Book Review: The Bengalis- A Portrait of a Community by Sudeep Chakravarti



ISBN: 978-9386021045

Genre: Non-Fiction/ History

Publishers: Aleph Book Company

Price: Rs. 799/-  ( I got the book for review from the publisher)
Behind the Book

The Bengalis are the third largest ethno-linguistic group in the world, after the Han Chinese and the Arabs. A quarter of a billion strong and growing, the community has produced three Nobel laureates, world-class scientists, legendary political leaders and revolutionaries, iconic movie stars and directors and an unending stream of writers, philosophers, painters, poets and musicians of the first rank. But, bald facts aside, just who are the Bengalis? What is the community all about, stereo-typically and beyond stereotype?

In order to find the answers to these and related questions, the author (a Bengali born and steeped in his own culture but objective enough to give us a balanced reckoning of his fellows) delves deep into the culture, literature, history and social mores of the Bengalis. He writes with acuity about the many strengths of the community but does not flinch from showing us its weaknesses and tormented history.

He points out that Bengalis are among the most civilized and intellectually refined people on earth but have also been responsible for genocide and racism of the worst kind. Their cuisine is justly celebrated but few remember the cause and effect of millions of Bengalis dying of famine. Renowned for their liberal attitudes, they are also capable of virulent religious fundamentalism. Argumentative and meditative, pompous and grounded, hypocritical and wise, flippant and deep... Bengalis are all this and much, much more.

With erudition, wit and empathy, this book manages to capture their very essence. Unarguably, it is the definitive portrait of one of the world’s most vibrant and distinctive communities.

About the Author

Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of several groundbreaking and bestselling works of narrative non-fiction (Red Sun, finalist for the Crossword Award in 2009; Highway 39; and Clear. Hold. Build, winner of the Award for Excellence at the Asian Publishing Awards, 2014), novels (Tin Fish, The Avenue of Kings) and short stories. His essays and short fiction have appeared in collections in India and overseas, and, like his books, have been translated into several languages.

He is among India’s leading independent commentators on matters of conflict and conflict resolution, democracy and development, political economy and the convergence of business and human rights. An extensively published columnist at Mint and elsewhere, he has over three decades of experience in media and has worked with major global and Indian media organizations including the Asian Wall Street Journal, where he began his career and held leadership positions at Sunday, the India Today Group and HT Media. An avid scuba diver, Sudeep’s key interest away from writing and travelling remains marine conservation. He lives in the Velliangiri Hills in Tamil Nadu and Goa.

For someone who has been in love with the Bengali culture since time immemorial, this book was perfect heaven. Starting with the basic introduction to the Bengalis, the author proceeds to tell us about them in detail. Their uncanny sense of humour, unparalleled intellect, interest in arts and culture, wide array of food, celebrations, customs, culture, tradition and many other nuances of being a Bengali came alive in those pages.

I have always admired the Bengalis for their art and literature. It is something I wish I was born into. Imagine discussing Rabindra Sangeet for hours over cups of tea and talking about global politics as if it was all happening in your backyard. I love their enthusiasm for everything and anything, the same enthusiasm I found in the author's words. Wandering in the streets of Kolkata I had seen the way how nostalgia took a different meaning here altogether. And that is exactly what the author attempts to recreate in his words, nostalgia and memories from the rich and diverse Bengali.

Backed with immaculate research, the author takes to the interesting world of the Bengalis. In between personal anecdotes and jokes, he gives us a close glimpse of what it is like to know them up, close and personal. Having read extensively about Bengalis and their culture, I can vouch for one thing. This book is the thesaurus on Bengalis. No other book can even come closer to this in terms of detailing and narrative. There were a lot of aspects about them which took me by surprise despite having known some Bengalis for decades now. I liked the overall tone in the book. It is neither dull and boring like a history textbook nor too over bearing and over the top like a news anchor. It is subtle and to the point like a friend narrating their life story to you, replete with pauses and sighs which can be felt through those pages. This one is a must read for all who enjoy knowing about cultures. It doesn't matter whether you are a Bengali or you are not, you cannot help but get enthralled by their stories.

Recommended for its rich cultural beauty!

Foodie Verdict

 This book is like malai chum chum - exotic and melts in the mouth!

Source: Crazy4veggie