‘Paaglaami’ is a favorite word of the Bengali people. It means madness. The word paaglaami is derived from one of the uber favorite words of theirs as well…”paagol”. This word is never said in a droll, flat manner. Oh no..the word paagol is uttered in a manner which reeks of food being relished and tasted thoroughly before it goes down the gullet.
Why did I start the post with these particulars words? Well today at lunch at a restaurant we frequent, well…frequently…I eavesdropped on a youngish Bong couple who had a cute little daughter who was being a typical toddler. The father was incessantly trying to get her to behave…a losing battle if there ever was one. But the specific verbiage that he was using made me realize that Bongs really are a very peculiar kind of parents on the whole.
Right from the birth of the baby, the obsession with the kid catching a cold is apparent. Ergo the crazy knitting of booties, mittens and horror of horrors…the blasted monkey cap aka a balaclava. Each family will have legions of old women who have foisted these elements of torture on their own offspring (and will swear by it till their dying breath) and who voluntarily knit these caps for the newborns and toddlers and insist on pulling the itchy and scratchy wool onto their heads and don’t let go till the kicking and screaming kid (who looks like a banker robber in the making) is thoroughly uncomfortable!
As a Bong parent myself, I have to admit that the urge to discipline and have your kid heed your words is nearly an overpowering one. It’s almost as if it’s a motto- Am Bong. Must Scold. Loudly.
Take today’s couple for example. What the heck is a toddler to do at a restaurant but play with the cutlery and the place mats and basically turn things topsy-turvy?
The father, who clearly envisioned himself in the role of the Lord and Master, kept telling his wife rather pompously “ekta thaapod lagao toh”. Translation- smack her one! Now this wasn’t seriously meant. This was just for the kid’s ears. And that’s the oddity that makes the Bong parents who they are.
The child must be made aware of all the potential spanking that lurks in its present and future. This is parenting 101. Then come the non-verbals. The non-verbals are rather short-lived because Bengali parents can’t go too long without being verbal. It’s a disease. But they can’t be silent. Call it a gene mutation if you will.
Even if one of the parents resorts to silent treatments, the other circles the child like a hyena closing in for the kill and starts muttering what the immediate future will hold viz spanks, red cheeks, and threats of all shapes and sizes and in ever increasing theatricality.
The father I saw today was hilarious! He kept trying to give his daughter the “eye of shame” but clearly he hadn’t cottoned onto the fact that pre-preschoolers won’t really maintain eye contact especially in a public place where there’s so much going on all around them. Seeing that his daughter wasn’t responding well to the unspoken rebukes, he repeatedly told his wife how ‘dushtu’ (naughty) their daughter was and” uff bhishon badabadi” (another favorite word meaning something is being taken to its limits!) was taking place! His entire speech was highlighted in bold and he had clearly got a good deal on exclamation marks as well!
The mother placidly mentioned that their less than hyper daughter (Hey I know hyper…I have a boy) must be sleepy ‘eyijonye..,nahole eto paaglaami kothay korey’? Meaning…she must be sleepy else why would she be acting up this way.
The response from the daughter? Banging the fork and spoon together. Yeah…that’s lunacy for you! Someone get the Adderall!
So during the meal that was punctuated with “aar paarchhina re baba eyi meyeta ke niye” (can’t manage with this girl anymore!) I noted that more and more Bong parents tended to express dissatisfaction even if the situation wasn’t quite so dire.
Rationale? Maybe if things are envisioned as being tougher and more difficult but they fall short of the mark, the result is a happier situation for the parents. Who knows?
But Bongs will scold. And happily so.
Even if it’s a kid who acts like a mini-hurricane or a rather placid little girl who is behaving true to type, the paaglaami we see and express is truly of a ‘orey baba’ extent!
That’s how it’s been for generations and so it shall remain. For that’s who we are. Proudly so.
Note: the author is a Bengali. Descended from Bengali parents and basically an affectionate observer of all things Bengali. Never a critique..oh no! Lokey ki bolbe?! (what will people say?)