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Book Review: The Bengalis by Sudeep Chakravarti

Last week I spent some time with a community that is large in size, intellectual and somehow even if i don’t know them, their culture and their food is something that has always attracted me. My knowledge about their background was very less, until recently when I read The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community by Sudeep Chakaravarti.

This absolutely gorgeous book is a versatile description of a community that exists in every corner of the world. The Bengalis is not just about the culture, the food, the language. The Bengalis is an euphoric emotion, something that you feel when you are reading this book.

A one single paragraph defines the complete book..

‘Āmrā Ké? Where, What, Why’, in lush gunfire prose:“We are garrulous; argumentative — and liberal, conservative and moderate, often in the course of the same argument — opinionated; often contemptuous of those not-Bengali; eager to be appreciated by those not-Bengali; blithely unmindful of such hypocrisy; intensely curious — not merely curiosities; feminists; chauvinists; misogynists; ultra-leftist; leftist; ‘rightist’; ultra rightist; haters of colonialists; lovers of colonialism bashers; lovers of colonialists (in a range from Britain to Pakistan); lovers of bashers of colonialism bashers; revolution-minded in theory and sometimes in practice; entirely evolution-minded in practice; among the gentlest people on earth; among the most vicious people on earth; creators and perpetuators of the most vicious gangs and political gangsterism; lovers of love; lovers of hatred; lovers of life; lovers of death; lovers of our land; lovers of the lands of those not-Bengali; lovers of rivers and rain; vastly literate; vastly illiterate; lovers of words, literature, poetry, theatre, cinema, art, any art form worth a form; lovers of witty comebacks and innuendo; populous — not to be confused with popular, although we can sometimes be that, too; pompous; quick to anger; quick to laughter; loud; noisy; eager transporters of such noise to some of the quietest places on earth; inveterate travellers; perhaps the greatest users of that odd phrase: sinikbewty; exhibitionists; drama queens; often colour blind when attempting Western clothing and interior decor; exquisite wielders of colour in art; sufferers of some of the greatest famines — the phrase bhookha Bangāli, the hungry, starving Bengali, still endures in northern India and Pakistan; fanatical about food; creators and worshippers of some of the most delicately flavoured foods on earth; fanatical about football; strangely fanatical about Argentine and Brazilian football players, nobody else matters except occasionally the French or Portuguese; terrible losers; weavers of the most exquisite fabrics of form and colour; wearers and exporters of such exquisite fabrics of exquisite design; lately, wearers of the most exquisite fabrics rendered hideous with overwrought design; unarguably the greatest users of balaclavas in the world other than terrorists and special operations personnel, they sometimes call their Hollywood-stamped versions ski masks, we call our simpler version mānkicap… . We are confounding. And, as you already know, we are legion.”

A non fiction, the book may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But for minds like me who need to read something new and fresh every time, this book has proven to be a gem in my collection. And definitely, goes without saying, this is a must read and one of the best books of 2018 for me!

One thought on “Book Review: The Bengalis by Sudeep Chakravarti

  1. Thank you so very much for your kind words. I am so happy ‘The Bengalis’ engaged you. It gives me courage to continue writing. Read well. Stay well.

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