Dhaka, Bangladesh
Culture, weather, literature. Why Bengalis fell in love with Pune

Culture, weather, literature. Why Bengalis fell in love with Pune

For the Bengali community, Pune is more than just a lucrative job destination or an education hub. The city's connection with Bengal dates back to 1849, when Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore arrived here to visit elder brother Satyendranath, who was posted here as an ICS officer. Rabindranath, who stayed with his brother in erstwhile Kirkee (now Khadki), took a keen interest in Marathi literature and culture. He studied the writings of Tukaram and even translated some of them into Bengali, with help from Govind Karkare. He visited again in 1922 and finally in 1932, to meet Mahatma Gandhi, who was fasting in Yerawada Central Prison. Social reformer Swami Vivekananda too visited Pune twice in 1892 and was a guest in Ellappa Balaram's Neutral Lines home for nearly three weeks. Decades later, in 1952, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, the creator of detective Byomkesh Bakshi, moved to Pune from Bombay to concentrate on his writing. He stayed near the Parvatinagar temple. "Bengalis have been living in Pune for a long time. The bulk of Bengalis arrived in 1928, when the headquarters of India Meteorological Department was shifted here from Shimla. Prior to that, very few Bengalis lived here. Those who came from Shimla settled down around Padamji Park, where Pune's first Durga Puja was held in 1929," says octogenarian Dibyendu Kishore Paul. Paul made Pune home in 1965. "The Padamji Park Puja was held for two years and then stopped because most of the employees were again transferred to the Burma Meteorological Office, which was at that time under IMD," recalls Paul, who retired in 1998 after 34 years with the Indian Institute of Tropical Metrology here. Over the course of time, the community grew in size as many Bengalis joined the ammunition and ordinance factories at Kirkee as well as the Shivajinagar IMD office. "So, Durga Puja in the city started again after a gap of 10 years in 1940 at Khadki. It was organized mainly by the employees of the defence establishments and the Met office," says Paul. Until 1966, there was only one Durga Puja. By 1967, there were three at Congress Bhavan (Shivajinagar), at Kalibari (Khadki), and at the Armed Forces Medical College in Wanowrie. It was also around then that the Bengalis in Pune felt the need to have a cultural organization of their own, and so the Bangiyo Sanskriti Samsad came to be, in 1965. "At the time, we did not have an office of our own. We went door-to-door for donations and bought 5,500 sq ft of space at Bhoslenagar. But, it took us another decade to construct a building because we were woefully short of funds," recalls Paul, a member of the samsad. Later, several Bengali cultural groups such as Dishari, Sur O Jhankar, Kolkata Nostalgia and Bolaka and others came up, giving Bengalis in the city a regular dose of 'Bangla' culture. But in the early years, it was difficult for Bengalis, predominantly employed in government services, to even organize Durga pujas. Funding was a major problem. But with many of them entering the private sector and Pune's automobile firms in the 80s and 90s - as engineers and technical hands - it became easier to organize Puja on a grand scale, thanks to corporate sponsorships. With the emergence of Pune as an IT and education hub, many more Bengalis started arriving in the city. Those who came to study eventually settled down here. So, according to a rough count, around 5 lakh Bengalis now call Pune home. "I immediately fell in love with Pune's weather when I moved here in 1998. Moreover, the two cities share a love for music, theatre and literature. All these factors prompted me to stay on," says Prabal Bose, an assistant vice-president with ABB in Pune. According to Mainak Chanda, a member of the Bengalee Association, "one need only look at the number of Durga pujas to know that the Bengali thrives in Pune". As more pandals were formed, cultural activities such as plays, musicals and dance programmes became a part of celebrations. Marathi artists too started participating in these programmes. "Jabbar Patel's production of Ghashiram Kotwal is considered a classic. One of our programmes was presided over by noted Marathi writer Purushottam Lakshman Deshpande. In fact, during the Durga puja celebration this year we had invited Katha Bhate, a noted Punebased dancer," says Paul. But despite being part of this city for over a century, the community rues the lack of restaurants serving authentic Bengali food. "There are some shops that serve Calcutta street food, but they are not up to the mark. If good restaurants come up, that will be the icing on the cake," says Bose.

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