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When East Merges with West


Although many Bengalis have moved to Goa in recent times to escape the mayhem of the big cities or for work purposes, the two regions appear to also share a lot of common history. NT Network finds out more



Ten years ago, to escape the bustle of the metro life, Sharmila Majumdar, from West Bengal decided enough was enough. “I had first visited Goa in May 2008 on a holiday and felt an immediate connect with the place,” she recalls. Thus, Sharmila and her family decided to shift base permanently to Goa in November 2009.

“My first impression of Goa surprisingly was one of coming home. I did not have any problems adapting to the place. We had taken a conscious decision to slow down our pace of life and Goa’s pace suited me just fine,” says the Porvorim based artist who runs a craft business titled Kitsch Bits.

Taleigao based Tania Bose, from Kolkata now works in a bank, she has also been living in Goa for many years. “We moved to Goa in 2000 after my dad was transferred here,” she recollects.

Adjusting to the new place was a little difficult to begin with, she admits, especially when it came to language.

There was a difference with food too. “In Bengal, we eat river fish as opposed to sea water fish here. Plus we don’t use coconut,” she explains. However, having lived for almost 19 years in Goa now, she is so used to Goan food, that Bengali food does not have the same appeal, she says laughing. What helped her family adjust to the Goan way of life, she believes, was having the help of people around, and being open to accepting change and trying out new stuff.

Seema Majumdar too, chose to move to Goa about 9-10 years ago. Having worked in the airline industry previously, Seema now runs a business where she makes silk flowers. “I could have chosen to settle down anywhere, but I chose Goa,” she says.

The growing numbers

Sharmila, Seema, and Tania are just a few out of the many Bengalis who have chosen to make Goa their home over the years. In fact according to the 2011 census of India there are 7099 Bengali speaking people living in Goa, a majority of which (5816) are concentrated in urban areas. The figures show that 3546 Bengali speaking people reside in North Goa especially concentrated in Bardez (1435), Tiswadi (1213) and Ponda (642). South Goa shows the figure at 3553 ,with Mormugao (1651) heading the list followed by Salcette (1534).

“Most Bengalis are concentrated in Margao, Mapusa, Sanquelim and Ponda. Many of them are employed as unskilled labour or in bureaucrat positions. Bengalis are also good in the hospitality industry,” says M Chakraborty, secretary, Bengali Cultural Association, Panaji, who himself came down to Goa in 1973 and was later employed at Goa University, Bambolim.

Why Bengali and Konkani are similar

And while given the extensive distance between the two states – Goa and West Bengal, and being situated on opposite ends of the country, it could be surmised that there could not be any similarities between the two regions, in truth there are quite a few surprising ones.

The most interesting of these is the noticeable similarities between the two mother tongues i.e. Bengali and Konkani.

“There are several words common to Bangla and Konkani, even down to the pronunciation: ‘ghor’, ‘gelo’, ‘elo’, and so on. The way ‘sheeh!’ is used isn’t far from ‘chhee!’ A shared root language, a form of Prakrit prevalent in eastern India could be one reason,” says author Sudeep Chakravarti, who hails from West Bengal and has settled in Goa since 2004.

“I find one more similarity both interesting and amusing,” he continues. “Both languages colloquially use words born of everyday sounds.”

Goan historian Prajal Sakhardande also believes that the two languages have a common origin point. “Konkani and Bengali have evolved from Prakrit and Konkani comes from the Proto australoid Munda group of languages,” he says.

Sakhardande further adds that based on his analysis, the Saraswat community in Goa traces its origins to Gaud (ancient Bengal) and hence they are called GSBs i.e. the Gaud Sarsawat Brahmins. “Both Bengalis and Saraswats worship Durga. In Goa, they brought Durga from Gaud and she came to be called Shantadurga,” he says. “The facial features and structure of Saraswats and Bengali Brahmins is similar and when the Saraswats came to Goa, the Bengali that they spoke was Goanised due to the impact of Konkani spoken by the Gawdas and Kunbis here. Words like ‘tumi’, ‘ami’, ‘boso’, ‘ekto’, prove my above theory amply.” Prajal however adds that this is strictly his theory and other people may have different opinions.

The Portuguese

Those interested in delving into language history have also observed that the Portuguese, who ruled over Goa for years and colonised a tiny portion of Bengal, have also to some extent contributed words to both Bengali and Konkani.

“The Portuguese colonised a very tiny part of Bengal, but they were around as traders as well as marauders—pirates, really—for several hundred years, from early 16th century, long before trading posts turned to colonies. This is particularly true of deltaic Bengal, a region which includes present-day Bangladesh. And Bangla as a language draws from various other languages, including Prakrit, Sanskrit and, later, Arabic, Persian and certainly Portuguese,” notes Chakravarti.

And Chakravarti has in fact made mention of this in his book that he penned on his homeland titled ‘The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community’. He shares an extract from it, to illustrate this.

