Monday, May 05, 2008

That Bengal mystique

The Economic Times came with this editorial piece on mysticism of Bengali women:

When the renowned Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini left the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman for an unknown Bengali woman he met on a sojourn in India in the late 1950s, the world was shocked. The international press hounded him to the Taj hotel in Bombay, trying to fathom the tall, dusky, reclusive Sonali Dasgupta. The just-released book Under Her Spell: Roberto Rossellini in India reveals that after provoking hundreds of column inches of scandal-sheet venom, the couple finally fled India, helped by none other than then PM Jawaharlal Nehru.

Sonali with Rossellini
Photo courtsey:

This romance harks back to another furore — created by Romanian-born philosopher Mircea Eliade’s steamy, thinly-veiled autobiographical novel Maitreyi published in 1933, translated into many European languages before the French version, La Nuit Bengali, brought it a wider notoriety in 1950. The same bhadralok circles in Calcutta were agog at the Romanian’s ‘affair’ with a Bengali teenager as they were with the Italian’s seduction of a Bengali married woman.

The delicious parallels between the two liaisons, however, end there. Rossellini and Dasgupta lived together, had a daughter, never married and never told their version of the story that rocked India. The Bengali temptress of Eliade’s novel, however, did not remain silent. An acclaimed author herself, Maitreyi Devi (nee Dasgupta, later Sen) wrote her own account of the ‘affair’ in 1973, contradicting Eliade. Today, such goings-on would hardly cause a censorious flutter anywhere, though the mesmerising charm of Bengali women is still evident in both films and literature.

Given that no less a soul than Gandhiji bared his weakness for Tagore’s fiery niece Saraladevi through letters that went thus, “You will continue to haunt me in my sleep.... You may cast that spell over him (her husband Rambhuj Dutta Choudhuri). You are performing the same trick over me,” and was cautioned by a worried C Rajagopalachari, serious research into the Bengali feminine mystique might be needed!

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