2 States: What binds West Bengal and Kerala?
We had asked you, our dear readers, to tell us what it is really like for a south Indian to marry a north Indian and have been inundated with your responses.
Gangapriya Chakraverti talks about the striking similarities between the Bengali and Malayalee communities.
It has been over 20 years since I married Arjun.
We are from two different states -- West Bengal and Kerala
People often talk about the similarities that exist between our two cultures and are quick to rush to conclusions about things that attract folks from our respective communities to each other.
This post tries to put things in perspective.
Let me start with the weather.
The weather works similarly in the two states.
The humid summers and the damp monsoon season are common to both states. And, there is little one can do about the weather but complain which both communities love to do.
Our marriages are always conducted in the evenings and solemnised with the husband promising to take care of the day-to-day needs (aka food, clothing) of the wife.
That did not take away from the fact that the Bengali matrimonial ceremonies are predominantly religious while the Kerala practices are more for social confirmation.
Our gold jewellery is famed.
In Kerala, the intricate designs are made in gold that is made malleable by the addition of copper while the work from Bengal relies on lac filled metal being crafted to exquisite designs and patterns.
White and off-white are considered auspicious colours in our states and often you see women dressed in these colours at religious ceremonies.
The matrilineal system empowered women in Kerala and made them owners of land and property.
She held the keys to the wealth on paper though in reality the males in the household had a louder voice.
In Bengal on the other hand, the woman of the house is likened to Kali and is often the ‘de facto man of the house’ -- owning little but controlling all.
Our common love for fish stands out as the most striking similarity.
Yes, Kerala and Bengal have long coastlines and access to fish is therefore abundant.
However there is one salient difference.
Keralites have a preference for sea fish while the Bengali prefers fish from the river or the neighbourhood pukur.
The fisherfolk in the Malayalam classic Chemeen went out to fish in the Arabian Sea.
The Rani Rashmoni of Dakshineshwar fame belonged to the community of fisherfolk who owned the rights to fishing in the Ganges. That says something for the preferences.
We use a lot of common vegetables -- raw banana, banana pith and flower, varieties of gourds (ash, bitter) etc -- in our cooking.
Though the vegetables may be the same, the medium used for cooking is very different lending our respective cuisines their typical flavours.
Coconut oil is the preferred medium for those from Kerala and mustard oil for those from Bengal.
The taste for this cooking medium is acquired and can be a make or break factor in liking the cuisine.
A faith in Communist ideology has long been seen as another common characteristic.
Kerala had the first Communist government in the world. And, Bengal was governed by Communists for the longest period in history.
Though the ideology has empowered the common man through land reforms and brought in a relatively classless society it has all but wiped out enterprise from both these states.
Naxalism found a number of takers in these two states in the ‘70s.
Both states now face backdoor entries of capitalistic ideas that end, more often than not, in spurious organisations and nefarious means of money making.
Bandhs and hartals are a regular feature of people's lives in Kerala and Bengal and the Communists having taught the citizens to use this tool effectively in their fight for their rights and against exploitation -- real or imagined.
Our bookshelves will feature Marx, Lenin, Tolstoy, Bankim Chandra, Dostoyevsky, Chekov and Sarat Chandra or the works of these great authors will be serialised in our magazines for consumption of the masses.
What is amiss is that works of an MT Vasudevan Nair, a Vakkom Basheer or a Thakazhi or a Madhavikutty have not found the same enthusiasm in Bengal as that of Bengali authors in Kerala.
Our films are dark and gloomy and there is a lot of still life in the motion pictures.
Subjects like existentialism and the despair in life are often subject matter in our movies.
Kurosawa, Scorsese, Cupola, Polanski inspire our directors.
Ray is God and Adoor is King. Realism is writ all over our films and there is no concern for entertainment.
Bollywood is flippant and shallow.
Tea and our love for the beverage holds us together.
Strongly brewed tea at the addas and chaaya kadas inspire us to discourses around the rights and wrongs of everyday life.
The portions are small but the brew is potent. Whether served in mud kulhads or in thick glass, tea brings together people from all walks of life.
Football is another common thread that weaves through our communities.
The game raises passions though cricket has blunted some of that in recent times.
The game is followed keenly in every part of the world.
The success of Sourav Ganguly as the skipper of the Indian Cricket team, the flash-in-the-pan performances of cricketers from Kerala, the rise of the Kolkata Knightriders team in the IPL and the fall to disgrace of the Kochi Tuskers have all added to the masala around cricket that now has a great following in both states.
So, having said all this, I do not want to stereotype the typical Bengali or Malayalee. Or put them in the same bucket.
But I would not miss adding that they are singularly delightful and fantastic in combination!
Are you a north Indian who's married a south Indian or vice versa?
How did you two meet?
How did your families react?
Was there enough drama for a Bollywood movie or a bestselling book? :-)
Email us the stories of your inter-cultural marriage!
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject line: 'My 2 States story') along with a picture of you and your spouse, and we will publish the best stories right here on Rediff.com!
Image: Gangapriya Chakraverti and Arjun have been married for over 20 years.