Friday, October 24

Collecting Bengalis

Considering the blatantly unfair stigma attached to them during my school days, I now have quite a lot of Bengali mates whom I consider myself to be pretty close to. Amongst these are the those I even travelled to the place for - and my time there ranks with some of the best holidays I've had.

I've picked them up from secondary school (which then went on to become The Collective), university and most recently my wider professional social circle. I'm even relatively close to a Bengali neighbour of mine - these guys really seem to be everywhere I turn (and that's not a complaint). And it's been noted by those around me too - there's an in-joke in my family about how I'm going to eventually end up marrying a Bengali at some point.

I'm still not a total expert on Bengali culture, but I like to think I know more than others outside of the community. I know that Sylhet isn't synonymous with Bangladesh, I totally loved Chittagong when I visited and I've also been blessed with the unique brand of generosity, openness and acceptance that they'll unlikely receive themselves from others - I was called an adopted son at least twice at a Bengali wedding I attended yesterday.

They're also much more interesting than those from other parts of the Indian subcontinent, if only for the contrasts within their society. You have the super liberals who (for example) drink and then those who are super spiritual and religious. Then there are those who marry outside of their community without fear (and of the people I know who have done this, most are Bengali) while their siblings decide to go back home for their spouses.

They're the ones who drop out of school and go to Oxbridge. Some can't even speak or write English, while others are successful writers, musicians and models. Careers range from the mundane to the interesting, and I know Bengali teachers, scientists, bankers, lawyers and media types. These wide range of lifestyles and behaviours is probably what makes them so fun to hang out with; at the very least none are boring, and most are nice and easy to talk to.

On the other hand, I would say that Bengalis might be a bit on the exclusivist side, especially when it comes to other Asians, and that they may not appreciate other subcontinenters as much as they could do. The classic example I give for this is their exclusive claim on "Bengali Time", not realising that at least 1 billion other people are just as tardy as they are. Plenty of other examples of this self-involvement can be taken from the fields of fashion, food, culture, wedding traditions and even when they're self-criticising or are complaining about the way they happen to be treated.

I'll admit that I would have never guessed that I would have so many awesome Bengali mates during adulthood, but what I'm sure of now is how glad I am for being wrong. After all, if your friends really do make up a large part of who you are, well then I owe a huge debt to those friends of mine who happen to be Bengali.

Ama bangla paro na!

Originally drafted 27th July 2006