WICHITA (II) : THE BANGALI COMMUNITY

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“So you are missing the Durga Pujo this year”, friends have been saying this when they heard that I will be in Wichita during Pujo this year. As I write this blog post now, I have already made up mind to spend next year’s pujo too, in Wichita. It has not been easy for me to adjust to the changing environment after my dada left for USA when I was twelve and then the sudden demise of my jyatha, who was no more than a father to me. Durga pujo had lost its charm and when I took the decision to come back after Pujo, I knew, I was doing right. Yes, I am with my family now and when I came, I was being told that dada- didi didn’t know the Bengali community here as they have moved in recently. It didn’t bother me at all.
A sudden phone call from a certain someone called ‘ Mili aunty’ brought a basket of happiness for us as we got invited for the Durga Pujo meeting of the Bengali community here. The due credits of course goes to Kuljeet didi , a very cheerful woman who has become friends with us and we bonded over food and books. She had informed Mili aunty, one of the main organizers about us and she has been kind enough to invite us. I have heard a lot about Bengali community in USA. Last time when I had come to Atlanta, it wasn’t much of a community. The Bengali gatherings we had was nothing but a collage of dada’s friends with whom he had lived and even shared room, during his graduate days at Gatech. Didi’s years of experience in New Jersey and New Jersey spoke volumes for the sophistication and the rich culture inherited by the Bengali community. I was given enough indications, both direct and indirect, to control my tongue as we drove to the meeting. But soon as I got engaged in a ‘brain- storming session ‘ with Moonmoon di ( wife of dada’s colleague ) and Kallol ( a Bangladeshi grad student of WSU), for second, I didn’t feel alienated or odd-one-out.
Unlike the large Bengali communities of Atlanta, New Jersey and New York, the Bengali community, here in mid-west USA is different, ‘small’ to be precise. I know the “American culture “ of greeting everyone , known or unknown with a ‘hi’ and it was carried out there too, as we entered the meeting hall. A smiling face of a very sweet, short lady accosted us. It was Mili aunty. Her simple silk saree with her anchal wrapped around her waist created the magic of a typical Bangali get together where we have seen our mothers focusing more on work, rather than their sarees. Sophistication comes from simplicity as it got reflected in the behavior of this lady who belongs to the influential class of the people of Wichita. Slowly, people introduced themselves and started conversations. It was the warmth of their hospitality drove me into the kitchen and consciously trying to hide my burn of my right hand, I soon started to help them out serving the food. As dada carried out some serious discussions with his Bengali colleague, Animesh Chakraborty, I discarded my cocoon of the “ coy girl’ and the ‘ chatterbox me ‘ was running around discussing any topic she got. Perhaps it was this which aided me to get the chance of anchoring their cultural function of Durga Pujo.
There has always been a relation between ‘kitchen ‘ and ‘women’; there is always a certain ‘it- thing ‘ and I could see the effects. My interests in culinary skills and my eagerness to help them in whatever way I could apparently earned me the best compliment, that a 23 year old girl, rather a Bengali girl can achieve : the compliment of becoming a prized daughter –in-law. Yes, that is precisely what Mili aunty told ma, “ aapnar meye toh khub mishti.. khub pranojjol.. ajkal meye hoye  ranna banna korte o bhalobashey .. jader ghorey jaabey taara mathaye tule raakhbe “. Mom blushed , but rather I would say, relieved for she always fears I get into trouble and earn negative vibes because, ‘ I talk too much ‘. Animesh Sir ( Yes, I prefer to call him that , he being a distinguished professor of WSU ) was busy with dada and some other people as I chatted with his wife, Moonmoon di. She is a sweet lady and an excellent singer. I soon found myself laughing with her and didi talking a lot about various stuff. When it came to the cultural functions, we bonded over drama and thanks to the Bangladeshi grad- student, Kallol, now we have a team of three in our little community and I know one thing , ‘ whatever happens, our show will go on’  as Mili aunty and Mukul aunty pumped enthusiasm into our nerves to do ‘ something ‘ for the cultural function and of course, a drama is needed. Mukul aunty is another Mili aunty, cheerful , friendly, down to earth. She lives in Salina, 90 miles away from Wichita and comes for these gatherings. I was pretty shocked to know that they don’t have any Asian market there, except a Vietnamese one and the crazy me who have been dying to find palms to make taaler bora whispered to myself , ‘ dudette , you are in a far better position ‘. Patricia, an old American lady and wife of one of the organizers ( a Bengali ) apparently turned out to cook sumptuous Bengali food, which she learnt from her in-laws. I couldn’t help but admiring her over and over again.
It seems like impatience has intoxicated me as I rush to finish my blogpost, desperately jumping from one person to another. Ahh!! Why can’t the time fly away? Baakyo surely loves to play hide and seek with me and no matter how much I tell him to come out, he would not. September is coming and I look forward to the pujo, though I know it will also ring the bell of my departure. Nevertheless, I will come back soon and my Baakyo will be grow up too , next year.
Wichita has conspired to make me fall in love with him. Yes, a family and a friend- circle…. I have all. And Bengali food? Oh yes, they served chhyachra, kumro phuler bora, pulao, chhanar bora, aanarosher chutney, payesha and above all, koraishutir kachuri. And that reminds me , I was so engrossed to write my blogpost, I forgot that my waffles are calling me with the sweet maple syrup and blue berry pie. I don’t know where my hurry is but something tells me, this is just a new beginning and these real characters will come again , in some other way.

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