Monday, 15 October 2012


Baba and I were standing on a platform at the Howrah station, waiting for our train to arrive. Out of nothing, Baba asked me, “What according to you, is ‘vulgar’? Can you find anything vulgar from the scenes at this platform?”

My father and I have this habit of quizzing each other randomly. Locating a particular object or a situation, spotting differences, finding similarities between things that lie right infront of us. It had always been our favourite game.

I gave up. Finding an example of vulgarity from the platform wasn’t easy.

The train had not arrived at the platform yet. And there was this enormous queue at a place where passengers contemplated the General Compartment to be stationed at.

The train arrived. The passengers rushed, shoved, elbowed each other to find a little space in the very crowded General coach, while we waited to board the AC First Class compartment. Additionally, the AC and the General Coach were right next to each other.

The father and his daughter kept on talking. On cinema, books, the daughter’s savings, LICs, religion, Mamata Banerjee and vulgarity (unrelated topics, including the last two words, God promise).

Baba later gave me a very old book to read (bought from a second-hand book stall in College Street). Written way back in the 1960s. By Nipendrakrishna Chattopadhyay (Trivia: He was also the script-writer for Uttar phalguni, Saat paake bandha, Nayika Sanbad and many more). He had very interesting interpretations of the word “vulgar”.

In his book, he cites Aldous Huxley’s example. When the whole world was going ecstatic over Romain Rolland’s “Jean-Christophe”, the critics, novelists and writers were praising it endlessly, Aldous Huxley branded the book as “vulgar”. According to Huxley, the rampant sentimentality and sappiness in the novel appeared vulgar to him.

In his article "The vulgarity in Little Nell" (1930), Huxley while attacking Charles Dicken's uncontrolled sentimentality in “The Old Curiosity Shop”, wrote “It is vulgar, in literature, to make a display of emotions which you do not naturally have, but think you ought to have, because all the best people do have them. It is also vulgar (and this is the more common case) to have emotions, but to express them so badly, with so too many protestings, that you seem to have no natural feelings, but to be merely fabricating emotions by a process of literary forgery.
... ... ... The case of Dickens is a strange one. The really monstrous emotional vulgarity, of which he is guilty now and then, in all his books and almost continuously in ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, is not the emotional vulgarity of one who stimulates feelings which he does not have. It is evident, on the contrary, that Dickens felt most poignantly for and with his Little Nell; that he wept over her sufferings, piously revered her goodness and exulted in her joys. He had an overflowing heart; but the trouble was that it overflowed with such curious and even rather repellent secretions.”

This interpretation of ‘vulgar’ is something I relate to. Overdoing certain things (especially certain emotions) often turn out to be vulgar (even if you or I do it!).

Like putting sugar in a chicken curry (not for the brown colour of the onion, but for sweetness) or making an aloo-sabzi sweet. Same applies for emotions.

Nipendrakrishna Chattopadhyay, in his book gives some interesting examples to which I would relate. Very much.

He says, it’s not your fault if you are rich and make a donation of One hundred rupees; however, in a large gathering when everyone makes contributions of Ten Rupees each, taking out the same hundred rupees note turns vulgar. I agree.

Similarly, on a chilly winter day, when the whole world is wrapped in warm woolens, you choose to wear an almost-transparent linen shirt. That will appear vulgar.

Or, imagine a pleasant, peaceful morning. Young and old, men and women taking their morning walks. Serenity and freshness everywhere. Smell of Eucalyptus or Chhatim in the air. Suddenly, a Ferrari drives past with an earsplitting honk or a shrill screech of its tyres. No matter how sexy the car may look otherwise, in this given situation it appears vulgar.

Or this.

For those who can’t read Bengali, here is a skeleton translation.

-   Have been suffering from a pain in the stomach for quite some time.
-   Oh, you are getting baffled from a stomach-pain? Look at me. I have been attending office for the past one month with a broken leg. In addition, I have a chest pain as well.
-   I went to Doctor Mukherjee for that pain. You know, the doctor is related to us from my sister-in-law’s family.
-   Aah, that’s not Mukherjee’s job. I have seen him during my father-in-law’s gallbladder operation. I was so extremely displeased and disappointed with him.
-   Don’t say like that. Have observed him when my son-in-law was operated for Appendicitis. By the way, I hope you know who my son-in-law is. He is Raybahadur Harihar Dutt’s grandson....
-   Arrey what are you saying? Don’t you know my brother got married to Sir K. G. Bose’s family...And, my nephew got a D. Sc degree which no Bengali has ever managed at such a young age...

The conversation continues.

