“Kemon Acchen is the most important phrase you need to know,” Sazzad says, referring to the Bengali phrase for “How are you?”. It serves mainly to differentiate between Bengali migrant workers from the other Indian ethnic groups, Tamils, Hindis, Pakistanis, Punjabis, to name a few. Secondly, if the phrase is understood, it serves as a means to build rapport.
So there I was, spending two days in the enclave, lugging around a thousand flyers (which I designed), inviting Bengalis to a basic English proficiency course (at the moment tailored only for Bengalis) conducted by the social enterprise of which Sazzad was founder and CEO at age 18.
Stereotypes served us well: Bengalis are largely Muslims and they tend not to smoke, drink or gamble, hence avoid giving flyers to those with beer cans or cigarettes, or those queuing at the 4D stand. Avoid those reading Tamil newspapers (it’s relatively easy to differentiate Tamil from Bengali once you’re initiated to it). Avoid those with moustaches – apparently it’s culturally prevalent for Tamils to sport moustaches and vice versa among Bengalis. Stick around the mosques during prayer time. Those wearing prayer caps should be Bengalis. Similarly for those holding hands. Avoid those that are dressed too professionally for the demographic we’re looking at. Avoid those with kids – they probably aren’t migrant workers.
We had little success in Little India itself around Tekka market. These were largely Tamil areas, I realised. Farrer Park and the streets around Mustafa were far more concentrated with Bengalis and Bengali shops. A few hours walking through the streets and I’ve probably expended about a few hundred flyers.
Bengalis are remarkably friendly. They responded to my greetings earnestly, some even amicably, laughing and reciprocating with a ami bhalo acchi or “fine thanks” with surprise that a Chinese fellow is conversing in Bengali. They are very polite as well. Most would accept the flyers only with their right hands with profuse thanks and smiles.
It is rather odd that these migrant workers are highly receptive to receiving flyers when locals are typically averse to flyers and advertising. A theory posits that it is because they are an untapped market, having been neglected by marketers, while another theory simply goes along the lines that we are marketing a very relevant service to them: A few would indifferently wave me away but then comically make a double-take upon glancing upon the title of the flyer, before immediately swerving around, asking for a few more flyers. Many would abruptly stop in their tracks, peruse the entire flyer before folding it up and slotting it into their pockets for safekeeping.
We’ve saturated the vicinity with about 10,000 flyers in these two days and a few thousand more in major dormitories. With luck, we’re looking forward to a sizeable turn-out on the first session next week.
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