I woke up with a gentle tap on my shoulder, staring at the artificial smile of the air hostess. We should be reaching Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport within half an hour. The local time is 1 in the morning & the temperature outside is about 25DC with 98% humidity. That’s a long way from Seattle to Calcutta. When the door opened a gush of moist warm air greeted us “Welcome home”
“Anything to declare Sir?” they asked at the checkout counter. Of course you dumbo I have come all the way from United States of A, I have tonnes of things to declare. Half an hour and 500 dollars later I was a free man.
I walked into the lounge looking for familiar faces. There were lots of them in all shapes and sizes but non interested me. Ma would not do this unless they have the dates mixed but I had called from the airport and informed about my departure. So where are they or whoever has come to pick me up. Then I thought what the ……. it’s my city and my people. So with head held high I walked out like the explorer on the moon. Immediately I was bought back to reality. I was rounded up by hoards of cabbies each wanting a piece of me. Now I knew how the celebrity felt being pinned down by autograph hunters. I almost signed on a notepad one was waving to catch my attention. Then someone caught me by my collar and hauled me out only to realise it was Tutul Mesho. He had come to receive me along with Dodo & Tatai
Rest of the journey was uneventful. On the way I learnt that the road was empty as it was early in the morning but gets horrendous as the day gets going. They learnt that the Honda Civic that I own is not the best car in US.
I felt guilty that my whole household was awake for me at the wee hours. I was appreciated as I went through the customary pronam. Look staying away in a foreign land still has not forgotten his custom. Dude, how can I forget the backbreaking exercise I was forced to do everytime some elderly guy was around. What I vehemently protest is when the kids try it on me, I hate someone touching my feet. I find this very strange whenever one is back after long the first thing they all ask is when are you going back or Chuti kotodiner. Come on, I have just been here don’t remind me of going back now. Lets me cherish it, you don’t get 3 months leave very often.
Seeing Baba & Ma after so long was very refreshing. I gave Ma a huge hug and held on to her until she pushed me aside. I missed her so much and could not express it. She understood it her eyes said it all after all she is a mother and she knows it all. Ma has been the working force of the family. For any and everything happening in the locality she is consulted and notified. She in turn is proud of me about my success. Instead whatever I have achieved I owe it to her. It was her persuasions and perseverance did get the desired result only if we could be together.
I had a very normal childhood. I was never an over or under achiever a very average off the street guy. Ma just saw to it that the daily work was done and Baba saw to it that I did my English and math’s was in place. Baba was a normal human being. He had is own principle. Every winter he would take me to the circus. He took me for a couple of movies like Sound of Music; Born Free; Guns of Navarone. After which we would go to Park Street for dinner and discuss the movie. He used to buy classics I had to read it and we would discuss it on the weekends. He would make me read The Statesman and rewrite an article in my own words. Every year during our summer holidays we would go on a vacation. My job was to write the travelogue from day 1 until we return. Then he would take my diary and sort of proof read it, make correction as necessary. Then we would rewrite the whole thing and paste the corresponding photographs to complete the manual. Baba was teetotaler never smoked or drank but he told me how the drinks are made and from what. How malt turns itself to whisky and jaggery to rum. We discussed everything and often found a logical reason on why things happen.
Friends never played a major part in my life rather I did not have the time. Life was easy till 10th. The next 2 years was school, Tarun da’s coaching and IIT tutorials at Gariahat. Next four years in IIT 2 more years in XLRI campus interview Microsoft offer and moved to Seattle. I did have some acquaintances but lost track somewhere down the line until Facebook happened.
I wanted to play dad, so I took Baba Ma to watch Titanic & followed it up with a dinner in Peter Cat. It was like yesteryears and we landed up discussing the movie. It was on the way back Ma dropped the bomb. She wanted me to get married and has already selected some girls. She did not ask for an answer but just left it as a suggestion observing me.
Girls, I have not had much luck about the species, rather have couple of encounters. Being from a boys school did not have much exposure to them. The locality girls were all sisters and had a community bhai phota.
