10 Things a Bengali Never Leaves Kolkata Without

You can take the Bengali out of Bengal - indeed, they frequently take themselves out, travelling intrepidly and unstoppably to the ends of the Earth - but you cannot take the Bengali-ness out of the Bengali. From Tagore Park to Brick Lane, every bastion of Bengalis will be marked by small but telling signposts announcing the presence of the tribe of Robi Thakur, Netaji, and Satyajit Ray.   


Muffler/monkey cap: The only person on Baga Beach wearing a muffler or a money cap will be a Bengali. The sea breeze has a treacherous nip, you know. In Ladakh, they will wear both muffler and monkey cap, if possible two of each. This is because Bengalis have an overwhelming fear off catching a cold. Germs lurk around every corner, they believe - in the park where they take their morning walk, in the rarefied air of  Gulmarg where they descend in umbrella-carrying and monkey-cap-wearing hordes in summer, and in the stale air-conditioned air of offices. And so they build their defences, muffler by muffler.

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Boroline: There is no Bengali in or out of Bengal who does not have Boroline in the medicine cabinet. Boroline is the panacea for all Bengali ills. While you may well find the unassuming antiseptic cream in many homes across India, it's safe to say that the Bengali reverence for Boroline is unmatched. For them, it is their mother in a tube.

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Gelusil: The legendary Bengali love of eating brings with it an equally fabled but little discussed problem of indigestion. Hence, Gelusil. Digene will do at a pinch. Bengalis eat out as much as they do at home, secure in the knowledge that Gelusil is backing their stomachs up.

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Keo Karpin: While many will argue the merits of Jabakusum hair oil, and there are many, but Keo Karpin is favoured by Bengalis wholesale. They use it as a hair oil, they use it as a body oil. They also use it after bathing and shampooing so that they waft along on a cloud of Keo Karpin for the rest of the day and can assault unsuspecting nostrils from a mile away. 

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Talcum powder: No Bengali will even consider braving summer without an arsenal of talcum powder, preferably Cuticura, to keep 'ghamachi' or prickly heat at bay. The talcum powder is applied in layers of industrial strength and re-applied many times through the day. As much of the upper body that can be, is smothered in Cuticura regardless of the fact that it turns the Bengali arms, throat and even face vampire-like pale.

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Umbrella: A true Bengali will be armed with that all-weather weapon against the elements, an umbrella. An umbrella will shield you from rain, sun, hail, snow, or anything else nature might care to throw at you. This is especially so in cities with unreliable weather, like Delhi. The umbrella can also double up as a walking stick or be used to jab people out of your path. Whenever possible, this multi-functional implement will have been sourced from the hallowed (but miniscule) premises of Kolkata's Mohendro Lal Dutt, holy grail of umbrella makers.

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Jharna ghee: A dollop of Jharna ghee, food of the gods, in your daal-bhaat (dal-chawal) is a reminder of Home (for no matter where you may currently reside, every Bengali is umbilically connected to Home as opposed to home). Regular trips to the local Bengali-town market are made to buy Jharna ghee, sold in large and small plastic bottles. If you are unlucky enough to live in a city without a Bengali-town, you send Home for it. Amul or Anik just won'tdo.

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Mustard oil: If Bengalis could get away with cooking pasta in 'shorsher tel,' they would. Mustard oil is the foundation that Bengali cuisine is built on and is often a main ingredient , rather than just the cooking medium. For instance, it flavours the Bengali version of mashed potatoes and the famous anytime snack of jhal muri.

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Harmonium: Few Bengali households are harmonium-less. It will be tucked away unobtrusively in a Chittaranjan Park verandah, to be dusted off when friends are over for maacher jhol and Robindro Shongeet. You might fail to hit the notes while singing but the harmonioum's plaintive wailing will cover up a multitude of sins.

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Uttam Suchitra films:Adda and armchair revolution over cha and biscoot is one great Bengali past time. Watching films starring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen is another. Saptapadi, Harano Sur, Sagarika - the stack of DVDs rubbing shoulders with the books on Marx and Kafka will have a goodly number of cover photos on which U Kumar and S Sen gaze at each with black and white fondness. 

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Story First Published: May 05, 2014 16:49 IST

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