Though neither of us was born there, both Bunny and I grew up in what was called Calcutta and spent much of our adult life there.
As a result we imbibed, through our pores as it were, some of the elan vital, or life force, of the city, particularly as reflected in the Bengali language, which in its sheer exuberance of eloquence complements the luxuriantly lush landscape of Bengal.
Though neither of us is a native Bengali, over the years we not only learnt to speak fluent – if frequently ungrammatical – Bengali but began to love the nuances the language could convey with an admirable economy of words.
A rich and mellifluous tongue, Bengali is the language not only of Tagore and Bankim Chandra but also, and some would say equally so, of the young, and not-so-young, groups who forgather daily in the Coffee House, or in the innumerable tea shops of the city, to have recourse to what is not just their favourite pastime but a way of life known as the adda, a session of free-for-all, debate on any and all things, from a comparison between the works of Satyajit Ray and those of Mrinal Sen, from the scandalous price of ilish maach (hilsa fish), to Sartrean existentialism.
The institution of the adda gave rise to that unique Calcutta invention, the oxymoronic-sounding ‘double half’, which refers to a single cup of tea or similar beverage split into two by half being poured in the saucer, so enabling two to participate in an adda for the price of one.
Amartya Sen has talked about the argumentative Indian, and no Indian is, arguably, more argumentative than the Bengali, and nowhere else is the zest for argumentation more vociferously and vigorously displayed than in an adda session.
But like all good things, even addas must end. And the phrase that typifies the end of any adda, or argument, is ‘Baba, aar parchhi na!’ (a bowdlerised version of the original ‘Aar, sala, parchhi na!’) which can be roughly translated as ‘I can’t take any more of this!’
After the conclusion of the maha-adda of the assembly elections Bengal has, in effect, said ‘Baba, aar parchhi na!’ to Messrs Modi and Shah. ‘Aar parchhi na!’ is a catchy phrase. It seems to have caught on in Kerala. Will it do so elsewhere? In UP, 2022?
This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.
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