If you are a reasonably attractive Bengali lady, chances are, you’ve had a man or two walk up to you and confess his weakness for the Bengali temptress. Being suspicious by birth, I make it a point to clarify if he actually meant tempest. He proceeds to wax eloquent about her raving beauty and I rudely interrupt to ask if he meant raging.
Similar sounding words that can mean Heaven or Hell – grammar Gods were sure having fun at our expense!
Chances are he will not be a Bengali himself and has dedicated his life to observing this quaint species from a distance. The Bengali bhodrolok community, on the other hand, prefers to live by the old jungle saying and treats his homebred chicken like insipid lentil.
One thing I’ll happily concede is the hotness quotient of the bhodromohila. I have arrived at this conclusion after having spent countless Durga Pujos, observing her sweaty prosperity spilling out of her almost backless, sleeveless blouse that she got especially tailored from Kolkata. You have to be hot to be sweating this much. You have to be insane to be devouring Biryani in the maddening October heat. It’s not a pretty sight, to watch her sweat, especially after she spent almost twenty minutes dusting her ample décolleté with Ponds Dreamflower talc. She looks like a Royal Bengal tigress, with rivulets of sweat criss-crossing messily down her expanse of pristine white.
For her, it’s just another clammy day as she proceeds to fan herself delicately with the end of her beautiful tangail.
Hymns have been sung in praise of her tresses cascading down her shoulders. Either left loose or tied up in a casual bun, she swears by Keo Karpin hair oil to nourish her mane. I have a theory that this product was originally conceptualized as a mosquito repellent, till the owner’s wife mistakenly applied it on her scalp and sprouted a lush patch on her arid scalp.
For the traditional Bengali woman, it’s a tough choice between Keo Karpin and Jabakusum hair oil. I believe Jabakusum hair-oil is the secret behind her drop-dead beauty. One whiff and you are ready to drop dead. Thick, red and vile smelling, Jabakusum has nurtured Bengali scalps for decades. My Maa swears by it and still has a head full of hair, while I have to resort to hair-fall therapies. But I never fail to remind her, the company is surviving on her sole patronage.
And so is Boroline! Sold in a green tube, this super oily, atrociously smelly cream has been curing ailments for almost a century. From burns, to chapped lips, to cracked heels, to bruises and cuts – this magic potion is a panacea for all Bengali ailments. The other day, a Bengali friend was regaling us with her “how I met my husband” story and how badly she used to get beaten up for being so stubbornly in love. But every time it was the magical Boroline that came to the rescue of her swollen and sore body parts.
For the face, the preferred choice is Lacto Calamine in summer and Ponds cold cream in winter. Bathing with Margo/Hamam/Lux, smelling like a potpourri of dried-up herbs, dusting herself with talcum, slathering her face with Lacto Calamine - her secret to glowing skin, dotting her forehead with a coin sized bindi, lining her almond shaped eyes with kajal, she is ready to take on the world.
Her eyes that convey a thousand emotions - throw daggers, crinkle with mirth or brim with tears to the strains of Robindro-shongeet. She has opinions and is never shy of expressing them. If she doesn’t hold back her anger, she doesn’t hold back her love either. Her passion will manifest itself in the silly nicknames she’ll anoint you with. Buro, Aloo, Goga – take your pick. Dare you take her for granted, she will quote from Elliot and Shaw to articulate her annoyance. Yes, she will never let you forget that her English is better than yours. She will swear by her chest of homeopathic medicines and Boroline and insist on curing all your deadly and not so deadly ailments with them. She can also be annoyingly domineering and insist you wear a monkey cap when the temperature dips below 30 C.
The Bong femme is no lentil, but Ileesh in a fiery mustard paste. Brawn doesn’t impress her, brain does.
The bhodrolok will take two minutes off from his Crossword puzzle, to nod in agreement. He will then take a swig from his bottle of Gelusil to prepare himself for his evening snack of tele-bhajaa and his favourite cup of Darjeeling.
And if you dare suggest that there’s a brew that’s better than Darjeeling, she will smash that cup of fine Bone China on your head.
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