Take a peek into the lifestyle of a Bengali Babu through the vivid expressions of author Anuradha Dhar Bose
Bengali babu, karta of the family are somewhat a lost tribe, near enough to extinction in Bengal . The venerated Bengali babu once, excelled himself as a clerk in a government office and took delight in his routine day to day of affair of balancing the books to everyday grocery shopping and did both with equal measure of gusto. Simple affair like daily grocery shopping was never a chore, more a pleasure, a serious social activity which set the pace of the day. The babu, the karta of the household entrusted with this sacred duty of sourcing the daily produce for the family, took his role seriously and in the days gone by, pre- refrigerator days, he embarked on it, daily, with pleasure. His morning started with leafing through the daily newspaper and while alternating between sipping and dunking Britannia biscuit, softened to perfection by the sweet milky tea, babu readied himself for the primal hunter gatherer role. Newspaper read, neatly folded away, babu slips into white kurta, pajama and slipper and in a sonorous voice he calls out “hango shuncho” to his Ginni (wife) who is probably busy in the kitchen preparing the first meal of the day- tiffin, and the karta requests the good lady to hand him over the bazaar bags. Now, in every Bengali household and even to this day there are two bazaar bags one for vegetables and another for fish, meat and poultry. It’s a cardinal a sin to mix the content of one with the other.
With the shopping bags in his hand, armed with all the sensational news of the day from politics, culture to agriculture, babu embarks on the most important task of the day – his journey to the scared place called bazar. On his way he meets Haridas Pal, his next door neighbour and never forgets to ask what’ s the catch of the day and their ruling prices and which fish monger tweaks his scale and regularly cheats his customer. Further down the road he meets Madhusudan Dutta his neighbour across the road and finishes off the debate they started the day before on the hapless state of Bengal and its gradual decline and both with a final nod of agreement that the state has gone to docks proceeds quickly to the fish market, the sanctum sanctorum of any market for all Bengalis. Babu carefully dodges through the people, vendors and slippery floor and surveys the market. From the corner of his eye he sees Gauri Sen from the house behind, buying big fat lobsters and shiny Hilsa at an astronomical price and wonders how an ordinary government servant can afford to buy such expensive fish!!! He mutters to himself, must be surviving on” income under the table”!!! He surveys the market with hawk eye, soon identifies his catch which he pokes with his finger, gills upturned, body caressed to ensure its freshness. Once satisfied with his quality control act, he then spends precious time haggling on the price. A Bengali babu never says yes to the first quote, one does not want to appear lacking in negotiation skills, he carefully inspects the weighing scale, as these fishmongers are not trustworthy, and finally, babu closes his deal which, is no less important than merger and acquisition of corporate giants. With the fish of his choice in his bag, babu already feels light and buoyant, muses the delicacies Ginni will produce with her sheer alchemy in the kitchen. He walks towards the vegetable market, the essential accompaniment to the day’s meal and source of five-a- day. Shopping is incomplete without a visit to the vegetable market, without picking and feeling the tomatoes to check their ripeness, smelling the gondhoraj lebu to ensure authenticity and they are not hybrids, running fingers through the freshly plucked vibrant green spinach, tasting the banana flower to ensure they are not bitter otherwise a mutiny would ensue at home.
With shopping bag full, babu returns home. He puts his tholi (shopping bag) down on the kitchen floor, wipes his brows and doesn’t forget to inform his good wife about the sky high prices of fish and weekly increase of meat price before she takes off on him for buying the same old pona (rohu).
His sacred mission accomplished babu gets ready for the next important task of the day – his office. He has his shower after rubbing copious amount of oil on his hair and stomach and sits down for a simple lunch of steamed rice, dal, torkari and macher jhol. The clock strikes eleven when the babu makes a nice burp indicating his satisfaction at the plated food, washes his hand, bows in front of the photo of goddess Durga and can’t help thinking whether he would get his window seat on the BBD bag mini bus since it’s past peak time now. As the clock strikes twelve babu enters his office, orders a cup of tea to the tea boy, dusts the thick ledger and settles down to his chore with a satisfying smile on his face.
Author Bio: Anuradha Dhar Bose is a Chartered Accountant by profession but a mythologist and a writer by passion. She is a corporate professional turned writer who takes pleasure in writing about mythology, current social trends and food and regularly to contributes to various groups and writes blogs. She is passionate about storytelling, the ancient oral tradition and runs a storytelling group called Tales -To -Tell within facebook with wide readership and runs a storytelling club in central London which meets once a month to tell stories, analyse myths and most importantly to keep that magnificent oral art form – storytelling alive.