Changing Shades Of Bengal Through The Eyes Of A Bengali
West Bengal is probably the one place in the world where a bus conductor confidently says, “Pechoner dike egie jan” – meaning, move ahead towards the back. If you are a Bengali or have had the privilege of knowing the place from within, you are familiar with impromptu rhymes of street vendors, strangers stopping you midway to have a little chat, and constant buzz of “Aro jhaal din” (add more chillies) around the phuchka (golgappa) sellers. From cricket fanatics to teenage activists to mouth-watering rossogolla to exponents of various art forms, you get all that your heart desires and more in this part of the world.
What will you learn from this article?
- How Bengalis traditionally look at art & culture?
- How has the spirit of West Bengal changed over the years?
- How has the famous rossogolla changed?
- How has the concept of snacking changed?
- How have the beverages changed?
- How has ‘Adda’ changed to hanging out?
- How has Durga puja changed?
- Author’s take
How Bengalis traditionally look at art & culture?
As Rabindranath Tagore once said, “What is Art? It is the response of man’s creative soul to the call of the Real.” For centuries, Bengal has been the oasis for people with a thirst for art, liberal outlook, and creativity. This culturally fertile region of India has been the home of numerous legends who have redefined life over and over again with their brilliance.
How has the spirit of West Bengal changed over the years?
Like any other state, West Bengal has also seen massive changes in almost all fields of life over the years. The typical bandh (strike) culture, political posters, heated debates, crazy Durga Puja celebrations, and tempting range of Bengali sweets have all experienced evolutions – that have given the spirit of the state a new shape.
Globalisation and advanced technology have triggered a massive demographic change with people from different regions coming to West Bengal and Bengalis migrating to other places for work. The current mixed population has made a direct impact on the city’s milieu, its likes and dislikes.
How has the famous rossogolla changed?
When it comes to Bengali sweets, what is the first thing that strikes your mind? Rossogolla, right? This heavenly mithai – a point of tussle between West Bengal and Odisha – has also experienced a changing trend in the demand of the buyers. The soft, white balls filled with special sugary syrup now come in more varieties than you can imagine. From the spongy ones to chocolate-flavoured ones to fruit-flavoured ones to the baked ones, this popular dessert is now available in multiple avatars. While the younger generations are enjoying the unique taste of fusion rossogollas, some traditional taste buds still crave for the unadulterated taste of their favourite sweet.
Note: Rahul Chaurasia (co-owner, Ganguram Sweets) in an interview said, “Innovation is a must. Indrani, our signature product, was a result of an experiment. All customers are not same and neither are their taste buds. It is important to constantly come up with new look, taste, and flavour to be able to do business in this highly competitive market. But yes, the traditional recipes that are popular should not be tampered with.”
How has the concept of snacking changed?
20 years ago, the most popular snacks of this region included muri and chanachur, alu chop, beguni, cutlet, fish fry, dimer devil, samosa, and mughlai paratha. The changing mood of time saw the introduction of dahi vada, dosa, egg roll, chaat, and more alternatives that were previously not much common in the eastern part of the country. The next in line were the fusion food items that became an instant hit. Soon coffee shops, ice cream parlours, new-age restaurants, and international snacking brand such as KFCs, McDonalds, and Wow Momo started blotting the map of the region, giving rise to a different mood of snacking.
How have the beverages changed?
What is life without a refreshing cup of authentic Darjeeling tea during winter and a glass of chilled aam panna sharbat during summer? The trademark summer drinks of West Bengal – doi er ghol (yogurt sharbat), shakes, and aam panna sharbat – are facing stiff competition with the introduction of a wide range of fusion drinks and mocktails. However as the saying goes, old is gold. People have accepted the introduction of modern beverages but have not ruled out the traditional ones. Be it on special occasions or a normal day, the age-old sharbats and shakes still find a special place in the hearts of most consumers.
How has 'Adda' changed to hanging out?
Adda – the gathering of friends – has been synonymous with Bengalis to the extent of being a point of joke, often used by other communities. From Satyajit Ray to Sukumar Ray to a common individual, this frequent gathering of friends and like-minded individuals has always been crucial for intellectual brainstorming or simply spending some quality time. Till the 90s, the absolute must-haves of these sessions were jhaal muri, samosa, and tea. As they say, nothing in this world is permanent and the adda-special delights were no exceptions. What previously was local teashop based, quickly shifted to branded coffee shops and eateries. Adda got overtaken by ‘hanging out’ – a term that the younger generations can more comfortably relate to. The momos, hot dogs, burgers, French fries, smoothies, coffees, and shakes became the new tag team partners of friendly gatherings.
How has Durga puja changed?
The traditional form
Durga puja is easily the most celebrated event in West Bengal and carries the spirit of universal brotherhood and love. With the onset of devipokhho during Mahalaya, the entire population begins to start their preparation of welcoming Goddess Durga for a 5-day-long festival. Historians and scholars have often analysed the event as the perfect demonstration of the female power that reminds the world time and again about the importance of gender equality and women empowerment in our society. This popular occasion has always been celebrated by people from all castes and creed who come together to pray and praise the feminine form of supramental positivity and her dominance over evil.
Check this special series of humorous Durga puja creatives out before moving ahead.
The modern approach
The modern concept of marketing and promotion has transformed this religious event to a social event where art and culture gets a huge role to play in terms of theme-based pandals. Now apart from the holy side of the festival, the event has also become a platform and a commercial opportunity for talented artisans. There are some who haven’t taken this change in the right spirit and have blamed modern technology for pushing the religious sentiment to the backseat. Interestingly and ironically, it is the same technology which allows religious-minded Bengalis, who have migrated to a different state, to perform Durga puja at their place without having to worry about the necessary puja items. Websites such as SaleBhai have made it possible for migrant devotees to order top-quality puja essentials online without having to worry about authenticity.
If you try to look at the issue with a strictly traditional mindset, you will find that most of the things are not the same anymore in West Bengal. However, change is the only constant in life, remember? Yes, things have changed. New alternatives have been added to the market to cater to the necessities of the current mixed population and changing tastes of the newer generations. However, that doesn’t mean that the old and traditional delights have gone obsolete. The authentic traditional treats, beverages, art, and culture of Bengal – evergreen as they are – remain intact and continue to be the backbone of its spirit. In the era of globalisation, it will be very improper to try and judge a community by looking at a specific region. From US to Australia and from Chennai to Delhi, Bengalis are everywhere and so is their cultural legacy. As a matter of fact, original Bengali rossogolla and sandesh that were once limited to eastern India is now available in all parts of the country, thanks to e-commerce.
Like any other region, the state of West Bengal has also undergone a demographic change that has resulted in various changes in the food habits and general lifestyle of the region. This article is aimed at throwing some light on those changes and analysing the balance between the modern and the traditional aspects.
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