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11 February 2008

Of Monkeys and People!!!

The incident I am about to narrate happened during my initial days in Durgapur.
I was selected by SAIL thru a national entrance exam and was posted as a management trainee in Durgapur steel plant in West Bengal. After a month of induction training in Bhilai, we reached Durgapur in August 1987. This was my first visit ever to the eastern part of India and I was young and eager to experience different cultures and different feels if you see what I mean.
Somewhere into my second week in Durgapur, I went to Benachity market which is a big market almost two to three kilometers in length. You can get anything in Benachity market.
It was sometime in the afternoon when I ventured into Benachity.
I don't know what I brought from the first shop that I went to but I vividly remember what he gave me. As I was leaving the shop, the shopkeeper gave me a calendar.
My next destination was the fruit and vegetable market. I wanted to buy half dozen of the ripe old bananas which were strategically placed in front of a street vendor.
"Khela kitne ka hai?" I asked the vendor.
"Kudi Taka dojen", he replied in some vague language which sounded like German or something. I hardly understood what he was saying. (Later I came to know that the language was Bengali and he, of course, meant 20 rupees per dozen)
You see, till that day, my interaction with others was limited to communicating with my friends from my batch, the language of communication being mostly english or hindi. This was my first exposure to the Bengali language.
"Kitna?" I repeated.
He was not listening. His attention was focussed on the calendar in my hand.
"Dekhi (let me see)" he said and quickly took, almost snatched, the calendar from my hand and opened it.
It was a black and white photograph of someone whom I did not recognize. Obviously the street vendor was a much read man. His eyes seemed to light up as he saw the photo.
"Nazrul Islam, Kabi" he informed me. It sounded like 'Kapi'
Now, in the parts of India that I come from 'Kapi' stands for Monkey. Was the street vendor informing me that the photo in the calendar was that of a monkey? Why should the previous shop owner give me the calendar with the photo of a monkey?
I took the calendar from his hand for a closer look. With the long locks of hair and piercing eyes, the photo on the calendar seemed to me to be that of a man, and most definitely not of a monkey..
"Yeh to aadmi lag raha hai?" I told the street vendor a trifle hesitantly. It was more likely that he will recognize a monkey in Bengal if he sees one. Purely due to his comparative longivity in that part of the world, if you see what I mean.
"Aapni ki bolchen? Yeta Nazrul Islam, banglar bado kabi" he informed me vehemently and almost menacingly. ('What do you mean? This is Nazrul Islam, renowned Kabi of Bengal')
He was so vehemant that I took a closer look. Now I was not very sure.
"Lagta to aadmi hai" I again repeated with a lot of uncertainty this time.
I could see that the guy was getting really angry. "Yeta Banglar Maha Kabi. Aapni kichu janen na." he started getting up. ('This is a revered Kabi of Bengal. Don't you know anything at all?')
Who was I to argue with a short-sighted , short-tempered and omniscient street vendor who could not differentiate between monkeys and people? Before I knew, I had taken my half dozen of bananas and legged it.
(Much later, I came to know that in Bengal, they prononce 'a' as 'o' and 'v' as 'b'. So 'Kabi' actually become 'Kavi' which in my language means 'poet'. Putting two and two together, I realized that the shop keeper was trying to educate me about some famous Bengali Poet and not, as I had imagined earlier, about the initial phases of human evolution!!)

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