We Bongs are a tranquil lot. All we want and need are a pinch of food, a dash of poetry and a handful of travel. The Bengali diaspora has spread to many shores in search of work mainly. For me, it was the lure of travel & adventure which got me all the way to Sydney, 7800 Kms away from home.
It is always difficult to create a home away from your real home. A foreign land has its own challenges and one always yearns for something familiar – be it the comfort of speaking the same language or adda over countless “bhanrs” lebu cha. When I moved to Sydney, looking for my own adventure, I had discounted this yearning for everything Bengali. Over time, I was delighted to discover a strong presence of Bengalis in Sydney. Every day I would discover something new in Sydney, something which a Bengali could do and I wish there was a guide to help me out when I started my journey in Sydney
Here is my effort at compiling a list of things for a Bengali to do in Sydney –
- FISH FOR YOUR BONG PALATE – Eat your shorshe ilish and Begun Pora at the Bengali suburbs- Lakemba or Rockdale. With 60% of the Bengali population living in these two suburbs, it was inevitable that the Bengali eateries opened to cater to the fish loving clan. Fish is imported all the way from Bangladesh, and cooked by Bengali chefs.
- Visit the Baishakhi Mela (organised by Bangabandhu Council Australia) at Sydney Olympic Park and gorge on the fish chops and halim, ghugni and biriyani, and buy new “Dhakais” from the various stalls. And when all this is done, watch different Bangla Rock Bands shake up an entire stadium. This Baishakhi Mela sees a turnout of 20,000 Bengalis year after year.
- If you are not a crowd person, then spend your nobo-borsho at Ashfield Park with a crowd of 100-150, giving it a family-feel. With the singers belting out Rabindra sangeet and Nazrul Geeti, it gives you the vibe of being in Kolkata. Singers prepare for this for the whole year and women sell home-made delicious food.
- Even though this year’s Durga Pujo is already past, the one in Concord high School is a must see. The Bengali Association of New South Wales organises this pujo which sees a footfall of 5000 Bongs. The Bhog can be cooked by anyone, irrespective of religion and irrespective of caste. Bengali women wear their beautiful silk and dhakai sarees and it feels like your very own parar pujo.
- The Lakemba Community Markets every first Saturday of the month for the best home-made pickles. Are you missing that Chalta’r aachar? This is the place to visit. Kul? Tetul? Please go here! It also creates the opportunity to buy that item you want to stock up on from the local grocery.
- Are you someone who loves cooking your own fish? The sign on the Harris Park shop ‘Ekhane Maach paoya jai’ is difficult to miss. Missing rui maach? Buy 2 kgs for $4/kg ONLY (I bet that’s cheaper than Kolkata).
- Haldon Street Festival – If you are a lover of Bengali Folk songs, singers from Bangladesh grace this festival, again plentiful Bengali food and music. The entire street is closed to traffic, with stalls on either sides selling clothes, food, toys, reminding one much of Bidhannagar Mela.
- And of course the adda with your Bong friends, talking about the political scenario in Bangladesh and India, laughing at India’s meat ban and other idiosyncrasies. An adda (informal gathering) session without sweetened milk tea, deep fried potato fritters and the intoxication of nicotine is incomplete without arguments. There is much to learn from this. Facts are thrown across the room and the trick is to use those facts and argue on whether Syrian refugee crisis will affect the global oil prices or the love of football. There have been theories thrown around with vociferous support that football (soccer in ‘Strayan’) was invented in Bengal!
It is important to enjoy the culture of a new place. While this land has opened its doors to us, I hope the Bengali spirit of tolerance, humour, art, food, football, adda and mishti spread cheer.
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