Monday, January 19, 2015

Behind a Monkey Cap is a Shivering Bengali

                                             Also published on Huffington Post, India. 
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A Bengali’s love for phish, phootball, adda and gluttony can only be rivalled by his fear of ‘thanda lege jaabe’ (catching a cold). Researchers in Malda University have come out with findings that suggest that six out of ten Bengalis keep themselves warm by chanting ‘kee sheeth kee sheeth’ (how cold!). The more the number of times they repeat it, the warmer they feel. This is exactly why the Monkey Cap, a Bengali’s armour against winter, covers the entire face and the scalp but keeps the mouth and eyes free from any encumbrances. Of what use are your eyes and mouth if they cannot derive the sensory pleasure of simultaneously seeing fellow sufferers shiver while conveying your own agony!

Bengalis, especially in Kolkata, have a special relationship with winter. The moment the temperature drops down to 25 C, doting moms mummify the apples of their eyes under layers of sweaters and bandor toopis, lest they catch a cold. Which is why Bengali siblings can never get lost at the Kumbh Mela because they are the only ones dressed like eskimos in thermals, sweaters and head gear.

The ‘beta sweater pehno’ mom in the Polo ad was most definitely a Bengali, even if somewhat nasal.

Maybe this explains a Bong’s fascination for the monkey cap that travels with him anywhere he goes, even if it’s a vacation on the seaside! The cap reminds the bhadrolok of his mom! Every time he yearns for his Maa’s warmth, he slips his head inside its womb. Not just the bandor toopi, but also Boroline and Gelusil that symbolise tender motherly love squeezed in a tube or a bottle protecting Bengalis from all ills and germs.

But does a Bong’s morbid fear of the catching the cold hamper him from having phun? No siree! Your childhood isn’t Bengali enough if you don’t have memories of being huddled up in a bus eating cold boiled eggs, with bread butter and a banana, singing Robindro Shongeet only to have mangsho bhaath (mutton curry with rice) at some far off picnic spot. But not before a few rounds of badminton, cricket and some more Robindro Shongeet while the cauldron of freshly made mutton curry bubbles away merrily. By the time the lunch finishes, it’s time for evening tea with some light snacks like shingara (samosa) and a couple of mishtees.

It’s only when everyone complains of acidity is the picnic declared a resounding success. With Gelusil handed around in silent comradeship.


It’s another matter that the monkey cap as an armour is dying a slow death. It’s mostly preferred by the ‘too old to care what others think of them’ and the ‘too young to say no to their adoring mom’. The young and the fashionable prefer just chanting “uff, kee sheeth’. Blame its ugly design, mousy colours that make you look like a chowkidar, negating your chances of ever getting coy glances from a shawl covered Bong bombshell.

After writing this article I have started wondering if I am a true Bong because I have no memories of my mom forcing me to wear The Cap. Maybe I was adopted. I only remember her slathering my face with cold cream and making us have warmed milk with brandy which I had with relish. But I do have vivid memories Bengali tourists shivering violently in their shawls, mufflers (some women furiously knitting some more of these), thermals and chowkidar caps on our annual trips to Shimla and Mussoorie and wondering, if it’s so cold, what the hell are they doing at a hill station? But anyone who knows a Bengali knows that no winter is cold enough to conquer our indefatigable spirit.

As a Bengali born and brought up in Delhi who feels out of place as a Delhiite and as a Probashi who always feels out place in Kolkata, I’m still Bengali enough to dress warm at Delhi parties even as I’m surrounded by women who’d rather die of hypothermia than hide their designer threads beneath layers of woollies. I just make sure no one is within hearing distance when I mutter – “kee sheeth kee sheeth” as I rub my palms furiously.


53 comments:

  1. Ha ha.....reminds me of my mom who instead of saying hello, begins with Aaj Bahut Thand Hai. Her constant reminder makes me feel cold too.

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    1. Hahahaha...My Ma-in-law shivers violently even when its 20 C. And to think she spent a chunk of her youth in freezing Glasgow.

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  2. This was a continuous laugh riot.Thank you Purba.

