Sandwiched between the rebellious ‘70s Boomers, and the savvy, hipster millennial of Kolkata, is a generation of Lost Bongs. They grew up itching to leave Kolkata, (Read: How I walked to reclaim my City of Joy!) for the bigger, better world out there. But, when they returned, they found their beloved city upscaled, and almost unrecognizable. Arpan Roy, an experimental physicist, based out of Singapore, belongs to that generation and channels the eternal nostalgia of the ‘90s Kolkata kid, into a very relatable panel – The Bong Sense. You have probably come across them, laughed at their accuracy, tagged a hundred friends who would ‘understand’. Blank Slate Chronicles had the pleasure of having an interview with The Bong Sense’s Arpan Roy.
The Glorious Years
Dr. Arpan Roy feels that his South Kolkata, middle-class upbringing has a lot to do with his sense of humor.
“It was nothing like the South Kolkata of today. There were no shopping malls, or hip fine dines. It was a time when we had learnt to have a lot more fun with less. It was probably why our imaginations found food in the trivial things”
Arpan also had quintessentially, Bengali parents – a mother who used all measures possible to bring the best out in him, and a father who urged him to get his life on track. He attended South Point, and then Don Bosco High School – both iconic institutions, with unique Kolkata subcultures.
“I was a mischievous student all my life. I always have, and still believe in, experimenting to experience life, instead of following instructions. This means that most of my education happened outside classrooms. I was not a goon, just not a great fan of conventional learning”
He was also the funniest guy in class!
“I was the guy cracking killer one-liners. My friends laughed at the cracks I made. Even as a child, my way of putting things in a humorous wrap, was appreciated.”
What Arpan didn’t realize then was that how much of the ‘Bangaliana’ he was enveloped in was being absorbed in his subconscious. And, how and when this streak of humor in him, would find expression.
The Serious Break
Arpan mentions that his tryst with art was limited to school years. He quickly got busy following the compass in his professional life, and art took a backseat. Arpan refused to follow the herd to do engineering and chose physics instead. He attended the legendary Presidency College, Kolkata, for a year. Then, he got admission to the National University of Singapore. That was when, more than a decade back, Arpan left the city of his childhood. He got his Ph.D., published academic papers, and life became as serious as it was ever going to be.
The mischievous child in him needed an outlet.
Colleagues noticed the irrepressible humor, as had his friends. They started requesting him to write – movie reviews to begin with.
It was around that time that his homesickness, and his need to express himself, made him create his first doodles.
“I was creating on my Samsung Note 5 (still create on my phone, btw) during my lunch breaks and bus rides to and from work. Quora had just started becoming a thing. I started posting my answers to the ‘very Bengali’ questions with my doodles, instead of verbose answers. I was taken aback by how quickly people started reacting to my creations!”
His posts got immediate attention, and he soon started publishing work at various Bengali sites.
“While these posts were doing well, I realized that they were doing nothing for me as a brand. It was then that I decided to launch a separate platform. Today, I have standardized the styling, colors, fonts and the feel of Bong Sense, such that you will instantly know a Bong Sense creation”
The ‘Organic’ Journey
Arpan is very satisfied with the tremendous success of The Bong Sense, so far. Since its inception in June last year, the page has picked up more than 1.5 lakh followers.
“I feel that the non-controversial, feel-good humor of ‘Bangaliana’ was not being tapped into for a while. It was beautifully captured in the comedies of Bhanu Bandopadhyay, for example, once upon a time. He is one of my inspirations, really. But, there was no one out there delivering to that audience, in a way. The Bong Sense has attempted to pitch in there, and has been received very well by a large audience.”
The genesis of The Bong Sense has been smooth and organic, muses Arpan.
“The ideas were triggered by many different memories. I could easily tap into my deep relationship with my innate ‘bengaliness’, and a new idea would be born. Once the idea was ready, creating the panel was literally a job of minutes.”
Of course, Arpan is a quick learner, and had a fair mastery over various multimedia software. He also uses analytics extensively to ensure that he is posting at the ‘optimum time’, and broadcasting to the ‘right audience’. The rest is history.
To Infinity and Beyond
So, where does it go from here? Arpan is in the middle of a merchandising partnership.
“In Kolkata, the merchandise, even to this day, is generic. It’s Archies & Hallmark – the standard stuff. There is no one who is catering to truly, Bengali content! There is Chumbak, in the western side of the country. The Bong Sense can cater to that gap in the east.”
Arpan has partnered with a Kolkata based start-up, Papercup (go JU!), to create The Bong Sense merchandise line. He also hopes to collate his artwork in a published format sometime in the future.
The Obligations of Fame
Today, Arpan is an internet celebrity – a consequence of Bong Sense that he cherishes, and shies away from, equally.
“It feels great to be recognized. You know what a newspaper mention means in a Bong family! It would have been outstanding if the Statesman ever featured me, but Telegraph and HT mentions were not too shabby either”, quips Arpan laughingly.
But, he does like to keep a low profile, and avoid publicity stunts.
“I avoid the limelight as much as possible. I am very weary of the ‘Instagram’ life. I think one of the hardest parts of the journey is to manage the public adulation. I get hundreds of ‘friend requests’ daily, many of which I have to turn down. I am glad to reach out with my work, my personal space – not quite so”
An Ode to the Muses
Arpan tips his hat to South Kolkata, and his immaculate ‘Bangali’ upbringing for The Bong Sense. He also wants to call out the important role his mother played.
“She always wanted me to write. She told me how funny I was. And, most importantly, she said all those incredibly lovable things that only Bengali moms say – every word of which serves as an inspiration for my work! There would be no Bong Sense without my Bangali Ma!”
Blank Slate wishes the confident Arpan and his hilarious, The Bong Sense, all the very best. Even greater success is right around the corner for the ‘Bangali Batman’. Well, he better does well, otherwise, “Maa choti chhure marbe je”!
PS: We asked Arpan what would a panel on this interview look like. He didn’t tell us, he showed us. We are so excited to be inside The Bong Sense panel. Thanks a ton Arpan!
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