The Great Bong Love Affair With Boroline


The Great Bong Love Affair With Boroline

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Just like Shakespeare-bhakts have Romeo and Juliet, Bhai-fans have Salman Khan and acquittals, Calcutta too comes with a peculiar yet passionate love-story of its own: Bongs and Boroline. An evergreen romance that has transcended distance, time, and distractions for so many years that it can easily give Imtiaz Ali a run for his Love Aaj Kals.

If we’ve learnt anything about us Bengalis, it’s that we are great purveyors of “kalchaar”. Our mornings refuse to begin without a cup of chaa and Rabindrasangeet, and our nights are coloured by rewatching our favourite Uttam Kumar or Satyajit Ray masterpiece with a bottle of Gelusil in hand. Shades of our fine taste are reflected as much in the food we like (any biryani that doesn’t have aloo is a blasphemy) as it is in the creams and ointments we choose to use. It’s exactly this dedication to being cultured beings that prevents us from blindly believing in a cheap moisturising knock-off called Vaseline. Especially when we have a magic potion in a small green tube called Boroline.

An indispensable asset of every Bengali, whether they are probashi, bheto, nyaka, or ghoti is their absolute dependency on the wide-ranging powers of the handy Boroline. For us, it’s not just an ointment, but a way of life; just like aloor chop on a Sunday evening or a KKR match at Eden Gardens. Finding a Bengali whose house doesn’t have a tube of Boroline is a little like finding an intelligent Salman Khan fan: utterly impossible. In fact, we love it so much that, God forbid, if our houses were ever on fire, this green tube is what we’d go saving first.

Growing up in a house where there were more tubes of Boroline lying around than actual food, I never got around to understanding or appreciating its superheroic abilities that apparently had every Bengali intellectual in a frenzy. To me, the whole charade of appointing it the panacea of all Bengali ills seemed completely unnecessary. It felt as silly as rewarding birds for doing their job of chirping or giving the sun a standing ovation for managing to set every day. But my indifference could hardly deter the everyday sight of stumbling over rapidly accumulating tubes of Boroline in my house so much so that it felt like our lives were a reality show titled “So You Think You Love Boroline?”

I think our addiction to this small package of greatness is also fostered by our respective grandparents, who have blindly believed in its calming abilities as fiercely as Ma Anand Sheela believed in Osho. Be it a bruise, fever, a boil, or a mosquito bite, the moment we let out the first shriek of pain, they would magically rush in with a tube of Boroline; squeezing a little out to apply on our wounds. It’s as if all Bengalis secretly convened and convinced themselves that this little-known ointment is actually the answer to the meaning of life. And no one had the balls to question the sanctity of this belief, choosing to instead focus on more pressing matters, like if they should take a nap after a lunch of ilish maach or not.

Bengali pride for the uninitiated is a terminal condition that forces sane individuals to take up the most pointless causes only to stand out as the exception.

This was obviously followed by generations of Bengalis passing down this secret to their offsprings who, on their part, also heralded Boroline as the chosen one. Come to think of it, this whole “romance” feels less like a love story and more like the birth of a cult. And I suspect there’s a known offender behind this horrific crime: the all-consuming Bengali pride.

Bengali pride for the uninitiated is a terminal condition that forces sane individuals to take up the most pointless causes only to stand out as the exception. Take winters for instance. When the world is celebrating the cool temperature, us Bengalis swiftly don the most ancient monkey caps we can find only to be the odd ones out. It’s the same reason we proudly boast of consuming rice for all our three meals, and go around town screaming our voices hoarse about the greatness of a silly ointment that the world stopped caring about 35 years ago.

It’s no wonder then, that when Bengalis move out of Calcutta to a new city, the first thing they set out in search for is a shop that stocks Boroline unlike plebs who hunt for the nearest Big Baazar. It’s what we believe sets us apart.

The trusted ointment’s undisputed standing in our paanch phoron hearts can be gauged by the fact that it even gets a place in the sacred “biyer tatto” (Bengali wedding baskets comprising essentials prepared by the bride’s family to hand over to the groom’s family). At this point, Boroline is not even a way of life anymore, it’s our extended family member.

Now, in our 89th year of togetherness, the bond between Boroline and Bengalis is unfortunately stronger than ever. The words “Ektu Boroline lagiye ne” (Apply a little Boroline) are still uttered in a Bengali household an average of 15 times a day as a solution for every little hiccup and we still haven’t had the misfortune of complaining about dry skin. It’s enough to convert my ilk to being Borosexual and chanting the lyrics of Sawan Dutta’s hilariously true ode to Boroline as our war-cry all day.

Is your skin feeling dry?

Does your complexion make you cry?
Then you must definitely try
Boroline, boroline
Is good for my skin
Boroline is the cream
For my kith and my kin…”