Sipping his hot cup of Darjeeling tea, Bipan Babu’s early morning pipedreams were meddled by a group of prattling college goers. Blighted by this year’s freezing cold, his sore knees creaked and groaned, refusing to move from the comforting armchair. However, he shuffled through to glimpse the chatter. For a man who had been rummaging and sifting through the matrimonial market since a year, somewhere a trifling flame of hope sputtered, as if trying to illuminate his fast fading luck.
Chirpy voices, animated articulations, all the while smugly cavalier to their onlookers; every girl in the gathering courted a guy. As if sworn to liquidate the whole of the matrimonial business of arranged marriages. As the remnants of their tattletale petered down the street, a dismayed and despondent Bipan Babu murmured. 'Huh! My son won’t get married.'
Such kind of disparaging whispers had been swathing the walls of this house over the past few months. Quite obvious. Bipan Babu had penitently flopped in finding a suitable match for his son. And mind you, it was not just ‘son’. Rather, a tall, handsome and plenteously earning Chartered Accountant son. A happily retired government employee beaming with pension and free healthcare facilities, Bipan Babu, was precisely lounging in a zone called ‘respite from responsibilities’. Excluding this only affliction of performing an arranged marriage for his son.
Well then! Instead of pruning haphazardly, let me commence the tale from its inception.
It was February, last year. Being the busiest month for marriages in Bengal, Bipan Babu’s routine was crammed with receiving and acknowledging many invitations. In one such gathering, while blessing the newlywed couple, Bipan Babu’s parental duty beckoned him. Nothing much he wished. A good-looking, educated girl from a well-groomed background for his son. And in the muzzle of that night, the ‘Missus’ appended a few more desires. Tall, fair and preferably from the same sub-caste of Bengali Brahmins, Boidik.
Wait! The elemental ingredient was not yet added. The eligible bachelor too had a request. Though only one albeit an essential one; Horoscope Matching.
Thus the process began, with bells on.
The eager beavers in the bloodline kicked off the hunt by perusing the known family trees. Unmarried, uncommitted girls did appear in the picture. However, nobody could ignore the facts about the average height and weight of a Bengali girl. A height difference of one and a half feet and almost the weight of the groom himself? The lesser said the better. Why to open the Pandora’s box now...
See, aah! The vagaries of the union of love which is a simple case of a blind soul leading another blind one. But arranging a bride, grappling to reach the groom’s shoulder even with the assistance of a 3 inches heeled sole cannot make an arranged marriage. It would rather constitute an adjusted marriage.
Matrimonial sites and newspaper advertisements became the second resort; height issue remaining the constant. Amidst the famine of tall girls, the few and far in between that managed to pass muster were precluded by the Missus.
What do you mean? Of course, the mother-in-law in the making had knitted a complete prophecy of her son’s marital life. A blend of beauty and brains was considered crucial to keep the family tree worthwhile. Though a spiteful thought but was steadfastly undeniable. Proposals poured in. The never-laudable ones were rejected too.
Hold on before you swear on the nefarious mentality of ‘groom side’ and listen. Bipan Babu knew how to morph a pugnacious denial with a pleasing appraisal upfront. Instead of commenting on someone’s beauty, he diplomatically reproached the horoscope mismatch. Conversely, this horoscope staple often became inedible for Bipan Babu and Co. Beautiful proposals, capable of formulating a picture-perfect couple, were outpaced due to the same horoscope mismatch.
My protagonist, despite being a 65 year old man, had always been a little agnostic towards all these dubious beliefs of astrology. Scrolling over well-qualified profiles he often tried to persuade the mother-son duo but his entreaties often fell on deaf ears. Gradually, demands shrunk based on the supply in the market. The desire for a minimum of 5’6” was now reduced to 5’4”. A little adiposity here and there were overlooked too. Missus relaxed one more norm. Instead of probing into the sub-caste of Boidik Brahmin, any Bengali Brahmin was allowed. Still, nothing concrete materialized.
Before the story concludes into a unidimensional quagmire, let’s introduce the paramount twist in the tale. There was a very big glitch attached to the eligible bachelor. The prospective Bengali groom was posted in the land of Idli-Dosa, Singara Chennai.
Catastrophic! (for a Bengali of course). A single girl child, ravishingly brought up with a variety of Rohu-Catla-Hilsa-Koi; teenage well spent slurping on fuchkas and jhalmuri expending a mere ten rupee note; irresistible shopping spots on a single stretch of Gariahat; ceaseless varieties of sweets and what not. Now give a single reason for a Bong beauty to join the bachelor in that miles apart land which already possesses a tarnished reputation for its hot weather, inaccessibility to pond fishes and a relatively high cost of living!
Buttress your senses for the last note. Even the Bengalis away from Bengal hesitated to relocate to Chennai. Phone calls initiated with applauses and plaudits for our bachelor’s ability to crack the most difficult examination of our nation and earning handsomely in an MNC but always ended with a disdainful utterance of ‘Chennaaai’. Every conversation left Bipan Babu with an explicit proclamation. Nobody wants to go to Chennai. By the same token, he acknowledged the paucity in Kolkata’s job arcade too.
One fine morning, when a girl’s father needled over the far-flung Chennai, an already incensed Bipan Babu raised a small query.
'What if my son goes to London?'
'Oho London! London is alright.'
HILARIOUS! A different continent altogether, carved out of an unfamiliar culture was agreeable. However, leaping by two states within your own country was a recipe of lament.
'How London is alright?'
'Ahaa! Sir…that is phoren. My daughter will live in Laundaun.'
Delectable lines to satiate our appetite for something humorous in our humour-deficit life. Isn’t it? My dear that is what I call the London Dreams of a Bengali. Whom shall we fault here? Years of British colonization, timeworn European architecture still crafting the better part of Kolkata or the embalmed pages of history narrating the Queen? Or the lanes and streets bearing the same name even though miles apart? Even the undiluted repute of ‘a barrister from Oxford’.
Sometimes, it seems that the British festooned Kolkata in such a way that they could never miss their London. And their effort implanted a hibernating desire within every Bengali to visit London at least once in their lifetime. Be it to relive the nursery rhyme of 'London Bridge is falling down' or to marvel at the sprawling city when perched right atop the London Eye.
Much like how our South Indian brethren are nurtured to settle down in the US, London remains an emblem of prestige for the Bengalis.
Chennai, or in this case any other city, can be closer if measured by distance. But London is and will always remain closest to a Bengali’s soul.
My beloved Bipan Babu’s pursuit is still on. Though refusal is disturbing, he is often found enriching his daily chores with some humour through the London Dreams of Bengali parents.