Residence: Pune, India
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi, Bengali
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.