None of them would let the other speak; none would let the other overshadow, while the onlookers watch their shameless display of vulgarity, the display of “I, me, myself”.

This conversation also reminds me of an interesting quote.
“The vulgar man is always the most distinguished, for the very desire to be distinguished is vulgar."

Our discussions always end up in examples from our own lives....beyond the book, beyond Aldous Huxley, needless to say.

When asked, my mother explains vulgarity in her own simple ways. She says the staff-room in her school is right next to Class III. On special days, when teachers have a feast, the overwhelming smell of biriyani or chilly chicken fills the adjacent class room. When teachers savour biryani for lunch, the students of class III finish their tiffin cakes, ruti-torkari, jam-bread or at the most Bourbon biscuits. At that point of time, even the smell of biriyani appears vulgar to her.  L

I would be stamped as snooty/ arrogant/abnormal, but I find certain types of singing vulgar. For example, too sweet a voice often appears vulgar to me. Like Subhomita’s voice. It’s the same as putting sugar in an ‘aloor torkari’. When I shared my views with my younger sibling, he promptly said, “Oh, of course, I find it vulgar too. Like, Dev Adhikari, Subhomita is tolerable till she opens her mouth” (meanness is a family tradition? I wondered).

There was this scene in Satyajit Ray’s “Jalshaghar”. Zamindar Biswambhar Ray (Chhabi Biswas) is seen sitting on an easy chair, relishing music and his hookah. The sitar-recital is disrupted by the disturbing sound of a generator. He calls for his servant to ask for the source of such sound. The servant explains that their next door neighbour, Mahim Ganguli has brought “Electry Kawl” (machine that generates electricity) from Calcutta. In a village where there’s no electricity, the sound of a generator, the display of electric lights from one single household seems vulgar. Doesn’t it?

Also, imagine the childhood we had. Summers would mean power-cuts. The whole locality would be pitch dark. And suddenly from the terrace, you locate one single house where there is electricity (because they have a generator). The sound of the generator would not seem vulgar. But that light? When everything else around is dark?

I have seen a couple of times in cultural programmes and social gatherings, people flock to take autographs from B-grade, C-grade and F-grade movie stars, when distinguised painters, poets, writers or historians are present there. Not their fault actually. They hardly know who these men are. But the sight....seems so vulgar.

There was one common sight on the way back from office, while we waited for buses from the Great Eastern Hotel/ B.B.D. Bag bus-stop. Stand-still traffic, long queues for buses, passengers struggling to get an inch’s space on the footboard just to reach home on time....and in the midst of all these, the police tried clearing out the busiest road in Kolkata to make way for Mr. Budhhadeb Bhattacharya, the-then CM’s car. The red beacon light and the hooter appeared so vulgar then...perhaps for no fault of their own.

Similarly, for no fault of their own, Kissan Jam, Maggi or Complan advertisements appear vulgar. At certain times. The mother in the advertisement pesters her son to eat food, spreads jam on rotis and biscuits to make them tasty, so that her son does not waste food.
The 5 year old, my maid’s son watches TV with awe. They live in a house which is one-third the size of my bedroom. On days of heavy downpour, the entire household shifts on their bed, as water floods the floor. The tiny idiot box is the most prized source of entertainment. And there flashes....Kissan Jam, Maggi, Complan....

P.S: “Vulgar” is a relative term. And a term with wide connotations. It changes from person to person and from time to time. At a given point of time, two persons may have largely different interpretations as well. And these perceptions undergo huge changes from time to time. That’s exactly what I feel. Your views may be entirely different. Share it.


  1. By your definition,
    a lot of my life is vulgar.

    Vulgar was the time at school when every classmate was invited for someone's birthday & I was the one left out.

    Vulgar was the time when the teacher saw something wrong, like spilled food & asked who did it, everyone unanimously screamed my name.

    Vulgar was the time when my friends could afford expensive contact lenses & I was forced to wear cheap specs AND they bragged about it in front of me.

    Vulgar was the time...some of it is too painful & cant be shared in a public forum...

    & In future, I am going to be vulgar exactly in the way you described. I will donate Rs.1000 when everyone else donates Rs.10;

    I will burn a 1000 rupees in front of people I know who are obssessed about money AND dont earn a lot.

    I dont like to brag about what I have achieved till now. But rest assured, I have avenged a lot of the vulgarity I was subjected to.

    Your vulgarity, is my life. I have got vulgarity from people. I will give it back.


    1. Dude chill! seems you had an unhappy childhood..but look around you now, people are not as bad as you think they are
      Dont carry the baggage of your past in your present interactions!

      & If I may, Congratulations! You seem to have reached somewhere from a deep abyss.

