The Bengali community shares a special bond with the capital city

For the Bengalis in the city, this is that time of the year when they celebrate with gusto the nine days of Durga Puja with fun, food and festivities. No efforts are spared to replicate the splendour of the celebrations in West Bengal. For years now, artistes have been brought down from West Bengal to make the idols for Durga Puja – of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Karthikeya and Ganesh. Rehearsals for plays, music and dance begin days ahead of the festival and coordinating the efforts is the Trivandrum Bengalee Association (TBA).

The aroma of hot food fills the air as MetroPlus catches up with members of the TBA at the residence of Sanjoy Saha, near Muttada. Members are still trooping in at 7.30 p.m. after a hard day’s work to fine tune the programmes for the fete. Music fills the air and snatches of Bengali interspersed with English make it look like a scene from a Bengali movie.

In the meantime, food is served on a plate for me. “It’s luchi, not poori…!” says Syama Dasgupta, ensuring that we don’t mistake the golden fluffy poori-look-alike served with channa for poori. “We make it on special occasions,” she adds. Then, a trifle wistfully, she lists what else she misses about West Bengal, where she hails from. “Like the hustle and bustle of Kolkata, the trams, the street food…” But she adds that the city has been her home for the last 34 years, ever since she came as a bride soon after her marriage to Shantanu Dasgupta, then an employee of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC). Syama and her husband, who is now Dean, PG Studies, at Mohandas College of Engineering and Technology, are part of the big Bengali community.

Some of the TBA members have been residents of the city for 40 years or so. The TBA, formed in 1971, is now associated with Bharat Bhavan, Government of Kerala. Eighty-five families keep the TBA abuzz with various activities. “What brought many Bengalis to the city was the setting up of VSSC. They joined as engineers and were instrumental in forming TBA (which was registered in 1994). Today the Association is among the most active linguistic groups in the city,” says Sibapada Pal, president of TBA and a senior scientist at VSSC.

A resident of the city for 24 years, he has seen the city grow from “a quiet sleepy village” to its present status of an urban IT city. “I have built my own house at Karumam. Of the 85 Bengali families here, most of them have built their own homes in the city,” he adds. Even today, VSSC employees form a major chunk of TBA members. Many of the members work in public and private sector undertakings such as the Railways, banks, Regional Research Laboratory (RRL), Pappanamcode, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS), various educational institutions and hospitals in the city.

The bond with the city has grown stronger over the years, say Srikumar Chattopadhyay, head, Resource Analysis Division, CESS, and his wife, Mahamaya Chattopadhyay, also a scientist in CESS. In addition to Durga Puja, the members come together to celebrate Tagore Jayanthi, Saraswathi Puja, Lakshmi Puja, and various national festivals. Picnics and get-togethers are a regular feature of the association.

However, many of the senior members admit that Malayalam is still a difficult language for them. “In fact, my attempts at speaking Malayalam is a source of entertainment for my colleagues,” says Syama, with a smile. She been a teacher at Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, Nalanchira, for the last two decades.

However, the younger ones are pretty much comfortable with Malayalam. “We can understand Malayalam, if the sentences are simple,” say Shouvik Das and Aryamaan, both students of St Thomas School.

Many of them are also fans of Kerala food. “Actually, I’ve very little idea about Bengali food. I love kappa and fish curry, ada payasam…” says Aryamaan. Shouvik’s favourites are appam and egg curry, porotta and chicken and idiappam.

“People say there are many similarities between Malayalis and Bengalis, such as our love for rice and fish. But unlike Bengalis, the Malayali community is not very social. They prefer to stay indoors,” feel Mahamaya and Syama. However, all said and done, many of them emphasise that the city is home for them.

“I came here 32 years ago and have never been to Kolkata to celebrate Durga Pooja since then. The celebrations organised by TBA make up for everything. The TBA is like a huge family,” says Srikumar.

Durga puja fete

It is the 42nd year of the celebrations organised by TBA. The event is held in association with Vivekananda Centenary Memorial Institute from October 20 to 24 at Hassan Marikkar Hall, near AKG Centre. Filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan inaugurates the programmes at 7 p.m. on October 20. Special pujas are held at the venue from October 21 to 24 in the morning. The idols will be immersed at Veli Boat Club on October 24 at 4 p.m.

Cultural events include dance, song, drama, mime, quiz, recitation, singing, painting and essay competitions, among others. “We’ve a good number of singers, dancers, actors, writers and musicians in the TBA. The events are being coordinated by Sumana Dasgupta and Debashree Dhar,” says Sibapada Pal. Besides an annual Durga Puja souvenir, the Association has been bringing out Ankur, a Bengali magazine for the last 10 years. “Earlier it used to be a compilation of hand-written articles since we couldn’t print Bengali scripts,” Sibapada adds. A food festival featuring Bengali dishes made by the members will be held at the venue on October 23 at 7.30 p.m.

Proud moments

The senior members of the Association still cherish their meeting with Satyajit Ray and Jyoti Basu when they’d come to the capital city. “Mr. Ray had come for the Soorya Fete. He visited the house of one of our members and we were so excited to see him. In fact, one of our members even asked him what was his height!” remembers Syama.