The first flip I had was probably in the engineering campus. While walking back to the hostel we would take a shortcut through the park and there was this girl, one of the deans daughter who would be with her friends on a daily stroll. All we would do is steal a couple glance and smile at each other. This carried on for sometime until we started making it obvious. Her friends would nudge her and my companions would push me. Finally I mustered up enough courage to say Hi. Then we again kept is at this stage for sometime. When I went back after summer off, she was no longer there. Enquired to learn that she got through to JNU and moved to Delhi. I was depressed but …………………..
Pujo was magnum opus. We were like starved POW’s. We would plan and meet either at Maddox Square or Ballygung Samiti locate a strategic place and oogle oogle and oogle. Likes of Sapna Boudi & Mitali di would come up “Arrey Kobe Ele, Ma bhalo ache?” We were not interested in all these it was only when she turned around we got all we wanted, her backless blouse & bare skin. Our day was made. Sometimes our generation girls would be introduced but soon her boyfriend would also appear. She would promptly leave him to our company and flutter by for some proper appreciation. Come on we were not the date-able ones. Who would want to date a round fair bespectacled geek? We were the clichéd good boys that girls avoid.
Then there was Dorothy. She had all the time in the world for me took complete care and made sure that I was at home in the foreign land. When I first reached Seattle, I was given company accommodation for a fortnight by then I had to look for place of my own. I scavenged through the paper and office contact went on house hunting on weekends. Being from a small by lane of Calcutta any house was wonderful to me but one house stuck me. It was a small cottage with a garage and greenery. I rented the first floor. It was not much a big room with a balcony and an attached bathroom. It had a bed and a wall-to-wall wardrobe part of it was locked to which I did not have the key. The rent was pretty decent so I moved in paying a couple of months advance. The first week zipped by easily. On the weekend I woke up as usual had a bath and walked down noticed that she was in the kitchen. She saw me and waved asking me join her for breakfast. I wanted to go but could not refuse. There I sat the whole day listening to Dorothy.
Since the deal was only on rent I asked her how much do I pay for the food? She stared at me for a while and pointed towards the settee. There sat a big fat pig with a slit on its back. She said put in whatever you feel the food is worth. So I quickly calculated and put in about $30. I carried on the custom of paying for whatever I ate until the last day in the house.
The room that I was staying was used by her son Brandon who was lost in the Gulf war and a few months later her husband passed away. Since then she was living all alone in the house before she was convinced to lease it out. I was her first tenant. Then on I got my new lease of life. It was my home. The week was hectic and the weekend was with Dorothy. Helping her with the chores. The afternoons she would be gardening and I would be her helping hand. Evening we would watch television together. She taught me to cook and I taught her to cook the Indian way. There was a Wal-Mart nearby where I would get all spices & I would call Ma get the recipe for Macher jhol; kosha mangso and have a feast. One day we went for a movie. I had to park the car a few block away and walk to the theatre. She cling to me as we walked and said “people are wondering where did this old hag get a young handsome guy like this”. She would not miss an opportunity to boost my morale. She had accompanied me when I bought my first car. She was there in all my small achievements to make sure that I do not miss home.
We drove quietly back home and without much deliberation went to bed. So my folks were getting me ready for marriage and I liked the idea. A couple of colleagues had already been married and life was cool with them, but the whole idea of having an unknown woman next to me was exiting yet scary. Am I ready for it? What the hell at 30 I am still a virgin did never have had a girlfriend, Playboy Penthouse and Sam Fox was my mates of fantasy. I cannot fall in love and then get married now and ofcourse American girls scare me. So since I have the time now lets do it.
Ma came up with the proposal again Baba was as usual non committal. She had already shortlisted 4 girls and I have to select from them. Within minutes I had 4 photographs in front of me. I looked at them like a wolf checking juicy young lambs. So it was agreed over the weekend we would go on a rendezvous and if finalised will have to get married before I head back to US.
