“How come your eyes are so small? You can hardly see them behind your glasses. Don’t Bengali girls have big, beautiful eyes?”
Well, I must be a fake Bengali. I have small eyes; my hair is cut in a long bob; and I don’t eat much fish (tsk, tsk).
Since school, I have been inundated with stereotypes about Bengali girls. They are supposed to be excellent at music and dance, elegantly moving to tune and making the birds hush in revered silence when they open their mouths. My music teacher in school thought I had a pleasant singing voice and she endeavoured to get me to take music seriously. I did; I still enjoy singing in the shower. Once, during auditions for an annual school function back in Grade 3, the dance teacher pointedly asked me to “try out for the march-past rehearsals instead”. I cried for a whole hour.
When I started working, the primary conversation starter I received was: “So, where in Kolkata do you live? Do you get good fish in your locality?” Never mind how I had repeated until my voice had gone hoarse that I was born and brought up in Delhi. Bengalis lived in Kolkata; everyone knew that, duh.
I am a Bong girl. Supposedly, I cook everything in mustard oil, wear a saree like a pro, and converse in an animated language punctuated liberally with “eeessh” (also, “maa go” and half a dozen extra, random “Os”). I am gifted at poetry, music and dance and spend all my weekends reading in a corner. Oh, or singing Rabindra Sangeet and playing the harmonium. Ask me any day, and I would prefer to eat fish, roshogullas, and rice, even if it was the holy season of Navratri (“how unsuitable!”). My political alignment: communist, of course. My favourite shower song: Aami je tomar.
“Your Hindi doesn’t sound like Bengali at all,” a colleague once chided me. “Neither does your English.”
I was confused. “Was it supposed to?”
“Haha!” laughed the colleague. “Rosogulla khaabo? Maach khaabo?”
“Aami tomake bhaalo baashi!” pitched in another, with what he assumed was terrific wit.
It was heartening, really, to see the confidence these people possessed. I mean, they had just recited all the Bong phrases they knew in one go, never mind how incorrect, inappropriate, or plainly unnecessary. Here were people avowing love to me and offering me sweets and fish. I couldn’t really complain, could I?
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I am taking up the April #AtoZChallenge 2019 and will post every day of the month, except Sundays. I look forward to your company!
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