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    1. Am i glad, I made you laugh :D

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  3. I used to be one of those moms, Purba! The boys would have tales of horror to relate, but thankfully no monkey caps :) In fact, I was the one who used to wear them to bed declaring every single winter night in Delhi, Í am going to die tonight!' but getting up in the morning and go through the torture of working in the freezing cold and even colder water. Do you suppose I might have been a Bong in my previous birth? :D

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    1. This deserves a post form you! Please...please...pretty please!

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  4. hahaha This post was so much fun. I guess I have also slid into the "beta sweater pehno" slot of mother now. But monkey caps are really ugh. I would never torment my kids with that. Your last words remind me of a time spent in Scotland when I was clothed in layers and yet muttering about the cold, while these really pretty girls had their legs bare and pranced around in heels. Gosh!

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    1. I can't help but gasp when I see my daughter step out in a flimsy sweater. And she says - Maa, chill!

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  5. Also Bengalis travel to every accessible destination and swarms of them flocking around tea vendors at railway platforms and mumbling under the bandar top ' udi baba ki sheet , ek tho chai with elaichi and long':)

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    1. HAHAHAHAHA...this was classic.

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  6. Never wore a Bandor Topi ?? 100 % adapted, what other proof do you need ? But what a post, I remember when I lived in Kolkota I used to wonder what is with all these sweaters and caps when I am roaming around in T-Shirt. There were fights in office about AC temperature in September ! Now I know why....

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    1. I have gone to restaurants in Kolkata where I demanded that the AC be switched on only to get dirty looks from a Bengali family in Bandor toopis.

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  8. As a resident of Delhi for the past 15 years, I too have started to look at it from a different angle long ago... I also have started cracking jokes about Kolkata based bongs and their fascination with "monkey caps"... how during their pooja holidays when their Delhi bound train depart from Howrah station and leave Liluah (the very next station within a couple of kilometers) they take out their Monkey Caps, wear them and starts chanting "Dilli-te khub sheet!" (Delhi is freezing!).
    However, recently I have changed this attitude.
    A couple of years ago, during the month of September, I have seen people in Bangalore, roaming around on street, adorning monkey caps... they were sooo large in numbers, that it will be difficult to assume all of them were bongs! Since then, I have stopped cracking "monkey cap" jokes on bongs

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    1. Hey! This is how we assert out intellectual superiority over others. By making fun of ourselves.

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  9. Lol ! My three year old does not wear a monkey cap. Middle eastern winters are really harsh, but the toddler prefers to catch a cold rather than ruining his hairstyle with the monkey cap. :-/
    This post also reminds me of certain Bwood songs shot at the heavily snowing Swiss Alps and the heroine wears a saree as thick as an onion peel with sleeveless blouse!

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    1. Lost count of the number of times when I shivered on behalf of the heroine who went blue in her face trying to look sexy.

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  10. Probably I am the reader who would relate to this article in the closest sense, almost inch by inch. Though I am not Bengali by birth, being an indispensable and eternal Calcuttan, I have Bengalified myself over the years. So much so that I have disowned my Marwari-ness to lay claim to a portion in the rich (laughable, yes) but endearing Bengali culture.
    And even though my mom wants to unBengalify me, the very fact that as a child I was mummified under layers of wool by her shows that deep down she is no less a Bengali than I am. :)

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    1. I always knew I was adopted!

      *Wails loudly*

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  11. How about putting a picture of yours in a bandor toopi as a token of your final salute to this great remnant of bygone bengali era :D
    I think it will be a superhit! :P

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    1. I have one where I am laughing like a hippopotamus. Will that do?

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  12. Not to self: Share post with Bengali friends...


    Done!

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  13. God less my mom I remember all that , this is not restricted to bengali mom's .. beleive me the punjabi moms also have a 5 kilo ka hand that lands every now and then if they are not listened to ..

    and to makes matter worse when she came to uk, and had a late shift I was instructed to have it on, in my car which has the HEATING on.. I MEAN why of whyyyyyyyyyyyyy....

    although it was a blessing when i was riding my bike to work it kept me warm then ...

    Bikram's

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    1. Lol..I can imagine your Mom in her 'beta, sweater pehno' avatar. :D

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  14. Though I lived with quite a few Bongs during my sojourn in the North-east, I was not sharp enough to notice some of these interesting features :)

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    1. No worries. You will always have me regaling you with these nonsensical details.

