Of What Remains: Bengalis & Their 'Bangaliyana' In Delhi's CR Park

My day out in CR Park transported me back to Kolkata after I spoke to the first-generation settlers from Bangladesh, first-generation ‘Probaashi Bangali’ and migrants from Kolkata. It reminded me that the essence of home and belonging was fading away.

Debarati Mitra
New Update
CR Park

Image credit: Debarati Mitra

It was when the warm October sun started to go down, that Market 1 of CR Park, brought to life by Bengali Halwais setting up their pots and pans to fry an array of “chop” and display close to two dozen different types of freshly made mishti, welcomed me, for the first time, to the Bangali part of our nation’s capital. Women, young and old, in deep and heavily kohled eyes, constituted most of the crowd at the Pre-Pujo carnival selling alta, shidoor, kalamkari sarees, chunky silver jewellery and everything under the sky. Kathi roll stalls were being set up, idol makers were busy shaping deities and dhaakis were already tuning their dhaaks to cater to the crowd that was only going to multiply in the coming two weeks. This compact bustling bazaar-type arrangement with notes of conversations in Bangla near the Kali Mandir, orbiting a huge bare bamboo structure that was yet to be converted into a splendid pandal for Maa Durga, transported me back to Kolkata, while standing in a city that felt so oblivious otherwise to the significance of October, the bare bamboo pandal and wet clay models of the Mother Goddess. 


A few days ago, the crisp January morning winds greeted me as I stepped into Market 1 again for the purpose of research. On a quiet Saturday, the local tea shops, their names written in English and Bangla, were filled with cosily sweatered uncles sporting an Indian Express or Hindu waiting for their orders of “Aada cha”. With people shopping for fresh produce and iced fish, Bangali para was welcoming the weekend with little to no movement, except for the occasional chai hunts in the locality. The place that had transported me to Kolkata the last time I was here, was falling short of replicating Kolkata other than a few generic instances. 


CR Park has gained a name for itself in the heart of Northern India by becoming a one-of-a-kind establishment for the Bengali Community. Named after Chittaranjan Das, the settlement is hailed as a ‘mini-Bengal’ in terms of its cultural similarity to Kolkata and obviously, the predominantly Bengali population residing there. The historical significance of the place is important to preserve the narratives of an entire displaced community who brought with them a distinct culture very different from the one seen normally in this part of the country. On the other hand, it also provides a safe haven for migrants from Bengal who find comfort in the familiarity of a known language and food. 

Many in the country, often exclaim how similar the “culture” of CR Park is to Bengal- a hub of the academically oriented, politically aware and opinionated, English-speaking, Rabindra Sangeet singing, saree and kurta donning, Marx-reciting Bengalis. According to them, with mainstream media and common sense as their research source, a quintessential Bengali fits all the boxes mentioned. It never occurs to the minds of people that this idea of a Bengali is a very elite description of the community that dwells only in the urban centres and that restricting Bengal to Kolkata’s culture is actually extremely parochial. Unfortunately, this view on the culture of caste and class elite Bengalis often gets labelled as ‘Bangaliyana’ or ‘degree/severity of being a Bengali’. 

This research aims to address this narrow vision of the Bengali community and to explore whether C.R. Park can be called “mini-Bengal” because of its similarity to Kolkata, or if C.R. Park indeed has developed a culture different from its Bengali counterpart, but is simply overshadowed by the romanticism of the latter. 

The methodology of the paper consisted of ethnographic interviews at C.R. Park, with the respondents ranging from First Generation settlers from Bangladesh, First Generation ‘Probaashi Bangali’, to migrants from Kolkata who have shifted for higher education and jobs. 


From The beginning

Delhi in the 50s and 60s of the previous century witnessed a massive inflow of refugees from all bordering states of the country owing to the country’s newfound independence. People who had been displaced from the regions of Sind and East Pakistan tried to find shelter in present-day Punjab and Bengal; those who could not sustain themselves there, further shifted inwards to the Hindi heartland and set up colonies in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. 

One such settlement was formed by an association called the East Pakistan Displaced Persons Association (E.P.D.P), which aimed at helping themselves to regain life on Indian soil. Established in 1954, E.P.D.P consisted of refugees from present-day Bangladesh, who were victims of both displacement from their land and ignorance of the government in their new nation. The Association, somewhat in the latter half of the 1960s, was able to establish a proper settlement due to many high-ranking central government employees who used their political and social capital to gain leverage since they had also faced loss in the process of relocation. These government employees were from a particular segment of society in Bengal that had enormous social and cultural capital due to their class and caste privileges. 