      Wishing you all the best,

    2. Nishith! Hi!

      I have read your comment thrice by now.

      I get it. Almost each and everything you had to say. You may say, it’s difficult. Unless I walked a mile in your shoes. But trust me, when I say, I get it.

      Now, tell me something. Aren’t you getting into a vicious circle? “An eye for an eye makes the world blind”, remember? See here. I am not a moral science teacher. What I see is, you agreed to my views on vulgarity. You agreed. And you intend to do the same? Well, it remains your personal choice. The point is, if “revenge” is the word, then I might as well exercise it on people who wronged me. And not any Tom, Dick and Harry without any fault of theirs.

      It’s strange however, that in each and every line, you have agreed with me on what I think of vulgarity. You call it vulgarity, even when YOU choose to display it. I have mixed feelings. I found someone who almost shares my views. Happy. I found someone who shares my views in wrong ways. Sad.

      P.S: Life isn’t as bad as you think.

  2. “I, me, myself” that's important indeed, otherwise everyone will turn out to be as mediocre as the person next to him/her.

    I was born in a city of great mental & physical poverty. Because I am self-centered & hardworking , I have managed to come far far away from that place.

    Even in the city I am presently in, I see a lot of silly base hedonism. Everyone is running after material pleasures. No one seems to be looking for knowledge, skill or enlightenment, unless of course in some twisted way, they lead to material benefits.

    If I dont focus on myself & people like me, my mind's beauty will be lost.
    So, I think I need some vulgarity here.Sorry!

    1. Hello Deb!

      Your "I, me and myself" part is something I vehemently agree with. People often say Narcissus was named after me and the mirror is my favourite sight in the world. However, on a more serious note, what I meant in my post was, the blatant display of one's Me-ness. It's not about focussing on oneself to make oneself better. It's not about enhancing the mind's beauty. There is no improvement involved here. It's not a display of how good I am. It's how inferior you are, compared to me. That's vulgar.
      You spoke about mind's beauty. Does that beuaty prompt you to put someone else down? Read the conversation I shared. Read it again.
      I agree "No one seems to be looking for knowledge, skill or enlightenment". Because complacency destroys chances for the same.

      I hope I could make myself clear. And needless to say,"So, I think I need some vulgarity here" is not something I agreed to. You seem to be a happy person now. Look at yourself carefully again. It's neither selfish nor vulgar.



  3. Some more examples of vulgarity..
    Arvind Kejriwal is also vulgar, one of the few working to erase corruption in a nation of apathetic fools. What does he intend to accomplish? This nation of abomination deserves abominable leaders.
    Kalpana Chawla is extremely vulgar, How dare she become an astronaut being from a country where millions of female babies are aborted or killed before birth?
    & Churchill, how dare he defy hitler when the entire continent was under hitler's boots. Britain's freedom then seemed so vulgar.

    & the Finns, how dare they defy the mighty Soviet Union & remain the only neighbour outside the iron curtain. Vulgar Vulgar Finns!

    Let me not even start with Derozio, Rammohan Roy, Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath & lots of other vulgar people.

    Somehow, not fitting in, not giving in, achieving as much as You want, living life as comfortably as You can- all these may be vulgar. But I feel we need people who do these.

    1. Hi Ranbir,
      I am glad my blog made you think. I am in unison with what you wrote, except for one thing. I find dollops of sarcasm in what you had to say. May I ask you, why?
      This may completely be your personal views. But tell me something. Have I written anything which triggered such sarcastic remarks? Have I made you feel from this post, that thinking out of the box, thinking beyond what others think is vulgar? Walking a mile ahead is vulgar? Have I said that?
      Please explain. I will be sorry if I made you feel the way you wrote here.

  4. "people flock to take autographs from B-grade, C-grade and F-grade movie stars, when distinguised painters, poets, writers or historians are present there."
    Ahh..dont you feel that's awesome!...If the founders of Quora or Stackoverflow were mobbed while Paris Hilton's antics were ignored....well I am not sure that's Utopia or a Dystopia.. but its a highly unnatural state of human civilization. The cheap & the vulgar attracts us. How else do you explain the fame of sherlyn chopra , poonam pandey & other such starlets?
    (There , I made them even more famous. )

    1. Hey Anonymous!
      I know the cheap and the vulgar attracts us. That's exactly what I said when i wrote "people flock to take autographs from B-grade, C-grade and F-grade movie stars, when distinguised painters, poets, writers or historians are present there." See, you agreed too. I have nothing against that. I will give you 20 examples where my views, my ways of life, my likings will seem utterly cheap and vulgar to you. Whether they'll attract you is another question. :D
      I shared my own interpretations of the word "vulgar" . What may appear vulgar to me may appear immmensely attractive to someone else and vice versa. I know people who used to find Helen vulgar, while I was in awe with her and her latak-jhataks. It's all relative, you see.



