Tao 5:05 - Maacher Jhol

“The essence of Bengaliness, distilled, is Maacher Jhol,” said the Tao. He was, of course, referring to the spicy, aromatic fish gravy the Bengalis are so fond of.

That little nugget of wisdom from Tao took a room-full of guests quite by surprise. There was a collective gasp from those uninitiated to the Tao’s sometimes bizarre sense of humor. It did not help that a large number of those assembled were from the city of Kolkata, the heart and soul of Bengal.

“Ekdum ajebaje, utter bullshit!” one of the ladies said, looking flushed and flustered in her red-bordered cotton sari and a giant red bindi on her forehead. She threw her hands up and about with abandon, along with her words, summarily dismissing the Tao. Men nodded in silent assent. A few took long puffs at their cigarettes, sensing that the adda, or gathering, has suddenly become interesting. After all, which Bengali would not love a good tarko, or argument?

“Its debatable ...” began a man, adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses to get a better look at Tao. He stroked his long salt-and-pepper beard gently, occasionally tugging at it, in an attempt to cajole his mind to spurt out some milk of Infinite Wisdom. “Its debatable that Maacher Jhol is the essence, and not Kobiguru’s poetry, or, for that matter, not the sweet Rosogolla; In fact, I would say that it is perhaps Rosogolla which demands that essential position, for is it not the one that is soft on the outside and full of sweet essence in the inside, much like a Bengali?” With his position stated, he took a large helping from his glass of single malt, and smiled knowingly at the gathering.

“I would say that the essence of Bengaliness is angst,” said the scruffy long-haired one, whose face was rendered into an impressionistic painting by the haze of cigarette smoke. “It is angst that makes the Bengali a poet, it is angst which makes him worry about the fate of communism in Nicaragua, it is angst which makes him sing melancholy songs when the sky is overcast. It is angst, not Macher Jhol.”

“I still believe that Maacher Jhol is fundamental to the foundation of a Bengali ...” the Tao began to speak again.

He was quickly interrupted by a woman who has shown great fondness for 3-2-1 Margarita that evening. “Maacher Jhol is an imposition of the Bourgeois on the Proletariat,” she said with strong alcohol-powered emotion in her voice. “Think of it, how would the Proletariat get their Maach? Not with the cost of Maach shooting through the roof. It is a conspiracy of the Bourgeois to get the Bengali Proletariat addicted to Maacher Jhol so that they will forever be working to feed that addiction. I sympathize with the Proletariat so much that I have stopped eating fish myself,” she continued, ignoring the gasps of surprise at that statement, “and, at any rate, how would you know what is the essence of a Bengali?” With this, she pointed her long angsty finger accusingly at the Tao, “You, who writes in English? You, who does not know that Kafka was a Bengali? You, who have never lived in Kolkata? You have no right to speak about Bengalis. You ... you are a Bengali in denial!”

There was some uneasy silence following those passionate words. Three of the men hastily extinguished their cigarettes. About eight iPhones were consulted. A man pulled out his Samsung, glanced around furtively, then put it back into his pocket.

The Tao cleared his throat, “That was a great debate, and we can surely continue after food. The dinner is served. And, did I mention, there is, of course, Maacher Jhol in the menu. Bon Appétit!”