There are so many days when I’m trying hard to put across a concept which is inherently and unabashedly Bengali unsuccessfully to a non-Bengali, desperately trying to make them understand, or at the very least hoping that they get some semblance of the connotation. And that’s true for every native speaker trying to convey a feeling which is seldom as exciting when expressed in a translated language. Thanks to popular media, these days a lot of native terms are quite familiar to the general population like, macha or da from Tamil, adda from Bengali, gheun tak from Marathi, etc.
Ever since the movie Vicky Donor released, a lot of non-Bengalis have asked me about the social and cultural norms in a Bengali household and the accepted traditions of a Bengali life, they were curious to know more, to learn more about the life and the outlook of a Bengali to the same situations that they face as a non-Bengali. And then, of course, there was Piku. But if you ask me about the commercial renditions of Chokher Bali and Devdas, etc. be ready for some fuming and whining, and not necessarily in the same order.
So, the point I’m trying to drive at here is that there is nothing better than books. Books are the best mirror to social, cultural and political aspects of a society through characters that are strong and impressionable and take you to journeys worth remembering. And there are certain Bengali authors who you should definitely read to understand the Bengali psyche much better.
First, and my absolute favourite, is Ashapurna Devi (active from 1939-1995) for her mesmerising tales of human reality and the bittersweet translations of human relationships. Bengali women are a topic unto themselves, and even Quora is filled with questions regarding them (how to date, etc.), but on a serious note, the understanding of the independence, decisiveness and rock-hard grit of a Bengali girl can be had from reading her stories.
Ashapurna Devi’s short stories are a glimpse into a bygone social period yet a period that defines and authors the present social scenario. Each and every story will make you think and if nothing else, the satisfaction of having read them is absolute.
The next Bengali author you should read is Sharadindu Bandopadhyay, the famous creator of Byomkesh Bakshi but not limited to the detective alone. His novels and tales of the supernatural narrate the love of every armchair history enthusiast. His works in historical fiction are a dream to read and romanticize about. However, I was enamoured by his short stories featuring the ghost-chaser Baroda, such spine-chilling adventures as are perfect for a day like today. Cold and grey and pregnant with the possibility of impending rain and a dense fog later, the day is perfect to pick up a Sharadindu flash or delve in an astute Ashapurna feature.