Must admit it was a wonderful experience. Ma would call up fix an appointment. The girls parents would greet us we would shop talk. “Microsoft’s ki kora hoy” “America’y kothay acho” “Okhane to sobai khub basto” these were common. Then the girl would walk in, stealing a glance at me while staring at the floor. Ma was very investigative and had a set of questions. Education was must, willing to work and overall conduct was just a few. Ma being a very strong lady herself wanted my bride to be the same as I could see my future like Baba quite with a book by the bay. Overall we met 4 girls and was very depressed. Ma rejected one as she was wearing a spectacle, which was not mentioned earlier. We both rejected another one as she came up with a haulter neck blouse which sent jitters down my spine. The white women were scary enough. The other was rejected on very funny grounds. They served us with food saying that the cakes were baked by her only that they forgot to remove the Bijoligrill butter paper. So we were left with this girl from Harituki Lane, Bansberia. The visit was also a waste of time, a very non descriptive lady for an NRI. I told Ma that it’s enough degradation of human being. “Somoy thakte prem korl’e jhamela hoto na” was a reply I did not expect from Baba. Now we have come of age.
It’s like this, you approach an issue with an open mind and than you get involved and dream about it only to helplessly watch it shatter. I came to spend a long vacation with my family and agreed to get married and now there is no one worth, when you are mentally prepared, which is very depressing. Ma was also worried when Tutul mama came to her rescue. He is a big man with a very baritone voice. You do not expect much activity from a man like him other than some vague advice. Ma took about 20 minutes to explain the situation. He made a couple of phone calls and Ma look very relaxed. There was this friend of him who was looking for a suitable boy for his daughter. I excused myself from the exercise and let Ma Baba & Tutul mama do the honours. The respective parents met but girl in question was not at home and they instead had fixed a date for me. I have been on a couple of dates earlier. My colleague Andrea and Tori had made some futile attempts to fix me a date. On one fateful weekend we were in this bar in downtown Seattle with a date that they had set up for me. She was not exactly a drop dead beauty but a ok type blonde girl. After a few pegs I had enough courage to hit the dance floor where I stamped her feet a couple of times and punched my neighbor. The look she gave me was enough to call off the evening. The other encounter totally convinced Andrea that I was a complete nerd and its best to leave me alone. They had as usual fixed me another date with another blue eyed blonde. That evening I tried to stay sober but my date was a bit over adventurous. She had the guts to pull me to the floor and went a bit wild while dancing. As if waiting for such an opportunity I excused myself, which she either did not mind or notice. I waited on my table for a while paid my bill and walked out into the fresh air. It felt so good. 6 years in US of A but still felt like an alien.
Our parents had exchanged our photographs so there would not be any difficulty in recognising her. On the given date I was waiting for my wife-to-be at Kwality’s only to realise that I do not have her photograph and I do not remember her face. Ma had said “Khub sundor meyeta” so I was expecting ‘Miss Tillotoma’ to walk in. “Hi, Shreya” I looked up and saw an extended hand with a pretty face behind it. The next hour or more was sheer bliss. She kept talking and was all excited about it but all I heard was the jingling of tinker bells. She looked worked out but had all the energy and chirpiness’ of a morning bird. She spoke with all her hands and head. Her long hair swayed all around and not a word did I understand or even cared to listen. I stared at her all the while and said “You are not beautiful, you are pretty”; “What?” I had my foot in my mouth and wanted to hide under the table. She gave me a strange look, smiled and went ahead. We walked for sometime along the road. She insisted we take the metro, which was good for me as I was able to spend more time listening to whatever she was saying. I dropped her home and on the way back I had these mixed emotions. I felt breathless but energized. I wanted to run but felt good sitting in one place I wanted to shout out but longed for peace. Stuck in the jam I smiled aimlessly at something that did not make sense. “Man, I am in Love” so this is what I was wanting for all these years.
My folks were waiting for me to arrive. I surely must have look like a complete idiot when I walked in. Ma knew it. “Bhalo legeche toh” I probably smiled and nodded hoping they understood. I had no energy to move a muscle and it felt so good. There was a frenzy of activity over the next couple of days. Lot of phone calls, meetings, consultation and Cha biscoot later it was decided that this girl was perfect for me and that I have to marry her. I had couple of choices. Since my stay was halfway thru I could extend my leave, get the ashirbad done and come back after an year to get married or get married right away and fly away. I was ready for anything but wanted to get married now. Finally Ma decided that the marriage will be before I leave and that left us with a month’s time.
