This is that time of the year when the Bengali psyche is overwhelmed by a collective emotion, so rare in any other people in terms of the boundless revelry in gay abandon that afflicts all and sundry. As if endemically the Bengalis contract a kind of immune deficiency and suffer, over a prolonged period of time, the most prominent symptom of which is shying from normal, serious life and becoming vulnerable to infection from the slightest contact with fun and frivolity.
Little understood, this affliction is brought upon by the release of a particular hormone called ‘Pujormone’. Its secretion begins in the salivary glands of the Bengalis with the weather showing signs of clearing up at the end of a profuse monsoon. The monsoon having drenched rural Bengal with lush green foliage and harvest – standing tall bowing condescendingly to the flirty breeze, getting ready to start ripening – and the rains having washed away the grimy streets of the cities – the clearing up begins to show up with occasional bursts of blue in the still laden grey sky in which hurry away the laboring clouds, having done their yearly duty.
The particular combination of the ensuing daylight, humidity and the moist heat alternating with lightening coolness of drying air stimulates the glands to secret this hormone, bringing about a total change in the behavior even in the most staid Bengali, and of course, ruining the children totally. I once read of an exotic bird that starts scratching its breast with the beak at a certain time of the year, if I remember clearly, the time being the fall. The slanting and elongating rays of sunlight and the ambient temperature and moisture, cause the secretion of a special hormone in the male bird making its breast scratchy. The constant scratching of the breast causes the bird to lose its plume from that area. With the fallen plumes the bird then proceeds to line its nest in which soon its eggs would be laid. The effect could be simulated by reproducing the same environment in the laboratory with artificially produced light, heat and moisture of the same magnitude and the birds were seen to be affected to behave in the same way as produced by nature. The scientists had then proceeded to isolate the particular hormone produced in the bird’s body by such weather, which brought about that urge to scratch the breast.
Well, no such experiment has been conducted upon the Bengalis, and so no such discovery has been made about the probable hormone that causes the Bengali itch, so to say. But I am inclined to believe in this theory based upon my observations on the large scale of the affliction that there surely is some hormone behind such bacchanalian orgiastic behavior.
To boot, the Bengali’s courting tendencies come out in the open in this very season. Particularly among those moving up the upper scales of teenage, there abounds a strong demonstration of such acts as Tom Sawyer enacted upon seeing a new girl in his classroom. Well, Bengali boys do not stand on their head, but it does appear that they roll their hearts on the ground, to be treaded upon.
But first the essentials: The frenzy is devoted to the woman. At the forefront is the worship of the deity in female form, called Maa Durga. But, at the place of worship it is not uncommon, especially among the male devotees, to gauze reverently with misty wistful eyes at other females. For the children it is their separated mothers. For the men still in love with their wives, it is their wives, as you rightly guessed. For the older men nursed by their still doting wives, it needs no guess. But for the young unmarried male Bengali it could be any girl in the crowd, not necessarily his current heartthrob.
Here is how it comes to be. Going back, almost a hundred years ago the Bengalis lived in joint-families providing boys and girls a rich milieu of cousins to choose from for co-experiencing the first budding of puberty, when boys begin to seek girls, and girls the boys, for still-unknown reasons. Fifty years on, the scene began to change and the Bengali family began to become nuclear as men migrated to the cities for livelihood. But a tradition developed to flock back to the roots in rural Bengal – to the ancestral home where siblings came back to spend the days of Puja celebration. Again, cousins came alive together and the re-meeting after a long year’s gap fermented strange relationships that the separation strengthened surreptitiously. Could we call this the first love? Well, in some cases may be. But pure as the first snow it remained bound in shy exchanges of feelings stirring within, laying the foundation of a tendency to woo.
What we can certainly say is that for many of us the first beckon of love was probably felt in seeing a cousin after a long gap, with subtle signs of a maturing personality that took him or her across the receding line of childhood.
In most Bengali families there is no consciousness about the differences between the sexes. You just see two kinds of people, broadly speaking, who have clubbable physical features and emotional response to situations that separate them one from the other. So, you have your mother, her sisters, your sisters and cousin sisters and all of them have more or less the same concern for you or the same mild disdain if you did or said something, well, deplorable. But barring that there is no boundary and one can learn an awful lot about the opposite sex’s emotions from one’s cousins.
What is the result? The Bengali learns about loving someone of the opposite sex, albeit somewhat platonically, within the extended family coming together for those Puja days – after a long period of separation during which some dramatic change of appearance or character seems to have taken place. For example, one day a boy finds that a certain plain Jane cousin sister suddenly seems to bloom when she sings a certain song that he has heard ever since childhood without any particular attachment. His fondness for her begins to secretly grow like the grass under a stone – pale and tender. And a certain girl finds in a listless cousin brother the quietude that she only thought her father capable of, and she begins to feel strangely assured and protected in his presence and looks forward to see him again the next year, not quite knowing why.
This is where and how the courting heart forms in the average Bengali, except for the luckless boys and girls whose parents are totally city-bound and awfully busy with their lives.
Thus armed with this secretly procured arrow of the cupid the Bengali teenager sets off for the Puja Celebration to prey upon and ensnare someone that takes the fancy.
In that poacher the hormone ‘Pujormone‘ now acts as a pheromone.
Indroneer / Saptami, 11 Oct 2013