A colleague writes: All you need is love, but a little food now and then doesn’t hurt. Rephrase this little, say – All you need is food, but a little love now and then doesn’t hurt – and you get split-second eponyms – Bengalis and Bangladeshis. Now, now it&’s time to differentiate the two for the rest of the world, because, for the most part of my recent stay in Calcutta&’s “twin city”, London, I was unmistakably mistaken as a Bangladeshi, and my many efforts to foreground the difference between the two fell on deaf ears customarily and gave me an audience rarely. As a proud Indian and I say that out loud, an additional nationality and my vehement non-acceptance of it, didn’t seem acceptable to my European “others,” who are uneducated in world history, because their classrooms didn’t deem it fit to include the history of the colonies, while ours liberally adjusted the exploits of the colonisers.
So, anyone from West Bengal would be righteously referred as Bengali, but what they actually mean is Bangladeshi. Such familiarity in unfamiliarity pervades the food scene in “Banglatown” as well. The famous Brick Lane area which came to be promoted as “London&’s Curry Capital”, is, according to Elizabeth Buettener, an endeavour to de-emphasize “poverty and ethnic conflict in favour of stressing vibrant cultural diversity,” and rightly so, as food has always been an important site of cultural assertion as well as dominant political intervention. Again, this is a scene of utter cultural confusion, because what come across to suffice your taste buds in Brick Lane is not the daily Bengali cuisine, it&’s largely Bangladeshi, which the people of Calcutta would fondly associate with being Bangal food and which we fondly relish.
But, here again there&’s a culinary discrepancy. Where our mothers and grandmothers from Dhaka or Pabna would quickly delight us with a kalo jeere diye maacherjhol, you will find yourself wandering on the lanes of Brick Lane to find an exact Bangal or Calcutta cuisine and such like. Chances are unlikely of a Bengali, a visitor to London, finding pnui dnata diye chingri maach,- or even a similar rendition of ilish bhaape or bhetki paturi, like the ones we find in the sub-continent, but finding a portion of fish cooked with all the vegetables with dollops of sugar added liberally, is more likely. The reason being a reasonable percentage of the restaurants in Brick Lane are run by Bangladeshis from Sylhet, whose spoken words and culinary preferences differ from the rest of the Bangladeshis.
And these people have given a fitting reply to our colonisers, they have colonised them through that one thing before which the world bows – food, of course spicing it down to suit the European taste buds. But as a foodie, and the one proud of being partly a Bangal, I was disenchanted with either the misti maach, or pniyaz ilish.- Reminds one of the old saying – “Prithivite dutoi desh, ek bilet, aa r ek sylhet.” ( There are only two countries in the world – one is Bilet, the other is Sylhet) But I have had enough of both of them. I would prefer to wolf down sorshe illish and bati charchari with steaming rice in Kolkata.