Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Teachings of My Elders

Things at home not being so peaceful, yesterday I went to visit my favourite dida (who hasn't been keeping very well of late). Shared a cab down to Jadu Bazaar with A-mj from work, and then walked down the busy street. Came across a dosa-seller so I picked up three masala dosas. Yummy, and at Rs. 5 a piece, I didn't mind the thinness.

Incidentally, all non-Southies seem to think the thinner the dosa the better. Not correct. The tastier the dosa the better. Some batters taste better when spread a little thick. Ideally the dosa should have a slightly puffed rim. In my opinion of course, but then, I love dosas and appams and shoru chaklis. For those out of the loop – dosas are South Indian pancakes, appams are bowl-shaped Kerelite ones and shoru chaklis are Bengali pancakes. They each taste very different although essentially made of a batter of fermented crushed rice and lentils.

Back to my story: I went up, only to find Ma, who'd reached a few hours earlier, had come with singharas, kochuris, huge langchas (a kind of fried sweet dipped in sugar syrup; tastes soft and yummy), rabri and a little box of gunjiyas, which just happen to have been my favourite sweet from my sticky-fingered childhood. I had some of everything of course. Office leaves me famished, or maybe it's the kid.

And Ma, Mejomamidida and I sat around chatting for another hour. I filled her in on the news and the sasurbari stuff, and as always, it was explained by the Bangal factor. They are not like us Ghotis, don't you know. They talk harshly, and stop at nothing. They are, in short, uncultured. I'd heard a lot of this stuff all last summer and on and off afterwards, till the marriage. I've never really made much of this nadi'r epar and opar divisions, but it does come in handy when such things need explaining.

When an aunt got married some years ago, certain members of the groom's party distinguished themselves by spectacularly boorish behaviour. I remember my mother telling her mother about it later, only to have my didima say, oh but these people are from –[a certain village in Bihar]-- and they always behave like that. She followed it up with a story about another bridal party from that same village where the members had also behaved very badly (this happened several decades ago, though).

How do you explain these things away? I don't really want to fall for the Bangal-Ghoti divisions, if only because the husband and I (who are incidentally the people who matter the most in this equation) grew up largely ignorant of any but the main differences. But when the didas talk, their worlds are clearly demarcated. And when one applies those demarcations to my own experiences, lots of things make sense that wouldn't otherwise. It's all very disheartening. In the meantime, here I am, a cultural bastard, wondering how to apply the secular and non-communal teachings of her CBSE textbooks* to real life.

*When I was in school, social studies wasn't entirely taken over by the Hinduvta brigade yet.

1 comment:

Sue said...

For readers who don't know Bengali:
nadi'r epar and opar refer to the west and east banks of the river Padma, which basically separates West Bengal from Bangladesh. Ghotis are Bongs from epar i.e. the West while Bangals are from the other side.

The cultural divide is a lot more complicated since plenty of each community populate the other side. Also, members of my generation know less of the cultural differences than our parents do. We're basically mongrels, me and my friends, so this communalism is a bit difficult to comprehend always.

Didas = grandmothers/ great-aunts. Mejomamidida is my mum's mami.