Saturday, April 19, 2008


I have started a much-awaited task this month - that of teaching my elder daughter the basics of the Bengali script. At school she learns English and Hindi, so we decided that it was time for home-lessons in her mother-tongue (which she speaks at home, and has also started to read now).
To teach her, I fell back on the age-old primer, Barna Parichay, the favourite introduction to the Bengali language written in the nineteenth-century by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (and read by generations of Bengalis - my parents and myself included).
Although Vidyasagar (his name literally means 'sea of knowledge') was a remarkably courageous man and a pioneering social reformer, re-reading his book with my daughter gave me a few insights on why the typical Bengali bhadralok (gentlemen - and women) are regarded as timid, cautious-about-health-and-weather and scared-of-catching-a-cold.
In his lessons in Barna Parichay, Vidyasagar cautions in the same breath : "kakhono michha katha kahio na (do not lie)" and "roder samay daura-dauri korio na (do not run about in the sun)." Then again, he warns incipient naughty children, "tumi douria jao keno, poria jaibe (why are you running, you will fall down)".
As a piece de resistance, the final lesson contrasts the life of a good boy,Gopal (who revises his lessons, never fights with others, and always eats what his parents give him - I should be so lucky!) with that of a bad boy, Rakhal (who enjoys nothing more than a good fight or a good rough-and-tumble game and who apparently manages to lose four sets of schoolbooks in a month - not that he reads any of it, anyway). Obviously, the subodh balak (good boy) is excessively loved (otishoy bhalobashen) by his parents.
No wonder, Bengalis are deemed to excessively love their iconic monkey-caps and umbrellas, especially at the first hint of cold or cloud. Umbrellas, of course, are a must-have outdoor accessory, come rain or shine.
Bengalis also love arguments but abhor fisticuffs, being content to shout "maar, maar shaalake (hit him, hit the rascal)" from the sidelines of any streetfight. And all self-respecting, brought-up-on-Barnaparichay Bengali babus (gentlemen) will diligently shun any work which might take them out under the hot sun.
Lessons learnt at their mother's knee, with a little help from Vidyasagar?


jyotsana said...

hi sucharita
i am touched. your concern about my well-being was so thoughtful. i am absolutely fine.but i have been quite busy elsewhere. i read ur other blog yesterday. liked it too. i have just somehow (maybe because i wanted to so much) managed to write a small post for ah woman.will get back to you very soon and to some good reading on ur blog. and ya liked this new look of your blog.

Siddhartha said...

Timidity is the name of the game. Recently it seems that Bengali men (including me) have become more timid than women. Please do not think of me as gender-biased, but in the recent past most of the relevant protests are coming from women. The tolerance level of people are at an all time high, waiting to get higher. In a world where nothing seems right, logic falls flat, and grass-root corruption and an all out absence of sense is all pervading, we are simply accepting all as the malady of the time. The cure is something not sought after. Perhaps we all are comfortable living in a lawless society as long as we are not affected. Timidity is encouraged globally - I remember reading one "motivational" book (because I was reviewing it) and it actually encouraged selfishness and compliance to company law. Not in such words but if you can read (not just decode alphabetical scratches) then it is quite obvious. People are actually making money out of all that! Anyway, the fish loving Bengali has become more fishy, the intellectual aspect has become more sabbaticalised, and the active bit is now much more actively snoring. All the active bits mind you. The Bengali has left. It has nothing else.

Pratibha Hottigimath said...

Cool stuff! Sifting through some of your posts on this blog and your other brought back memories when I was in Kolkata a few years back. How I enjoyed being there! And the mishti doi, roshogollas, maach... yummy! (Have given up non-veg a long time back tho.) :)

Will keep coming back for more! :)

lopamudra said...

While teaching Raya from 'barnaparichay' I too had fervent debate with my husband concerning Gopal and Rakhal.Though I missed the bengali babu timidity angle I was not keen on the conformist attitude of Gopal and liked Rakhal for behaving like any normal kid.Since then I have been trying to find out more contemporary ways to teach my daughter and I did come up with great sites in the net.I loved the way you took this to a new level.

thesparklingthoughts.... said...

hi, thnx 4 ur valuable comment abt my blogg.urs is well written and thought full one.Keep visiting me plz.i will also do the same.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

You must have heard the one about how Jesus could have been a Bangali? (Jew Shmew, Italian mommas, allasame ... take your pick)

(a) he lived with his parents till he was 30
(b) he thought his mother was a virgin
(c) his mother thought he was God.


sarangis said...

a bit of a misfit i would say on ur blog and the situations not too different either in life as such.anyways in the midst of all these chaotic thoughts where serenity lies elsewhere for am not so accomplished probably,read a bok stating the relevance of art n theatre in rabindranath's teaching modules at shantiniketan life for while seemed pretty blissful.n as for ur aunt what i meant was that if age n time still permit,she could help those in need at the look it up at i got to know about it recently,sumay

mm said...

When Rishim was born and I often commented on how difficult it is to manage boys and how girls are so much more well-behaved - Saptorshi would tell me each time "gopal-er theke rakhal bhalo". That's the first thing that came to my mind on reading your post.

chambilkethakur said...

1. Ishwar chandra vidyasagar: the intellect who read under street light. my father use to his misal(example) and i hated that, because TV was restricted on those ground(may be someone will explain the relationship???), anyway i had read a story on swabhilamban(self dependency) by this gentlemen and i must say i like it.
2. In my TODO list: learning bengali and tamil are pending for long, because they have richest literature among Indian languages and my hunger for authentic literature is big enough to digest any classic(language no bar).
3. I like only three indian directors and all of them are bengali, I have a great respect for bangla art. but i hate calcutta's weather and its pricey-ness.
4. One quick help: if you need to give an example of bad boy you can spare the Rakhal, u can instead use some one more realistic like let say "anuz" ha ha.