When the First Generation settlers got provisions for building homes on the land with government subsidies, they built humble homes that mostly resembled those of privileged Bengalis complete with small “uthon” spaces. Other buildings in CR Park were the likes of culture centres, book reading, theatre, and one special place for women to gather (Mahila Samiti) which was built in the coming decades. Promoting community feeling and inculcating the love for Bengali Literature and Music was the main goal of these physical manifestations. 

Cultural Conundrum

In simpler words and my understanding of the same, culture can be referred to as the non-biological traits in human beings that vary with groups and identities. 


When we attempt to define the culture of a group in contemporary times, we must look at how modern world developments have affected the evolution of the culture through generations. It is also vital to address that cultural meaning will differ in interpretation with time- the passion, the sentiments and the outlook towards the same cultural traits will be diverse. The research navigated the Bengali culture of CR Park through the lives of residents from mainly four categories- the first-generation settlers from present-day Bangladesh, the second-generation Bangalees who were born and raised in Delhi, the non-Bengali residents, and lastly young migrants in their 18-30 years age mark. 

The First Generation Retentionists

The Bengali diaspora of the 1950s was the first of their kind to relocate to Delhi in such large numbers. They had not only lost their lands due to partition but also the comfort of language. The new boundaries of Delhi had next to none who spoke Bangla other than the refugees and this inability to bridge the language barrier ignited an identity threat in the minds of these people. During the same, a few years prior in 1951, the celebration of the Bhasha Andolan in Bangladesh struck a chord with every Bengali, not just on Indian soil, but also worldwide. 

This Movement by Bangladeshi activists, which later came to be celebrated as the International Mother Tongue Day on 21st February, was aimed at acceptance of Bangla as an official language of East Pakistan along with Urdu. The movement stands relevant in the lives of Bangalees all over the world to date as it was the first movement in the world where people celebrated, fought and died for a language and their culture- the Bengali Culture. 

When asked about the rough caste composition of the place, both interviewees from this group (names have been removed), aged 74 and 86, spoke at length about what the class situation was and how there were provisions by the Government for their housing, ration and even schools for their children. The unawareness about caste in this close-knit and comparatively small community, or perhaps the deliberate ignorance of the topic, was what further strengthened the fact of caste being manoeuvred as a class by the mostly upper caste Bengalis who had gathered in Delhi from all over the class spectrum. 

Apart from the fact that the culture carried from Bengal was mostly that of the upper castes, certain festivals found their way into the fabric of Delhi. 


Everything aside, if there is one festival that can be awarded the position of being the most popular, it would definitely be Durga Puja. Started humbly in the 1970s, the Durga Puja of CR Park has gained its status as one of the key factors that sets the area aside from any other in Delhi. It has been one of the main factors helping the community form cohesion. 

Interviewee Tapash Guha, on being questioned about his earliest and fondest memories of the Pujo replied, “Ashtami Arati with everyone in the locality and the bhog they made back in the day. There is no match for that Khichuri. We also used to watch popular Bengali movies in the Mela Ground on the night of Nabami (the Ninth day of Puja). Everyone would gather post dinner and we would play a movie on the make-shift big white screen, generally an Uttam Babu film (Uttam Kumar). Nowadays so many theatres and mobile phones have movies in them; we don’t get to do that anymore. That would be one of my favourite memories of Pujo”. 

One striking feature of this generation has to be their “adda” culture, which basically refers to the practice of indulging in leisurely conversations around politics, cinema, daily life, sports, and neighbours, with friends, neighbours, strangers or even shop owners, over a cup of tea. 

The Second Generation Fusionists 

The second generation of Bengalis in Delhi are truly a product of assimilation, while also retaining certain parts of their heritage. This generation was born and raised in Delhi, with little to no exposure to Kolkata. 

