo pujo bhaab (roughly, pujo in the air). Indeed, what Banerjee looks forward to right now is a series of sketches based exclusively on Durga Puja in Kolkata, which he has never experienced, which may or may not translate into another book. “There’s such vitality and creativity around it, it’s like nothing else in the world,” he says.

In the chapter titled ‘Pujo Pujo Bhaab’, Banerjee writes, “The thrill and anticipation of pujo just around the corner reach a crescendo a month prior as every Bengali will see, hear and feel pujo pujo bhaab in everything around them.” That in itself should be worth a book!

To get hold of your copy, click here: Bangaliyana: Doodles, Cartoons and Musings from a Probashi Bengali

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