Quintessentially Bangali?

Bangaliyana is a light-hearted journey to grasp a culture forever infused with nostalgia and nestled close to the heart.

Quintessentially Bangali?

Bangaliyana: Doodles, Cartoons and Musings from a Probashi Bengali

Imagine waking up to the aroma of fresh ilish (hilsa) fish sizzling in mustard in the kitchen, knowing that your day is off to a delicious start. Your Maa hollers your daak naam (pet name), urging you to hurry up and take a bath. You know that after savouring some shorshe diye ilish, you’ll be rewarded with a delightful bhaat ghum, cuddled up with your beloved kolbalish or pashbalish (cylindrical pillow or bolster). And who knows, maybe later you’ll indulge in a Satyajit Ray classic! So unfolds the archetypal Bangali (Bengali) life, or Bangaliyana, in all its winsome glory.

Bangaliyana: Doodles, Cartoons and Musings from a Probashi Bengali written by Rajiv Banerjee offers a uniquely humorous take on the intersection of the ‘native’ and the ‘cosmopolitan’. Born and raised in Mumbai, Banerjee is a probashi, meaning, he was brought up outside his linguistic community of West Bengal. The book’s pulse is humour, brought to life by a whimsical mix of doodles and cartoons. For the past decade, the author, (a self-taught cartoonist, a former journalist and a successful corporate communications leader) spent most weekends sketching, creating a treasure trove of cartoons. Banerjee’s passion for cartooning ignited at the tender age of six as he watched his father craft witty cartoons in a small black diary. His primary learning source thereafter was studying the works of renowned cartoonists like R.K. Laxman, Mario Miranda and Ajit Ninan. His deep dive into Bengalis and Bangaliyana filled a sketchbook to the brim, planting the seed for this book.

The book kicks off with a chapter titled Daak Naam. Every Bengali boasts a charmingly peculiar daak naam that often makes more sense to the heart than to the head. The author humorously recounts how his entire neighbourhood knew him only by his pet name. When outsiders asked for his address using his formal name, the neighbours were left scratching their heads in bewilderment, having no clue who that was.


Maacher jhol and bhaat (fish curry and rice) is synonymous with Bengalis but imagine the horror on the faces when I announce, ‘Ami maach khai na’ (I do not eat fish),” writes Banerjee in the chapter titled Tumi Maach Khao Na?. He humorously narrates his trips to the Mumbai fish market, where the sellers blatantly ignore him, instinctively knowing he’s no fish connoisseur. The kakimas, pishimas, kakus and dadus (aunties, uncles and grandfathers) are the prized clientele and command all the attention. “Most fishmongers have, over the years, picked up a smattering of Bengali phrases too add to their sales pitch, ‘Aasun, kakima, ilish nao, khub bhalo’ (Welcome, aunty, there are some good hilsa for sale),” Banerjee writes in his book.

The book boasts chapters like Sunday Breakfast, Lunch and Ghoom, Kol Baleesh, Bhaat, Aloo Bhaja, and Muchmuche. In these, Banerjee hilariously reminisces about staging epic battlefield scenes with his kol balish as the star, savouring elaborate Sunday feasts, and Bengalis’ undying love affair with muchmuche aloo bhaja (crispy fried potatoes).

And then there’s Boroline, the green tube of wonder ointment. Got a cut? Boroline. Chapped lips? Boroline. World ending? Well, Boroline might not fix that, but it will certainly make you feel better. “I distinctly recollect a mother admonishing her child aloud for not applying Boroline, inside the train compartment,” Banerjee writes in the chapter titled Boroline.

There are plenty of delightful scents in the world, but then there are the prototypical fragrances of incense sticks, dhuno and bhog proshad including khichuri. One whiff and you know ‘Maa eshe gechen’. Banerjee dives into the essence of this festival in the chapters, capturing the true pujo vibe through chapters titled Pujo Pujo Bhaab, Bhog Prasad at the Durga Pandal, Pujor Chhuti and Durga Puja Chanda and Sponsorship.

I first encountered the term ‘wanderlust’ (which translates to bhromon er nesha, meaning a strong desire to travel) around the age of seven or eight. I discovered it through Satyajit Ray’s film Agantuk, where the maternal uncle, Manmohan Mitra, mentioned how his wanderlust compelled him to leave home and explore the world. It was then that I also learned the word has German origins.

In Bangaliyana, Banerjee discusses the Bengali fondness for travel, particularly their enthusiasm for pilgrimage to Puri, Odisha, and their adoration for hill stations such as Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Gangtok. “A Bengali family holidaying in the hills is a sight… There is a sweater, a muffler, a shawl and a mankey tupi (monkey cap)…,” he writes in the chapter titled Wanderlust.

Jana Aranya by Satyajit Ray holds a particularly special place in my heart. More than just a film, it serves as a cynical social commentary. The film vividly portrays the depths of debasement within society. Banerjee, in the chapter titled Satyajit Ray, highlights my favourite scene where Utpal Dutt (Bishu Da) instructs Pradip Mukherjee (Somnath) in the ways of conducting business. Dutt’s condescending tone when Somnath hesitates at the idea of engaging in trade is striking, particularly his remark, “You can beg on the streets, but you won’t sell chanachur (snacks).”

Bangaliyana scoffs at the idea of fitting neatly into a single genre. It’s part memoir, part short story, and one hundred per cent humour. Think of it as a treasure hunt through the author’s memory bank, unearthing stories that will strike a chord with probashi Bengalis everywhere. The book is not about critiquing Bengali culture; it’s a heartfelt love letter to the true-blue Bengali spirit. Whether you’re a probashi or just someone intrigued by the Bengali way of life, this book promises to tickle your funny bone and tug at your heartstrings. From the quirky anecdotes to the hilarious doodles, it’s a riot of laughter, nostalgia and a celebration of everything that makes Bengali culture wonderfully unique.


Bangaliyana: Doodles, Cartoons and Musings from a Probashi Bengali

By Rajiv Banerjee

BluOne Ink, 2024

116 pages, Rs 399/-