I have grown up listening to statements like “Kaisi Bengali hai tu..fish bhi nahi khati?” or “Tu Bengali hoke meetha nahi pasand karti?” or “Tera nickname nahi hai..aur tu kehti hai tu Bengali hai!” and the most epic one is “Tu toh Bengalis ke naam pe dhabba hai Shinjini!”
A few days ago, a friend from college asked me my nickname and I was shocked to see her response when I reliably informed her that I don’t have one. For the next 10 day, I was barged with questions demanding explanations. According to her, I am the first Bengali among her acquaintances who does not have a “daak naam” or nickname. I tried to explain to her that it was not a big deal to be a Bengali and not have a nickname. And she was nearly convinced but then another friend of mine made it difficult for me by telling her that I cannot bear the smell of fish! The icing on the cake was that I am not particularly fond of sweets! And then months of questioning followed up!!!
Yes..it is hard to believe but true… I am a Bengali…a half Bengali to be precise, but I cannot eat fish because of the smell. I do not like to eat Rossogulla because it is way too sweet for my digestive system to be able to digest, but, this does not change my origin or identity. And yes…I don’t have a daak naam but that does not change who I am either. Even the Bard of Avon Shakespeare has said, “What’s in a name?”
But, the thing I have not told anyone who inquires me about my nickname is that I don’t have ONE official nickname…I have many! Actually every second person calls me with a different name altogether! My Didi calls me Montu Monu out of sheer love and fondness! My paternal grandmother used to call me Moina Pakhi (Cuckoo bird). According to her, when I was a young child, I had a very sweet voice! My maternal grandmother calls me Shinju (short for Shinjini) and I am also known by that name by my friends, cousins and peers! My Mumma used to call me Guddu-Muddu obviously because of my body structure!!! But the best of all is my father, who, in his bold and husky voice calls me Shinjini!
All those who think that Bengalis must have a nickname, must eat fish, must eat sweets, must participate in Durga Pooja, must be self-centred, must be dark skinned, must have curly hair etc. etc., may please note that we live in a country which is a confederation of many different cultures, traditions and lifestyles. Stereotyping people of one community is equivalent to ostracizing them. Instead of doing so, we should learn to respect individual differences in people. Instead of creating barriers among ourselves, we should move beyond the petty differences and love the people around us.