Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hindustanis And Bangalis

A friend, from Mumbai, recently commented that the great Indian Hindi divide to him was always North India V South India and was surprised when he came across a mild-anti Hindi jibe from a Bangali.

The Bangali-Hindi relationship is what Facebook should use as the "Learn More" mouseover on their 'It's Complicated' status.

Growing up in Asansol, a small (by Indian standards) industrial city on the West Bengal-Bihar/Jharkhand border, the Hindi-Bangali divide was clear. Rather the Bangali-Hindustani divide. Yes, you read that right, we Bangalis are not Hindustanis. In broad strokes we Bangalis had culture, the Hindustanis had money. We couldn't live without fish and meat, they couldn't stand them. And I don't say this with a sense of superiority because both parties accepted and approved the social structure. The Hindustanis would think of us as 'padhe likhe hai, lekin becharon ke paas paisa nahi hai' (Those guys are well educated, but poor people don't have much money). And we would publicly feign a lack of interest in their wealth, as coveting wealth is looked down upon in the bhodro (polite) Bangali society, and privately aspire to be like them one day. At the same time, publicly we'd say some politically correct stuff about their eco-friendly humane eating habits and come home and say "Ei veg kheye kheye betara borolok hoe gelo. Tobe jai bol, shara jibon veg kheye Ambani hobar theke amader oi moddhobitto machh-bhat jibon onek bhalo" (These bloody folks make all their money by saving on fish and meat. And say what you will, it's better to be enjoy the middle class life with fish and meat than be an Ambani and remain a vegetarian for life).

Coming to the language piece, which sparked this discussion. All Bangalis from an early age are reminded of this "2nd sweetest language in the world" title that we had been bestowed upon by some unquestionable authority (right after French, because what's a good story without specifics?) This was the pre-Internet era equivalent of 'forwards' that was passed from one generation to the next. Now we must have a Facebook photo doing the rounds of Rabindranath accepting this award from a white person. So, with this absolute certainty of enjoying a linguistic superiority over all other Indian languages, we tried to speak Hindi, the national language (consolation prize, as it was still far from the sweetest). These efforts always included a sense of condescension, which for some reason wasn't the case when speaking English (another language we crushed in that legendary language awards show). With English we would practice our pronunciations and vet them with the English medium convent-educated types. Our faces would turn beet red if someone ever pointed out a slight issue in the way we delivered a word. Hindi was a different ball game. We almost elevated its stature by speaking in it. To give it an even higher pedestal in life we adopted the poor Hindustani's language, and processed it such the final product was just a mild variation of Bangla. While this has been lampooned by Bollywood for decades, the bhodrolok sees no humour there. As a friend's mother was once bargaining with a vegetable vendor in Delhi, in chaste Bangla. The poor Hindustani was at his wit's end but continuing his part of the bargain till they agreed on some price. When the friend asked her mother why did she think he, a North Indian uneducated vendor, would understand her nuanced Bangali arguments about the fair price of cauliflowers, she replied in a matter of fact way "Takar kotha shobai bujhte parta hai" (everyone figures out everything in terms of money). Trivia: In Bengal we refer to money as 'Taka' which by the way is the official currency of Bangladesh, India's is Rupees or Rupiya as the Hindustanis refer to it.

If you try to corner us about our lack of Hindi skills we will tell you that some of our boys, like Bimal and Abhash have created greater art in Hindi (their second or third language) than any native speaker will ever come close to emulating. So 'tumhara yeh Hindi bok bok bandh karo, aur sab Bangla seekh lo jaldi jaldi, World's #1 language hoga hum, dekh lena.' (So stop your nonstop Hindi chatter and quickly learn Bangla. It's about to become the world's #1 language. Mark my words).

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