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  15. Loved it!We Indians are a quirky people,indeed! And, bhrrrrr its.sooo.coldddd!!! *Rubs palms*

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    1. It's been over a month since my fingers turned to kulfi sticks :/

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  16. A very interesting read Purba. Yes, these days, monkey caps are out of fashion but that's the actual fort which protects the major gates for attack by a cold.

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    1. But we'd rather die of cold than stay warm in a monkey cap :D

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  17. Ha ha funny read. I met a group of middle aged Bengali couples in layers of sweater and of course, the monkey caps at Pangong Lake, Ladakh last year. Even heard "Ore baba, ki thanda" quite a few times :P and there I was roaming around in a t shirt. I guess I can call myself a pseudo Bong...

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    1. *Here, you can have my Monkey Cap*

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  18. There is a Tamil movie where a gang of amateur thieves plan a robbery...One of them is assigned the task of procuring masks...He gets monkey caps instead as they are cheaper... :) They too cover most of the face, he reasons later :D

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    1. But imagine wearing monkey caps in summer and dissolving into a pool of sweat!

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  19. Monkey caps were quite a phenomenon during my childhood in Delhi days as well. I shall thank my mum for sparing me!

    The weird thing is, I see people in Mumbai in monkey caps in winters. What the...?!?

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    1. Lol...Winter in Mumbai is a figment of imagination!

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  20. hahahaah.....I am not a Bong and I don't remember my mom yelling, kee sheeth....but...but...I do it all the time to my kids. I think, it's a mom's thing...not a Bong thing exactly...I start off each day with, it is so cold..wear your hood on..I literally have the monkey caps imported here. But the kids won't wear them :( I stuffed my son when he was younger, but not my daughter :(

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    1. I used to make my daughter high neck sweaters to school and now she's developed a life long aversion to it.

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  21. I am a pucca dellhiwalli who refused to wear bandor tupi in childhood ..despite my mum's many efforts!!..... so my mum has found a way to rectiy it ..by making my kiddo wear bandor tupi first thing when the temperatures dropped down this year!!,,,and now I have reams of photographic evidence for my daughter to cringe on!!!......

    I used to oscillate between laughing my heart out and cringing in shame seeing groups of bongs in hills stations with their toopis n mufflers talking loudly and asking for daal baat and maach at every restaurant!!!...you broguht back those memories with your funny/scary wiritng purba!!

    www.myunfinishedlife.com

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    1. I like the description - funny/scary writing! :p

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  22. Hilarious read Purba ! Ahem.. I love the money cap and I am not a Bengali ;) Must be Bengali in spirit.. Guess am in the 'too old to care what people think of me' category !

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  23. Monkey caps are part and parcel of our lives :-D along with Boroline and Body Oil, "Tel maakho Riya, tel maakho" remember Moonmoon Sen's ad? ..and Saraswati Pujo, our very own Valentine's Day....Loved this post Purba... :-D :-D

    (typing while murmuring "ki sheeth, ki sheeth") :-P

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    1. Oh the feeling of solidarity to know Bengalis all over the world are mumbling kee sheeth kee sheeth to battle the cold!

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  24. Hey, at least it helped me identify them when we visited hill stations (and totally avoid them!!The entire women's section of my family starting with my grandmother turned the delicate noses up to bandor tupi so I was spared! I still wore lots of cardigans, wooly caps and mufflers lovingly knitted by the matriarchs though, so I guess I still have my Bengaliness preserved!
    By the way, why do you feel out of place in Delhi?

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    1. I wrote an entire post of about it - The Unbong Bong :-)

      http://www.purba-ray.com/2010/12/unbong-bong.html

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  25. To good :-)

    Phun , phood and phochkemii

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  26. hahahaha the bandor topi is prevalent in Assam too. I have spent many a winter escaping mommy trying to put that abominable thing over my head :D Enjoyed reading the post :D

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    1. We all have our own set of "how Mom tortured us' stories :-)

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  27. Purba...I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles...being part Bengali myself I've frowned upon all these eccentricities that characterize our beloved community but now I can't stop laughing at them...please continue writing cause you are doing an amazing job!

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    1. Making fun of our eccentricities is a Bengali trait too. Why let others do it when we can do a perfect job of it?

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