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The American Son-In-Law's Visit to Kolkata
by Sarbani Das (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 01-Jun-2017

Jamaii means son-in-law, jamaii means son-in-law,’ Kevin mumbled as he got up from his cushioned chair to stand by the window overlooking the US Embassy’s green lawn. 

‘I don’t get why you booked our tickets to Kolkata a week before our passports expired.  Now we have to wait ten days to get our new passports.’  Suparna said as soon as she came out of the application office. 

‘Su, I told you I wanted to visit your parents.’

‘Getting plane tickets to Kolkata in the summer is like finding a parking spot in Cleveland during Christmas-both detrimental to your mental health!’

‘Calm down,’ he said putting his hands in his pockets. 

She linked her arm through his and rested her head on his shoulder.

‘Kevin, my parents don’t want to see me or you.’

‘One day they’ll forgive you for marrying outside your Bengali culture.’ He said as his eyes focused on a metal pole in the middle of the courtyard.  His shoulders relaxed when he found the American flag swaying in the morning breeze. 

‘We’ve been married for three years, one day they’ll have to accept me. Besides, Kolkata already feels like home,’ he said kissing her.

Coming out of the embassy, Kevin checked his phone for new messages while Suparna put on her sunglasses.

‘I think we need to get back on Little Russel Street to find a taxi,’ she said looking left and right.

‘Finally!’  He said when his phone beeped.

 ‘Who keeps messaging you?’  She asked.

‘This guy I met a few years back.  He invited us to visit him and his family if we ever came to Kolkata.  I messaged him before leaving our hotel this morning.’

‘Oh.’

On Little Russel Street they found beautiful saris and delicious sweets.

‘Buying a sari for your friend’s mom is a really nice gesture. And bringing sweets to someone’s home is part of our Bengali culture. Your friend has adequately prepared you for receiving a warm welcome in any Bengali home,’ Suparna said with a sigh.

Their taxi stopped on Southern Avenue, in Kolkata’s posh Balleygunge neighborhood.  On the second floor, Kevin knocked on the first door to his right as Suparna adjusted the folds in her sari.

‘Thank goodness that boutique had an in-house tailor otherwise I could never have worn a matching blouse with this silk sari.  Kevin, you look like a Bengali jamaii in your full-sleeved white paanjabi and dhuuti!’

‘I’m thankful that tailor showed me how to wear a dhuuti-it resembles a sari because of the folds but minus the part that drapes around the chest. I’m feeling very Bengali too,’ Kevin said straightening his shoulders.

When the door opened, Suparna’s mouth gaped open. 

‘Suparna!  I can’t believe you’re finally here!  Kevin, come in my American brother-in-law!’ Debashish said embracing Kevin.

Suparna stood still in the doorway while Kevin stepped inside.

‘Nomoshkar Ma,’ he said with folded hands before reaching out his right hand to touch his mother-in-law’s feet.  ‘Today is Jamaii Shoshtee and I didn’t want to spend another night watching Suparna cry for you and her father. 

‘Ma, I also bought you three different colored saris, one for every year that Su and I have been married.  And Deb told me that you and Baba love the same sweets and so I brought roshogolla and sandesh,’ he said holding the bags in front of her.

Sapna placed a hand on her son-in-law’s head to silently bless him before she accepted his gifts.

‘Ma!’  Suparna said as soon as she realized that her mother had accepted Kevin. 

‘Welcome Kevin,’ Deepak said appearing beside Sapna. ‘Sapna and I regret not attending your wedding.’

‘Baba?’  Suparna said wiping her face. ‘Ma and you are both accepting us?’ 

‘The three of you are the same type of people while Kevin and I are another type of people,’ Debashish said as he ushered everyone into the living room.

‘What type of people are we big brother?’ Suparna said after touching her parents’ feet. 

‘We’re level-headed while Baba, Ma and you are hot-headed!’  Debashish said as his father smiled and shook his head.

Kevin took off his shoes and sat down cross-legged on a new floor mat. In the kitchen Suparna watched as her mother plated basmati rice onto a large brass plate. In matching brass bowls Sapna ladled out fish curry, spicy mutton curry, onion-flavored lentil soup, spinach spiced with garlic and red chili, fried eggplant and sweet tomato chutney. She arranged the bowls around the rice and asked Suparna to place the plate in front of Kevin. 

In the living room, Sapna lit a small brass lamp. She placed five pieces of wheat and five pieces of three-speared grass strands on Kevin’s head while praying for his health and long life. Afterwards she used her right ring finger to place a small dot of sandalwood paste on his forehead and blew the conch shell three times to complete the ritual of Jamaii Shoshtee. She blessed him by waving a bamboo hand fan over his head three times.  At Debashish’s nod, Kevin touched his mother-in-law’s feet and then finished the gesture by touching his own forehead and chest. 

As the busy city calmed down for the night, Kevin thanked God for having Debashish as his brother-in-law and for teaching him about the day reserved for all son-in-laws of Bengali families, whether their jamaii was Bengali or not. Instead of wiping away Suparna’s tears that night, Kevin wrapped his arms around her and fell asleep.

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