The interviewee from this group, Shrotik Guha, 33, stated, “I know how to draw, sing and perform elocution. I was one of the very few Bengali boys in my class and I often got told how Bengalis are always good at creative and performing arts. It was a point of pride for me as a child, but now that I look back, I realise how it might not have been possible if I had not stayed in a place where everything related to arts was so readily available. And I think why I don't have an accent in my Bengali is because I spoke in Bangla with all my art teachers, other than also speaking with my parents. But I have friends who can not read or write Bangla and can not hold a conversation in the language without slipping in a word or two of Hindi; it is because they are not in the practice of speaking the language anywhere outside their homes. Another huge sign of assimilation would be that of marriage into North Indian communities. Unlike our parents, our choice of spouse is not limited by ethnicity anymore.” 

On field observation, a trait that can be best described as the ‘hustle culture’ revealed itself in the people of this generation. Hyper productivity, an all-consuming corporate job and little time to enjoy the finer, non-materialistic things in life were common to most.

Yet, in my opinion, this generation has accessed the best of both worlds - a temperament for the arts from their parents and a zeal for exploring various ways of life. They had retained those parts of their identity that made them feel welcome into their community, while also assimilating into the broader salad bowl culture of the metropolis. 

Outsiders Of Yesteryears

Deepak Chaurasia, our interviewee for the third group, has been running a Litti-Chokha stall in Market 2 of C.R. Park for the last 14 years from afternoon till night. He had moved to Delhi from Chhapra in 2009 for a better livelihood and started this venture a few days after selecting C.R. Park as his business location. He lives in one of the rented one-room houses at the back of the main blocks. Married, with one teenager, he said he was happy to have such food-loving customers in this bustling area. 

Chaurasia Litti Stall is one of many such small food stalls set up by people from all over the country. They mostly live nearby in the underbelly of CR Park in houses they can afford. On inquiry, our interviewee revealed how these 14 years have taught him that his Bengali customers prefer Litti as one of their many ideal evening snacks. On asking which Bengali dish he likes the most, he replied, “Ghugni”, a lightweight yet filling Bengali take on the Chhole of the North. 

Food, as noticed, was one of the major points of acculturation in the area. Dosa stalls, shafale stalls, chhole-kulche stalls and many more were flooded by Bengali residents as soon as it was evening. These stall and small business owners, in turn, also loved a lot of the Bengali food available. There was no ethnocentrism or possessiveness when it came to food- everyone was ready to share food from their part of the nation. 

Our interviewee stated how his daughter went to one of the government-sponsored schools in the neighbourhood and could speak both Bhojpuri and Bangla. They went as a family to the Durga Puja on any one day of the festival. It was their favourite activity in the place they lived. Right after Puja, when Chhath comes around, they celebrate and distribute prashad in their neighbourhood consisting of Bengalis, Nepalis, Malayalis and Biharis. 

The Children of Today 

A few contacts in the field were friends who have relocated to Delhi in the last few years for jobs and education. Mostly upper caste-class Bengalis, they carried with them the culture prevalent in Kolkata; that lasted for numbered days. A sense of their identity getting questioned now that they have been uprooted from their ethnic centre has resulted in a degree of cultural retention. In a new city, where one would normally be expected to assimilate into the broader cultural umbrella, these people have sought comfort and familiarity in a place that reminds them most of their home. 

Generation Z, who is so hailed for being a global citizen and accepting of various cultures, seem to get intimidated when their romanticised Bengali culture gets bleak in a multicultural space like Delhi. Though there is little trace of the laid-back attitude of Bengalis, found in their adda culture, is difficult to find. There is also assimilation in some sense to the salad bowl culture that can be located in Delhi. 


To fully understand the culture of CR Park, the importance of relating it to Bengal and Kolkata is immense. It is crucial to understand that the romanticised Bengali culture that popular media feeds the nation is merely a product of decades of whitewashing, obliterating and oppressing caste minority culture and voices. The culture of CR Park is very similar to that of the elitist culture of Bengal, especially Kolkata because migration was exclusionary. That being said, the place still provides a cultural refuge for Bengalis who are away from home and adds cultural diversity to the capital city of Delhi. 


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  • In search of space: the Scheduled Caste movement in West Bengal and Partition.” n.d. Accessed January 25, 2024.
  • Mahmud, Aishah. 2020. “Bhasha Andolon – The Bengal Gazette.” The Bengal Gazette.
  • Khan, Zillur R. “MARCH MOVEMENT OF BANGLADESH: BENGALI STRUGGLE FOR POLITICAL POWER.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 33, no. 3 (1972): 291–322.

Authored by Debarati Mitra, Semester 1, MA Sociology, Culture, Hierarchies and Differences. 

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