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Bong Terminology (Part-One) Thursday, 3 September, 2009

Posted by ~uh~™ in Bengali, Kolkata.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The trigger for this post is this post.

This post may only appeal to Bengalis and/ or people who have stayed in Kolkata once in their life during 70’s or 80’s and have a first hand experience with  Bengalis. Apologies to others, who may not relate to the post or don’t find it useful in any way.

Long long time ago, when this earth was not a global village, when being a real Bengali meant to stay and work in Kolkata, I remember how Bengalis categorized people from the two parts of the world- One was Kolkata and second- rest of the world.

Please note the intention of this post is not to offend anyone, but to showcase how Bong’s saw other communities some 15-20 years back.

The Madrasis

All people from South India were called Madrasi. Irrespective of where they originate from- Kanyakumari, Hyderabad or Kochi, everyone is a Madrasi. A Madrasi is a person who wears a dhoti like a lungi, paints lines with white powder on his forehead and speaks a non recognizable language while addding adds an ‘y’ before and ‘a’ after almost every English word. Like, “my name is Yes Yes Venkataramana and I come to meeta Yem Yen Srinivasan fora meetinga“. The female Madrasi will wear the Saari in a weird way and she will tie Jasmine strands on their hair. Bengalis were primarily attracted to Madrasi food namely idli, dosa (pronounced dhosa), sambar and rasam and happily added to their  jolkhabar ( light snacks) menu. However, Bengali’s always believed that Madrasis used too much of coconut oil, on their hair to their food. The Madrasis had their close knit community in Deshopriyo Park, which still exists today. In Mumbai, today, Matunga ( East) is the place to find Madrasis abundantly.

An old joke- how would a Madrasi translate the Bengali sentence ‘”Ekta mota beral gnat hoye madure bose aachhe” into English ?  [ Meaning- A fat cat is sitting rock-steady on a mat]

Answer: A fatta catta satta gnatta on a matta.

The Punjabis

They are hefty people, very non-vegetarian in food habit and boisterous with humour and body hair. They wear turban, sport a steel wristlet (which is used to open beer bottles when there’s no opener at sight), they sing and dance ‘balle balle’ at the slightest provocation and are vicious foodies. Bengali’s are always indebted to Sardarji’s for introducing them to Lassi and Tandoori Chicken, both greatly loved by the bong community in general. It was a point of reverence that Punabi’s used both their hands to eat their roti and chicken, while the Bong tried to conquer the leg piece with their frail  literary fingers.

They used to be mostly seen on Bhawanipore area as cabbies, termed as Sardarji. A Sardarji taxi driver was always preferred over a Bengali  or Bihari one, for a late night journey across the city, as they were trusted to be loyal, brave and responsible. At that time the famous Punjabi people used to be sportsman Milkha Singh, writer Khuswant Singh and then President Gyani ‘Jail’ Singh (there is no ‘Z’ in Bengali only J). Milkha Singh was the greatest athlete and Bongs believed once he chased a thief to China without stopping, while the thief got into the serpentine bylanes of Shyambazar. That’s why he was called The Flying Sikh. Bengali’s believed that Punjabi’s take bath only once in a week, that is on Sunday. For some weird reason most popular jokes were always based on Punjabi’s, more particularly Sardarji’s.

I remember a very short one.

[Start of joke] Bengali to Sardarji- Are you relaxing? Sardarji replies- No, I am Milkha Singh. [end of Joke]

The Nepalis

The Nepalis are anyone with Mongoloid features whether from Bhutan, Japan, Sikkim, Phillippines or  Mizoram. The Nepali’s who are employed as doormen with a gun were termed as ‘Gurkha’. Nepali’s were also seen in Chinese restaurants all over the city. Ironically, the real Chinese people of Tangra ( Chinatown of Kolkata) speaks fluent and flawless Bengali. A Nepali would always wear a Gurkha Tupi (cap), carry a  Khukuri and wouldn’t hesitate to bet on their lives to protect the needy. The famous Nepali’s who were admired by the Bengali that time was Danny Dengzongpa and Subhash Ghising. Everyone loved Danny for his role on Lalkuthi (the 1978 Bangla horror film featuring the Song ‘ Tomar Bari Amar bari…Amar bari nei’ sung by  Kishore Kumar) and Ghising because he gave a tough time to Jyoti Basu and the CPM for a long period of time.

The Khottas

Khotta was the nickname of Bihari industrious community. Those days the hand cart pullers and rickshaw pullers used to be Biharis. I believe the term was somewhat derogatory, something like Bhaiya in Mumbai. Khottas consumed large quantities of Khaini and Sattu and wore Lungi. Our parents always taught us , unlike Sardarji’s never address a Khotta as a khotta and we remembered.

