BENGALI CULTURE

Non-fiction Apr 15, 2020

Among other things that I'm grateful for, I consider my birth into a Bengali family in Kolkata, a privilege that has instilled in me an affinity towards culture and heritage in every form. The city is called City of Joy for a reason: there is limitless joy to be discovered from the rich cultural and social history that is imprinted in the hearts of Bengalis and influences daily life even in the modern era. The city has gifted me the ability to find happiness in simple things like a cup of tea and deep-fried fritters at a roadside shack or taking a lazy tram ride through the dingy by lanes during monsoons.

Growing up, I never realized how the past twenty-two years of my life have been shaped by Bengal's cultural vibrance. Often my parents took me to theatres where masterful plays of Rabindranath Tagore were brought to life. Rabindranath, in general, was a regular member in our lives, from radios in roadside barber shops to television background music and once a year the entire colony would come together and celebrate Rabindra-Nazrul shondha (evening) by paying tribute to the great poets through dance, music and recitation. Even today when I'm homesick or lonely, I find my way back to Rabindra sangeet; this extraordinary human who not only won the Nobel but also authored two of the most beautiful national anthems in the world, is indeed an exemplary example of Bengal's contribution to Indian arts and culture.

During holidays we often visited the exhibition and saw breath-taking artworks by the likes of Jamini Roy and Ramkinkar Baij. Handicrafts and small village NGO artworks displayed during fairs in winter made me fall in love with the artforms of Patachitra, Chalchitra, Mudwall painting etc. I would spend my winter holidays savouring spicy jhalmuri and sweets made from Nolen gur, glued to the tv when they broadcast Satyajit Ray's "Gupi Gain Bagha Bain" and "Apu Trilogy" movies. In the afternoons my grandma read to me. When I was younger these were mostly fantasy tales of beasts and kings from "The Thakumar Jhuli" which changed into mystery and thriller fictions of Kakababu, Feluda and Byomkesh as I grew older.

Festivals were a huge part of our childhood. We would wait with bated breath all year for Durga Puja and when it arrived, art, happiness and traditions knew no bounds! Skilled artisans sculpted the mud idols to perfection whilst labourers toiled day and night for months to erect pandals, each more splendid and intricate than the one before! Through the woven grass and stacked bamboos, tales of heroism, sacrifice, heritage and triumph of good over bad are narrated. The kids lined up to draw the "alpona" on the floor while their mothers united to cook large meals for the entire colony; they donned red and white sarees to signify the power and peace associated with women empowerment. Culture and happiness mingled into one as irrespective of caste and creed everyone participated in activities like Dhunuchi dance and Shonkho blowing. The pomp and galore continued for 20 days till Kali Puja and ended with the bursting of firecrackers.

Another favourite memory of mine is how my grandmother used to sit on the floor and do kantha stitch work on sarees and bedsheets while I studied. Her patience, craftsmanship and use of colours to signify the occasions inspired me to embroider some clothes and bedsheets which, to my delight, were appreciated within my known circle.

Painting techniques like terracotta, mask painting, instruments like Ektara and many other frontiers of India's cultural heritage hail from Bengal. I feel proud and honoured to be a part of this society and my endeavour to keep exploring these different faces of art would always be alive within me.

-Anuranita Basu

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