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Namesake


I watched Namesake, Mira Nair's film based on India born American Jhumpa Lahiri's novel. The movie is about a Bengali family caught between two worlds. Everything about the film fell right including actors Irfan Khan and Tabu. With their impeccable Bengali accent, they were right on, portraying the quintessential middle class Bangla couple with their values, simplicity and patritiotism intact. Raising two kids born and brought up in the land of freedom, the US, they manage to instill some of those values, eventually, to their otherwise wayward children. That, in essence, is the film's story.

I came out of the multiplex a little nostalgic. Nostalgia, someone said, is best shared from the outside. I share a strong sense of familiarity with everything Bengali. Most members of my family speak, read and write the language. We love their food from Ilish maach to muri ghonto, chorchori, et al, and we enjoy the Durga Puja too. This stems from the fact that my paternal family is from Silchar in Assam, where 40 per cent of the population are Sylheti Bengalis (from nearby Bangladesh). The dialect, a little different from the refined Bengali of West Bengal, is funny and mishty.

That apart, schooling in Shillong meant a lot of Bengali companions, apart from the local Khasis, Jaintias, Mizos, Nagas, Tankhuls, Aos, Punjabi, Marwari and of course, the anglo-Indians. For some reason, as a kid, I always sensed the resentment to Bengalis by the local populace. As an adult talking to my local friends, I perceived that since the Bongs are generally a hardworking, studious lot, all the government and coveted jobs went to the literate Bengali. So the locals felt swarmed and outdone in their own home state. Bad logic, but in a larger sense, it is like the great outsourcing story of today when the West feels robbed by the Indians off their jobs.The other reason people hated Bengalis was they thought them too crafty. "Sly" is the word my Khasi friends would say of them. Given the background, a Bengali-Khasi friendship was rare. Those that blossomed, blossomed forever.The friendship of my neighbour Chandra and her friend Caroline comes to mind. One was a Hindu, the other a Christian, one ate beef, the other ate fish, one was fair, the other was brown...the differences didn't matter.

Coming back to Namesake, Ashoke and Ashima's story is not far fetched. The arranged marriage, the fidelity, the unspoken understanding and uncomplaining compromises... that's the story of my parents, and I am sure it is of most belonging to my generation. In a world of extra marital affairs, divorces and flings, they come like a breath of fresh air. My mother was my father's constant companion in good times and in bad times. In Ashoke's death, I felt Ashima's immense loneliness. I don't want to imagine how the pangs of loneliness must be visiting and revisiting my father...

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