The Sahebs

These are the species who Tagore named as Gora (the whites) and not to be confused with the Urdu Sahib. Sahebs were essentially the white-skinned foreigners. American, Europian, Australian, Scandinavian and other members of Caucasian community were qualified to be called as Saheb. But the Japanese, though white skinned would be called a Nepali and not a Saheb. Sahebs had very distinct characteristics. Like Punjabis even they refrained from bathing. They used tissue papers instead of water for maintaining their personal hygiene which was considered as the biggest criteria of being a superior race than Bengalis. Sahebs had red cheeks, golden hair and used to stay at The Grand Hotel.  We used to see imported clothings being sold on the footpath of Esplanade, which people termed as Mora Seheber Jama Kapod which literally means Dead Saheb’s clothing. I think that meant if any Saheb died in Kolkata, their clothing were  stolen and sold at  a price, but I don’t have any research on this. Saheb’s female counterpart the ‘Mem’s were made of wax and used to wear dresses revealing their knees, a rare sight during those days.  The bong babies who were born fair skinned were nicknamed as Saheb. That ‘s how Moti Nandy named his character as Saheb in his novel about the footballer, which were later made into a Classic Bengali movie ( with hero as Tapas Pal) and Hindi remake( hero-Anil Kapoor). All black skinned foreigners were called Negro, and none thought it was derogatory at that time; neither they thought one day, a negro would be the president of America.

The Non-Bengalis

All others who don’t fall under above two categories were generalized as non-Bengalis. For example, if a person is from Madhya Pradesh who is neither Madrasi, nor a Saheb would be a non-Bengali. Gujratis, Marathis, Konkanis are all non-Bengalis. Simply, said anyone who is outside Kolkata is a non-Bengali the more distant from Kolkata the greater is the degree of his non-Bengaliness.


Finally, there is this unique species who can’t be categorized in any of the above. Bengali’s call them B********.


1. PodaPunaku - Friday, 4 September, 2009

lolz this one is awesome!! btw i think the classifications apply to a lot more communities 🙂
~uh~™ : Agreed, why don’t you give some examples ? of late you have become a miser in commenting 🙂

2. kaushik - Friday, 4 September, 2009

Excellent article! 🙂

I felt quite nostalgic while thinking of those times …. as you pointed out, the categorisation by bongs had no malicious intention … it was just the way of identifying people ….
~uh~™: Thanks, but i guess only a handful would relate to this….

3. Rofl Indian - Friday, 4 September, 2009

One class of Indians which deserves a mention here is Marowari or Mero in short. In fact, I expected the article to begin with a reference to Meros. Marowari (pronounced maro-ari) is typically a pot bellied, dhoti clad trader of Rajasthani origin with a large and colourful headgear adorning his head, whose only aim in life (as wrongly perceived by the Bengalis) is to earn money dishonestly. Kolkata’s Barabazaar is a large commercial district where Marowaris are seen as a thriving force, and the Bengalis often blame them for anything and everything ranging from disappearing parks in Kolkata’s colonies to unavailability of Eelish maachh in festive seasons. Bengalis openly grudge the business prowess of Marowaris whom they see as overpowering competitors in any business, though they can not deny the influential role of Marowari capital in Kolkata’s overall economy. Also, the idiosyncratic accent of Bengali-Hindi is a fallout of generations of Marowaris living in Kolkata, where the dialect has found common ground between people of both the communities.

Wonderful article. Thoroughly absorbing read.
~uh~™: Yeah, damn. I missed meRo ! But then you guys are there to fill the gaps 🙂 That’s why a blog post is always incompete without the comments !
Maganlal Meghraj from Jai Baba Felunath is one of the gretest example of MeRo and their typical Bong-Hindi ( Hingali if may I say)- “Asen Asen, bosen…hami hapnader jonno ketokhkhon opeksha korchhi….” . Utpal Dutt briught out the best of it. Remember the dialouge ” Lamohan Mohan lal…ek hi baat hai….sab lale la”l to Jatayu ?

4. Kartikey - Friday, 4 September, 2009

~uh~™: Glad 🙂

5. Rofl Indian - Friday, 4 September, 2009

It might be interesting to note that many Bengalis refer to North Indians as Hindustanis. If a Bengali boy marries a non Bengali girl, the neighbourhood would gossip endlessly how such a noble ‘Bangali Chhele’ has succumbed to the charms of a ‘Hindustani girl’! 🙂
~uh~™: Yeah , another very obvious missout ! Huindustani is referred to the people from cow belt- Haryana, UP, MP, Bihar mainly. Thre’s a brilliant refrence to this on Ray’s Shakha Proshakha.
Thanks for the tremendous value addition to the post. Hope to have more inputs from you on the Part Two.

6. PodaPunaku - Saturday, 5 September, 2009

Believe me…I would be commenting if I could!! u have no idea how I miss it! now u accuse me of being miserly!!! oh the hurt!
~uh~™: Sorry to hurt you unintentonally. I miss you.

7. abhishek - Saturday, 5 September, 2009

I concur with ROFL Indian. You missed Maro-aari and hindustanis. Boka**** is indeed unique slang in our language.
~uh~™: Hope to fair better on Part Two, be there 🙂

8. whatsinaname - Wednesday, 9 September, 2009

hehe an apt post in continuation with mine! it added to my GK. aND calling everyone in south as madrasi is something even north indians do 🙂
~uh~™: It was the distance that created such misconceptions, which is eliminated now.

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