  5. "The train arrived. The passengers rushed, shoved, elbowed each other to find a little space in the very crowded General coach, while we waited to board the AC First Class compartment. Additionally, the AC and the General Coach were right next to each other."...SO that was vulgar?
    Yeah! because the AC passengers will be missing out so much!
    I used to travel by the General Compartment frequently, when I was poorer. It was a real adventure. Now that I have a job, my mother & my wife insist on flights or at least AC trains. & I look at the people boarding the General Compartment & sigh....

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      You used to travel frequently in General Compartment? I hope you didnt confuse it with Sleeper Class. If you haven't, here I go. Years ago, our tickets were still on the waiting list on the day of travel. My mother was as desperate as I was. We rushed, shoved, elbowed and finally boarded the general compartment. Wooden seats. People, vegetables, fish, chicken and hen...all travelled together. 27 hours journey. Yes, huge fun it was. Sleeping on the floor of a train, fun it was. (Read my post "Trained"). But tell me Anonymous, how many people in the world think like you and me? My father found it sad and/or vulgar when flocks of men boarded the train with anxiety and disgust, while we boarded AC compartments. Even now, I would love travelling in General Coaches. But ask those who travel out of complusion, every now and then. They had such a disgusted face!

      I reiterate,how many people in the world think like you and me? had there been, the same scene wouldn't have appeared vulgar to my father.


    2. :) :) :) I have traveled in General Compartment out of compulsion a few times. One was a 32hrs journey. There was not even room to stretch my legs. Now when I think back... it was quite a memorable one. :) But then... I probably find that experience cherished cause I have a choice now. For those who do not have a choice... it may not be fun.


  6. I cud summarise your excellent post with the following quote:-

    Death and vulgarity are the only two facts in the nineteenth century that one cannot explain away.
    Oscar Wilde

  7. Hi Parama, nice blog and good writing. Let me introduce myself anonymously. I was born to a lower middle class bengali family in the outskirt of Kolkata. My parents could barely make two ends meet in my childhood. Hence we were naturally placed in the lower rung of the society. People, including our relatives, used to look down upon us and we were exposed to many forms of "vulgarity" that you mentioned. But poor as my parents may be, they imparted real education to their only ward and never doubted his capability. Yes, I was gifted (it takes at least a little amount of talent to top several competitive exams that I took over the years). As a result of these determined efforts, I am right now at THE topmost university of the world in my chosen field at US. And as strange it might sound, those people who showed "vulgarity" to us some 10-15 years back, are in all praise for my achievements. May be those vulgarities had some contributions to make my mind determined to go against all odds and come up successful. I am in my mid twenties and I have a long way to go in my life (hopefully). But I can never forget the treatment that I received from many of my near ones including some of my "friends".

  8. Hi Parama,

    I found your blog from a very unlikely source. UDD Facebook page. :)

    I was reading the English posts here, when I stopped on this one. I found your way of interpreting the term vulgar pretty interesting. You've put into words something I had never even thought about. Funny, because somewhere I already knew what you were saying, I was silently agreeing with you as I read. Yet I had not given it a conscious thought.

    Your post brings an incident to my mind... once I was participating in a local cultural festival. I was a part of a small skit. I did not know anyone there, being relatively new to the place(Town). A few celebrities were special guests at the festival and everyone was flocking to get pictures with them. I didn't know the celebrities who are well known in South Indian Movies. So I just stood aloof and waited till others had their fill of pictures. I even clicked a few with their cellphones/DLSRS...or whatever they brought to the venue. The celebrity asked me if I wanted a picture with them. I felt embarrassed and said... no, it's ok. When I was asked multiple times by multiple people ( all relatively strangers) if I wanted my picture taken with the celebrity, I finally said... "Am sorry! I don't even know who that is. Why would I want a picture with them?" Well, of course... all those people gave me strange looks. :D :D :D

    All this while, I would remember the incident and feel embarrassed how I behaved as well as roll my eyes at the thought of how the others did. :) But I could never make up my mind as to who was vulgar... them or I? Now I know.I guess it was I who seemed vulgar ( rather 'rude' in my words) for being different.

    Is being different really vulgar or is it making a show of being different that is vulgar... I wonder now.

    I'll be back to read your answer... :) and shall get my kiddo to read your blog ( this post) too. :)

    This is an interesting post. Makes me want to discuss it. :) Keep writing!