Tag Archives: city

How Kolkatta got its name


This is the story of how Kolkata got its name. So, once there was a European man who was travelling in the train. And then he asked a local farmer *does comically heavy British accent* “Excuse me sir, buy what is this place called then?” And the local farmer didn’t understand what he was saying and uh… he had some bushels of wheat- no rice, bushels of rice in his hand. And he thought the man was asking when he cut it. So he said “Kal Katta. Kal Katta.” (hindi/bengali for “I cut it yesterday”) *laughs* *imitates British accent again* “Oh Calcutta? Is that what it is called then?” So that’s how its *laughing hysterically* -that’s how the name came about. 


P is Bengali but grew up in Maharashtra. He has a lost connection to his parent’s original homeland. His parents and grandparents often tell him stories about Bengal. Kolkata is the capital of Bengal. This story is a historical joke told to him by his grandfather. 


P told me this piece of history over the phone when I called him about my assignment. At first he was joking around about what kind of folklore to give me but then settled on this with an air of flippancy. He is a close friend hence the casualness. 


This historical joke, likely untrue, requires a knowledge of Hindi or Bengali in order to understand the punchline of the joke. The local man with his bushels of rice is representative of the people of Bengal while the ignorant Britisher is a personification of their hate toward the colonizers. The joke showcases the ignorance of the Britishers yet how much power they held to be able to simply name an entire state of India. 

El Tunche and the Tour Guide

Folklore Piece 

“I was told this story when I was probably… a senior in high school. Um, I, uh, for my bio class we got to go to the amazon jungle, um a research trip with my class. There’s a lot of mythology and a lot of like, ancient beliefs, especially in the jungle and the highlands and places that are not as metropolitan as the main city. Um, and there’s this story that I first heard on that tour from our guide, and it’s about this monster called El Tunche. E-L T-U-N-C-H-E. Um, it’s supposed to be this monster that they say lives in the dark areas of the jungle, and he’s like, not good or bad, it depends on the type of person you are. If you’ve sinned, and you go into the jungle, he’ll come find you. But only if you’ve done something bad. The way that you know he’s coming is he’ll actually whistle. You’ll hear a whistle, like lost in the jungle or something. And if you hear a whistle in another town or something it’s supposed to be bad luck. So like, you have to be aware of like, if you ever hear a whistling sound, that the Tunche coming for you. The Jungle is like super serious and like mysterious, so it’s really easy to believe in these sorts of things”


Background information

She spoke often about the Jungle and its role in Peruvian folklore. Specifically its separation from the city and the familiarity of everyday life; it held this sort of mysticism that enabled various folk stories, legends, and tall tales to come from it. She said that Peruvians respect and even revere the jungle for this reason. While she learned this story originally from the guide on a school trip, she said that she confirmed with some family and friends about the legend of El Tunche and the its association with whistling.


Personal Analysis:

There are a number of key takeaways from this story. The first and most prominent of which is the interaction between the natural, as represented by the jungle, and the industrial, as represented by the city. While the city – which is manmade – signifies comfort, home, and safety, the jungle signifies mystery, malice, and magic. This story is a manifestation of those fears as humans become more and more separated from their natural habitat.

The second takeaway from this story is the context in which she heard it. Hearing it from an official guide that is profiting off of visits to the jungle reminds me of the tourist communities we learned about toward the end of our Folklore class. Similar to the Borneo tribes that would further their branded image of savagery to the outside world, so too are the Peruvians furthering violent and mysterious folklore to garner attraction to their jungles.

Additionally, the main religion in Peru is Roman Catholic, and the story has strong religious undertones. First, the use of the word ‘sin’ implies that the transgressions that would invoke El Tunche are aggressions against an established moral code. The jungle and its foreboding mysticism can be thought of as hell, and El Tunche as the Devil. According to Roman Catholicism, to be free of sin is to be free of the temptations and tortures of the Devil and his Kingdom.

Finally, the tour guide might have said this story so that the kids don’t wander away, thus acting as a warning. He’s probably liable, to a certain extent, for anything that might happen. So while this story can be entertaining, it can also provide a lesson for the kids not to leave the tour.