The entire family was involved in a mega event. The first job was to get a suitable place for the ceremony. The marriage halls are booked a year in advance so Baba pulled out all his contacts and being a weekday we booked the Port Club for reception. The bride side had a Military Mama who arranged the Army Club. Then we had to finish shopping. Ma was in full command. She decided what I needed to buy and where to buy. Then it was Shreya’s turn so she decided what I needed to buy and where to buy. Strangely I liked both way carrying stuff and driving the car around. What I always looked forward was to the food that happened in between the shopping spree. Then it was to fix a caterer. Lot of suggestion came and as usual Ma called her trusted people and came up with Abhiruchi Caterer. We all sat with them and fixed the menu. After much deliberation we zeroed on the typical bengali menu. Luchi, Cholar dal, begun bhaja, polau & the works. Next was inviting people, we sorted out the invitees in ordered of importance & distance. There were some one call from Ma was enough but the difficult once were the one’s that one had to go and invite almost like ‘golay gamcha diye’. I would drive Ma & Baba to these homes, make the customary remarks ‘na bosbo na prochur jaigai jete hobe’ and move on. It was hectic and would come home & sleep like a log. Slowly relatives started coming and the house got busy. Lot of people, lot of comments “Kire America theke memsaheb ante parli na?”;”Tor biye bhabte kemon lage”. I could not react just smiled.
I woke up like real early. The day started with dodhi karma following which I was not supposed to eat anything for the whole day. Ma being herself came to me during lunch with a bowl of fruits & sweet “Chup chap Kheye ne”. All rituals was followed. Infact during “gaye holud” not only me but half the family was smeared in the haldi paste. After lunch the house seemed quiet and deserted. On enquiry I learned that all the ladies in the house had gone to the parlor, after all it’s their day. Time flew by and soon it was time to face the music. Shreya’s Mama had come to take me. I decked up, the kurta was ok but the dhuti made me feel naked waist down with air flowing tickling my leg hairs felt so strange. I was even beautified with chondoner phota on my face and a mala around my neck. Looking like a glorified joker specially with the topor. Shreya’s Jethu was there to receive me. He held my hand so tight, like I almost told him that I will not run away marry here promise. I was made to sit in the decorators throne and a deluge of people came to see me with dismayed round eyes as if I was just released new species of mammal. Thakuma came to see her nath jamai along with lot of blessing and kissing. By this time I had completely given in. I was whisked away to the mondop. The toughest part was subho dhristi where like wrestlers, we were trying to avoid looking at eachother while the whole crowd was jeering. Unlike the movies malabodol is not the end but just the beginning of the 4 hour ordeal of sitting, standing, lifting and being baked and smoked in front of the fire overall I was being barbequed. Finally we were released when I applied sindoor and Shreya was mine, all mine.
Movies have played a major role in marriages. The basor ghar Antaksari turned into a virtual war zone as both sides fought for each point and bring out new versions of each song. When it reached it peak, to avoid any further bloodshed an old lady sat in the middle and started to sing some old songs. This mellowed down the tensions and I took this opportunity for a catnap. Since I realised my nagra was missing I used a spare to go to the loo. The concept of paise de do aur joote le lo went haywire. Someone had flinched the bride’s uncle’s new Bata slipons. He woke up and in a baritone voice said “Amar juto kothay gelo”. Biltu and his gang started singing “Joote de do aur Joote le lo”. Soon my pair was found and uncle was happy. My shalis fixed a price on my head Rs, 10000 or else they will not leave me. Mejo Mama said keep the groom we will only take the bride. They were actually embarrassed when mama paid the ransom.
Like everybody I have a problem when I see someone crying. Here was a scene where the whole house would be crying. I heavily relied on my imagination and kept visualsing how everyone looked when they cried. It went to such a state that I was biting my tongue so that I don’t burst out laughing.
