Of Bengalis, sweaters, hill stations, and monkey caps

I received this article as a forward, which on doing a google search discovered has appeared in the Hindustan Times. I’m afraid I don’t know the name of the writer. If anyone does, please do let me know and I will add it to the article.

Update: Thanks so much to the author of this article, Subir Ghosh for the following information. This article appeared in the Hindustan Times on November 19, 2005.

Thanda lege jabey

One phrase every Bengali worth his sweater has grown up with is thanda lege jabey. It is the ultimate warning of impending doom, an unadulterated form of existentialist advice. Thanda lege jabey. Thou shalt ‘catch the cold’.

‘Catching the cold’ comes easy to Bengalis. It’s a skill that’s acquiredalmost immediately after birth. Watch a Bengali baby and you would know.Wrapped in layers of warm clothing even if the sun is boiling the mercury, the baby learns quickly that his chances of survival in a Bengali household depends on how tightly he can wrap himself in cotton, linen and wool.

Bengalis have almost romanticised warm clothing, so much so that Bengali art has found eloquent expression in a form of quilt-stitchwork called kantha. I’m sure wool-shearers even in faraway Australia say a silent prayer to Bengalis before the shearing season (if there’s any such season). I’m also sure the very thought of Bengalis sends a chill down the spine of many a sheep.

In winter, the quintessential Bengali’s outfit puts the polar bear to shame. Packaged in at least seven layers of clothing and the head snuglypacked inside the queerest headgear, the monkey cap, he takes the chill….head on.Easy lies the head that wears the monkey cap. With a pom-pom at the top, it’s not just a fashion statement; it’s a complete fashion paragraph.

I remember strolling down the Walk of Fame in Hollywood on a pleasantMay evening. My eyes scanned the glittering stars on the asphalt – each anode to a Hollywood heavyweight. Suddenly, my ears caught the unmistakableDoomsday warning – ‘thanda lege jabey’. I stood transfixed.The Hollywood Walk of Fame is probably the last place one would like to get caught ‘catching the cold’. I turned around. There was this Bengali family braving the American chill. The young brat of the family was adamant that he didn’twant any more clothing but mom wouldn’t have any of it – “sweater porey nao Rontu baba, thanda lege jabey.” I need not translate that. Mom won, and the family -sweaters et al – posed for a photograph.

For a race that is perpetually running scared of cold weather,Bengalis have a surprising affinity for hill stations.

Probably, warmth of heart is best preserved in shawls, pullovers andcardigans. In an age when you are judged by how cool or uncool you are,the warmth that the kakus, jethus and mashimas exude can melt icebergs.

I wouldn’t trade that warmth for any amount of cool.However, the monkeycap may look cool without the pom-pom.

© Hindustan Times and Subir Ghosh, 2005


13 thoughts on “Of Bengalis, sweaters, hill stations, and monkey caps

  1. I remember this from the time I was in Calcutta. There was a Mashima living downstairs. I never used to wear a cardigan nor use a shawl. And mashima would scream ‘arre mridul! ki korcho! sweater porey nai, thanda lege jabey’.

  2. very funny.. but i haven’t noticed that when i kol, i never felt any chill during the kolkata winter, and so few people wrapped up. or maybe i didn’t notice

  3. oh u love Philip Pullman…thank u….seriously…i’ve been trying my best to ram some Pullman down my people’s throats…i like u already…anyway, hysteria aside, nice post….funny…..dunno, but the bangalis i know, have never said this…

  4. Accidently found myself here and wondered (after reading your most interesting post) – do you look anything like your picture?

  5. I had the extreme honor of seeing a bong friend of mine from Kolkata, visiting Delhi for the 1st time- in November, which for him was the height of winters. So, here I was, in just a jacket(we were there for a conference), while my friend was covered from head to toe in three layers of woolens, including woolen inners, and a monkey cap to boot!!! Guess he was afraid of catching this legendary cold that the author is talking about 🙂

    btw, agree with The Monk’s comment on Pullman. I’ve hardly met anyone who has read His Dark materials trilogy. Sad!

  6. My mother unsuccessfully attempted to shove my head into many a monkey cap. I preferred it rolled so that it covers only the hair – even if my ears were freezing. We Shillong Bongs are a snobbish lot – we always made fun of monkey-capped, shawl wrapped tourist Bongs who make a beeline for the city every summer. We had our reasons too – we happened to be only in tees and jeans in the relative heat of the hill station summer.

    Even minus the pom-pom the money cap fails to attract me, but it remains a very potent tool to fight against the winter chill.

  7. Mrudula: Hahaha! That’s what aunts are for Mru!

    Anthony: I didnt’t bundle up either and so got to hear of thi phrase many times!

    The monk: Yes. I love Philip Pullman. That man is god! I will write about him soon. It’s just that he is such a huge figure that I’m scared about writing about him.

    Naveen: You really had very ‘sweet’ bengali friends!

    Roger: Hey! Thanks for strolling by! I hope to see you again! To answer your question, yes and no. Yes, I have dark hair like the picture. No, I it’s not that short nor that straight.

    Technically, that’s not a sketch of me. Before I changed templates, I did have my REAL pic in the profile.

    Obi Wan: Now you know what the author means!

    About Pullman, you MUST be kidding! I have a group of friends here in Chennai (which includes me)- sensible ones I think – who believe that Pullman is GOD!

    Soumyadip: I think at some level all Bongs are snobbish. It’s that Renaissance thing, Robi Tagore and Satyajit Ray heritage which makes us so snobbish! 🙂 On a lighter note, yes, Monkey caps are so uncool once you have crossed 5th std. But then I have found them to a big hit with all mothers! No prizes for guessing why!

  8. LOL!!! as a Bong who was verrrry used to hearing “thanda lege jaabe” during her growing up years,I totally agree. I think a Bengali thought of the Polo ad with “Beta sweater pehen lo”..Given the average Bongs enthu for travelling, I wouldnt be surprised to hear atop Mt. Everrest “Ore Montu aar ekta sweater pore ne..thanda lege jaabe naholey!!” and lo behold Montu giving competition to any yeti in several layers of warm clothing and the quintessential monkey tupi.
    I would love to link to this post (as and when I have the time to post) if you are ok with it.

  9. vey nice! you know they have a version of the monkey cap here, where i live (in scotland) but they call it something else.

  10. Hahahaha
    that was funny – the ubiquitious monkey cap, boroline in pocket and the search for places which say ‘ekhane maach bhaat paoa jai”
    🙂 very tongue in cheek 🙂

  11. I’m flattered that you’ve posted my piece on your blog. This one appeared in the Hindustan Times on 19th Nov’05 and has been circulating on e-mail since then. Since this is a copyrighted piece, it would help if you acknowledge the author and Hindustan Times in your blog. For more info, mail me at subghosh@hotmail.com

  12. Ron: Hi! Thanks for dropping by. I hope to see you again. By all means, do link to this post!

    Prerona: You know, I have been reading your blog for sometime now. Thanks for coming by. Btw, what do they call the monkey cap? I am curious.

    Dreamcatcher: Totally! Maach bhaat LOL!! And who can forget boroline? I can still remember the jingle.

    Subir Ghosh: Thanks so much for the information. As you can see, I have added your name and HT as well. Your blogger homepage was not opening hence the link to your profile. I hope this is ok.

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