1. So much about Bengali men is about food. A significant number of contemporary Bengali men, unlike their forefathers, condemn fish. Excepting ilish, for the men love it too. “I don’t have fish, only ilish,” many men have been heard confessing in a tender moment. Since they love ilish, they will not care if others do so as well. Love makes them blind. The men will have the best peti (belly piece), for they say they are afraid of the kaantas, fishbones. Ilish abounds in them, which makes it a challenge. Women, at some point in their life, learn to tackle the kaantas, but confronting them able-bodied men become bashful and tremble. It pays off. Women are left to work their way through the thick-with-bones gaada pieces and men just sit back and allow the ilish to work on them. Eventually, the women get to liking chewing the bones and they are considered sexy while they are at it — remember the photographer-lover looking at Paroma in the film of the same name?
Anyway, if men won’t have fish, why do they relish the best parts of ilish? You see it rhymes, which is not a coincidence. Ilish is poetry — and Bengali men have exclusive rights over both.
They hog conversations the same way.
2. A similar Powerpoint presentation will explain why the leg piece of the chicken is also reserved for the man at the table. There is an additional reason here. Growing Bengali boys, who keep growing into growing Bengali boys, need more “protein”, which is good for the “brain”. The “brain”, when encased within the head of a boy, is a collective Bengali obsession. Nurtured by his parents, Horlicks and chicken legs, it will be a potent weapon when he grows up: it will be the highest point reached by a man with a steady, decent job, besides being the embodiment of sex appeal. A Bengali man draws women towards him with his “brain”. For these reasons the popular Bengali sayings: Maachher muro khao, brain-er pokkhe bhalo (Have fishhead, it’s good for the brain); TV dekho na, brain-er pokkhe kharap (Don’t watch TV, it’s bad for the brain); Beshi khela dhula brain-er pokkhe kharap (Too much sport is bad for the brain); Amartya Sen maachher maatha kheye boro hoyechhen (Amartya Sen grew up on fishheads). Fishheads being another powerful Bengali obsession.
3. But men actually look down on women for chewing fishbones. Or for eating green chillis on the side with their meals. There’s a suggestion of corruption or perversion about these two things — as if a clean piece of fish is morally superior and liking the bones is an unmentionable proclivity. Or liking a hot green chilli is slightly carnal. As a character in Tagore’s short story Khudhito Pashan, dismissive about women, put it: women love hot chillis, sour tamarind and a stern husband. Though he didn’t specify which was the worst for her.
4. Chicken roll.
5. Egg chicken roll.
6. Double egg chicken roll.
7. The Sunday mutton lunch. After which men can only go to sleep.
8. They really don’t want to go to the bajaar, not even to the AC retail stores for grocery or vegetable shopping. Especially the new-age Bengali man. The way he tiptoes through the fish market makes the wife cringe.
9. Many men still make that slurping sound as they eat. They sneeze, cough and yawn louder.
10. They expect women to serve them at the dinner table. At least she should be urging him on to the right bowls.
11. They expect the women will carry the dirty dishes to the sink, clear the table and put away the remnants in the right containers.
12. If they do put the food away, the fridge looks like a battlefield, with several things dismembered, dismantled and oozing liquids. In any case, they would never clean the refrigerator. Ditto for the cooking gas.
13. When they are drunk they invoke Robi Thakur. Then they tend to go for the cosmic, namely, Debabrata’s rendition of Akash bhora surjo tara, after which they have dinner.
14. But then when they are sober why are they still discussing Sachin Tendulkar versus Sourav Ganguly, and backing Dada to win?
15. In public, they admire Nandita Das. In secret, they want to be Salman Khan.
16. Rare is the Bengali man who looks good in a formal suit. He stops midway into it. He looks square. Or round. But proud. If you ask him why, he is likely to say that intellect is inversely proportional to height in his part of the world. He can be smug, very smug.
17. Which doesn’t take away from the fact that few Bengali men look good in jeans and a tee.
18. For the same reason, they seem to be rolling on the dance floor. From where they are often not picked up. Understandably.
19. They want biryani even at a Chinese restaurant. And chow mien at a mughlai eatery. Poor binary creatures.
20 . Only men can get to organise pujas and ignore everything else for four days.
21 .Their genjis.
22 .Their paijamas.
23 .Once they would only be doctors, engineers or IAS officers. Now they will be MBAs. The rest is “same to same”.
24 .Their stock of jokes is small and oft-repeated, especially in family circles. Such as the one on the various kinds of baldness. It ends with the variety in which only a few strands of hair remain. It is called Smritituku thak (forget me not). But as one has heard it since childhood, one has to remember to laugh hard. Outside family circles one common joke is: “Age no bar, caste no bar etc...”
25 .They will wear the dhuti for a wedding, but not before turning the household upside down. The dhuti has to be located first, sent to the laundry, and has to have the gile work done on it. Same for the addir punjabi. Then the gold punjabi buttons have to be located. In fact, every time a punjabi is worn, locating the buttons is the woman’s job.
The wearing of the dhuti itself is an event. There is at least one assistant, sometimes two, to help with it. Some men have worn the dhuti only on the occasion of their marriage — and their relatives still remember it, blow-by-blow.
The end-result is certainly not worth the fuss that goes into it.
26 .Romance means lots of poetry and sublimity.
27 .They think growing hair on their upper lip will make them more “manly”.
28 .Men are reluctant to make the bed, open the windows in the morning or make the morning pot of tea. Most of all they are uncooperative about hanging the mosquito net. It shakes the foundation of marriage.
29 .Their after-work activities include watching soaps like Bou Kotha Kao, Durga, Ekhane Akash Neel and game shows like Dadagiri, Dance Bangla Dance, but they pretend only the wives watch serials.
30 .They part their hair.
31 .They scoff at Dan Brown’s “poor language”, but devour his thrillers anyway.
32 .Dressed as they are in their executive suits, they are often sighted at a sweet shop gorging on langcha, mishti doi or telebhaja at the para shops, looking guilty, before returning home from work.
33 .They not only have an opinion about everything but they think they take the right decision in everything, though this could be a universal male trait.
34 .The television remote lands in his hands the moment he returns from work and stays there till he goes to sleep. But office phone calls don’t end. So he sits there with the remote in one hand and the phone in the other. This could be another universal male trait.
35 .Of course it’s okay to stay with his family. If she does, she is being a good woman in these selfish times. Of course it’s not okay to stay with hers. If he does, he is being a wimp in the traditional sense.
36 .He will insist that she looks beautiful, hot in fact, wearing sindur along with jeans, when she knows she is looking downright uncool.
37 .On online networking sites, Bengali men show a high tendency towards matrimony.
38 .They may not know the language. But they know the choicest Bangla gaalis and use them liberally.
39 .They like to pat their pot bellies in private. Sometimes in public.
40 .All nursery rhyme heroes are boys. Khoka goes fishing, goes to the river of milk, goes to hunt, goes to get married, while Khuku sits at home, learning to cook, waiting to get married or just plain crying. Obviously Khoka will face several adjustment problems when he grows up.
41. They are less chivalric compared with men from other Indian communities, many women report.
42. Many Bengali men think they are from Brazil. Which is why they go rabid during the World Cup.
43. During summer, they will smear their chests in slow motion with talcum powder before going to bed.
44 .If you are going to Digha, they will definitely advise you to have vodka mixed with coconut water on the beach.
45. If he’s there himself, he will drink it, wearing nothing but a beach hat and “baarmudas”.
46.-50 .The Bengali boy’s mother thinks he’s “flawless”. He secretly agrees.