The intelligentsia (as defined by Wikipedia) is a social class of people engaged in complex mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them. You can very well attribute this term to the Bengali society who fits this definition quite well. But what does a timid and herbivorous (although Bengalis think goats to be omnivorous – chhagole ki na khay) mammal like goat got to do with this elite group of people? The answer to this is well known to all of us – Bengalis love goat meat. Although in other parts of the World, goat milk and milk products (cheese) are also extremely popular, but we the Bengalis don’t care much about the milk. It is the meat that is most important to us – the ultimate food in any Bengali plate. Historically, goat meat is the only kind of meat that Bengalis (especially the Hindu Bengalis) ate. Goats were the most popular offerings to Goddess Kali and Durga – and the meat then cooked in a recipe void of any garlic or onions and hence termed as “vegetarian meat”.
But Bengalis hardly ever use the term “goat meat”. “Panthar Mangsho” or “Khashir mangsho” or the anglicized version “mutton” were the popular terms. In Bengal (West Bengal to be more specific) it is a sacrilege to slaughter a “she goat”. Hence, the male goats or “Pantha” or the neutered male goat or “Khashi” were the unfortunate ones. If some inscrupulous butcher tried to sneak in a female goat and got caught by the “intelligentsia”, he would be severely punished and his business would be ruined for ever.
Bengalis have invented several goat recipes and sometimes have cleverly adapted many other meat dishes. Although goat and lamb are sometimes used interchangeably in culinary circles, Bengalis detest lamb meat. Lamb meat, although treated as a delicacy in many parts of the world, is hardly sold in Bengal. When a Bengali serves goat meat, he/she makes it absolutely clear that the meat you eat is goat and goat only. In America, goat meat is not popular amongst mainstream Americans. Hence most Indian restaurants will not advertize goat on their menu. They’ll call it lamb – lamb curry, lamb biriyani etc.
A Bengali’s love for goat meat is legendary. In Kolkata (or for that matter any town in West Bengal), Bengali babus queue up in front of their local meat shops. The traditional Sunday lunch of goat and potato stew with fine white rice followed by a nap is the highest point of luxury in a Bengali’s life. Just the words “Kosha Mangsho” (spicy fried goat meat) and “Parota” is like music to Bengali ears. No dinner party or celebration is complete without goat meat.
In this country (USA) we, the Bengalis, try hard to hold on to our culture and traditions. Hence goat meat is an integral part of that effort. Goat meat is not sold in most American butcher shops, but that is hardly an impediment. We travel miles to find a “Indo-Pak Halal” meat shop to get our quota of red meat. Goat meat is a must at any weekend party. Since cooking goat meat is kind of a long term project, we prefer if someone else cooks it for us. Hence the demand for invitations to goat meat parties is extremely high. A persons popularity in this community is judged by the number of goat meat parties he/she is invited to. Hence, no Bengali would sacrifice a goat meat party invitation. Attendance is a must at any cost. Another way to become popular is to invite folks to your goat meat party. Since you are assured of a high attendance, a few calculated parties can catapult your popularity poll numbers to ensure a seat at your local Bengali club committee. Goat meat parties dominate over any other events – be it a musical concert, or a theatrical show, or a literary gathering. Once a frustrated Bengali play director lamented during a rehearsal that was scheduled on a weekend evening, “I give up! I just cannot compete with goat!” The Bengali intelligentsia cannot function properly without goat. People seem to have a wrong notion that the Bengalis can kill for a meal of fish curry and rice! But they are wrong – goat rules the Bengali palate!
During the upcoming Durga Puja festivals, Kallol will be staging a hilarious play titled “Ajo Kahini” or “The Goat Story”. The play, a satire on our social existence as a Bengali in this country, talks about our love affair with goat. It’s not the kind of affair that Albee talks about (The Goat or Who is Sylvia), but its an affair nonetheless – an affair that defines many a moment in our lives as Bengalis. Join the party and let’s have a big laugh on ourselves!