“After a bath with fragrant
sh-ab-an (sabão: soap), the gentleman would scrub dry with a t-o-alé (toalha: towel) and, dressed in fresh clothes leans back with relish on his kéd-ar-a (cadeira: chair) in the front kamr-a (câmara: room) of the house and looks out of the j-anal-a (janela: window) wondering if the view and weather would suit a tune on his béhal-a (viola: violin), a puff of fine t-am-ak (tabaco: tobacco), or both. Meanwhile, the lady of the house, who must work even on weekends, perhaps harder on weekends as she facilitates
bor-o-babu’s simple pleasures, checks to see if she has properly locked the all-important almari (armário: almirah) in the bedroom containing the family’s valuables, tucks the ch-abi (chave: key) into the fold of her sh-ari at her waist—pinches the sh-ay-a (saia: skirt) and gently tugs it downward to settle it, and then goes off to the kitchen to scold the maid for again having left the b-alti (balde: bucket) in the b-ar-and-a (veranda: veranda) instead of the store room after mopping the floor.”

Interestingly the word for soap in Konkani is ‘sabu’, towel is ‘tuwalo’, window is ‘zonel’, key is ‘chavi’, skirt is ‘saia’, cupboard is ‘almaar’ and bucket is ‘baldi’.

Rice, fish, and more

When it comes to food, it is a known fact that just as Goans enjoy their fish curry rice, Bengalis too are in love with their rice and fish.

And in fact noticing this common love, four friends from Padre Conceicao College of Engineering, Verna, consisting of three Goans and a Bengali went on to start BonGong in 2012, a website dedicated to both Goan and Bengali food, with cooking enthusiasts from both cultures contributing recipes to it. “We get a few thousand visitors a day. We have also build custom-pages for Durga Puja and Christmas,” says Leanne Mascarenhas, one of the co-founders, who admits that she was surprised initially by the similarities in the two cultures and points out that some of the dishes which are similar are alle belle and patishapta where only the filling is different and the Goan prawn curry and chingri macher malai kari.

Music ties

The two cultures also share a strong affinity for music. Infact, says Mrityun Roy Chakraborty, just like in Goa, no Bengali celebration is complete without the sound of music. Noticing these strong ties, Banglanatak dot com has over the last few years done some Goan and Bengali music collaborations like the East West Local band, which has done a couple of albums already. “The hope is to slowly increase the collaborations and reach out to the global music space, keeping individual strength in mind. Hopefully this will create more space for innovation,” says the founder Amitava Bhattacharya. Apart from this, the organisation also does the World Peace Music Festival Sur Jahan in Goa, the fifth edition of which will be held on February 6-8, 2019 at International Centre Goa; and the Bengal Goa Folk Mela, which promotes local artisans of both cultures.

Keeping the Bengali culture alive

Although miles away, Bengalis here make sure they make Goa feel like home in various ways. “I get together with a few of my other Bengali friends, and cook authentic Bengali food,” says Seema.

Moumita Pal, an active theatre person in Goa who also started Myoho, a creative centre in Assagao recently, came down to Goa less than a year ago. She began running a home delivery of Bengali cuisine with golbarir kosha maangsho, home-made mishtidoi with gur, and malai chingri. “It reminded me of home and started creating new food memories with my guests and friends!” she says. Pal further adds that she actually knows a lot more Bengalis here than Goans. “We keep our culture alive in our ways, be it by speaking in Bengali or going out for pujo or just indulging in Robindro Sangeet,” she says.

Tania is a part of the Bengali Cultural Association, Panaji where she meets other Bengalis around Goa.

The association was first formed in 1981 by a few Bengalis. “The Durga Puja celebrations is done in a big way in Vasco by the Goa Bongo Samiti. However earlier going to Vasco for this used to be a full day affair and pretty tiring. So, a bunch of Bengalis from this side of the Zuari got together and decided to have a meet in Panaji, gradually leading to the formation of the association,” says M Chakraborty, adding that today there are about 100-150 families who are a part of it. Apart from the Duga Puja and Saraswati Puja celebrations, The Bengali Cultural Association, Panaji, holds celebrations like the Naba Barsha, Vijaya Sammelan, Bengali Film Festival, and Rabindra Nazrul Sandhya in celebration of the birth anniversary of two great poets of Bengal, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Dealing with the ‘outsider’ tag

Despite living in Goa for a while, and in some cases for many years, some Bengalis still have to deal with the outsider tag.

“On one occasion, while I was driving, someone came from the wrong side and when I pointed it out, he asked me what am I doing in his country! Isn’t it my country too?” asks Seema.

Sharmila too has faced these kinds of comments. “This is the only thing I do not like about Goa. One of my closest friends in Kolkata is a Goan. We never considered him an outsider,” says Sharmila.

Moumita too faced cyber bullying on one instance and had even considered moving back home. “Eventually I realised that people fear everything that doesn’t come from them or their roots,” she says.

“There have been times when people refer to me as a ‘biknakar’. But no matter what people may say I don’t treat Goa as if I am an outsider I treat it as my own place. Besides we have many friends who have valued us and been supportive and never addressed us this way,” adds Tania.


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