The next major event in our marriage was the bou bhat. The reception went pretty uneventful where a host of known faces just drifted away. A simple calculation if you have 300 guests and you spend 1 minute with each you have 5 hours of nonstop standing smiling & talking. No wonder we were exhausted by the end of the day and so the phool sojjha was such a let down. All my mashi & boudis were very exited about it. They were all waiting to pack us off to the room and tried to eves drop. What were they expecting from two overdressed under prepared dead log virgins.
The night was supposed to be the most exciting moment. Yes it was. I wanted to get out of the newspaper like silk panjabi and she with her jewellery. Moreover the whole room was stinking of flowers. Our bed was stewn with rose petals and a moshari made out of rojonigondha which was hoisted some 5 hours back. It was nauseating. Then something happened that made the night really memorable. I saw Shreya shivering with a deadpan look on her colourless face. She mustered enough courage to say “cho…….”. I turned and saw a black figure covered in shawl with something shinny move out of the dark corner between the bed and wardrobe. I jumped but missed. The figure leapt too missed me, ran over the bed got entangled in the flower mesh and landed on the floor along with the bedpost. Groaning in pain unable to move. Meanwhile the whole house was awakened by the hysterical new bride.
From the pile we fished out Shontu my youngest cousin. He was hiding with a camera to catch us in an intimate moment but panicked when I was helping Shreya remove her jewellery. Everyone wanted me to stay back but I insisted after all he had a bruised forehead and broken arm because of me. So I spent the most memorable night in my life in the hospital watching him wither in pain trying my best to comfort him.
I had 10 days of my holiday left. Though I wanted to be home but everyone insisted that I go on a honeymoon. Tutul mama arranged everything for a short trip to the poor man’s paradise Digha. It was a wonderful trip. There were lots of couple like us. The newly wed bride tried best to fulfill their life long desire wearing her husbands jeans and posing on the beach with shanka sindoor et all. On the final day we sat on the sand. Shreya in her casual cotton top and pant looked just gorgeous. She desperately tried to manage her long straight hair blowing in the wind. I stared at her for a while and said, “I love you”. She said nothing just smiled and rested on my shoulder as we watched the sun sink below the horizon.
I had convinced my folks from coming to the airport. We had wrapped up our customary kanna kati at home but could not dissuade my in-laws they insisted that they had to see me off. Probably to make sure that their son-in law does indeed take a flight to Seattle and not a train to Srirampore. We tried out best to spend as much time together walking aimlessly around the departure lounge until they announced that it was the final call for the immigration check. I was walking backwards to get as much of Shreya as possible only to sober up when I collided with another moonwalker like me. Then it was all official the stamp the whisking and bundled in the security area. I picked up the gift she had given me. “Journey to the oblivion” by John Krutcher never heard of it. They I got the actual gift. It was a photograph of Shreya taken around Calcutta University wearing a jeans and a short kurta and her long hair let loose. I heart skipped a beat. I kept staring at it and sighed. I have to make do with this dehydrated stuff for the next couple of months.
The cab ride fro Seattle airport to home felt so long. The early morning rush hour was just begining the road were still empty. I was eager to reach home I had so much to tell. Dorothy was waiting at the door. I gave her a bear hug. She felt so warm cuddly and comfortable. I had a quick was and sat for breakfast. Then hooked up my handy cam for the showdown. Throughout the show I explained every possible detail and Dorothy with equal enthusiasm followed me. I kept talking and talking only to realise that all I was saying is Shreya is this Shreya can do that Shreya has given me this Shreya said that Shreya Shreya Shreya and Shreya. She hugged me and said, “so my monkey has finally found his mate”
Then next couple of days were hectic. Back to work had lots to catch up on. However there was a pang. I dreaded to discuss it with Dorothy. At the breakfast table that weekend she made my life so easy. She suggested that I look for a house on my own. I protested but she finally convinced me to my relief. I am such a hypocrite. We sat with the paper house hunting. Over the couple of weeks she was busy collecting data that we looked up during the weekends. Finally we zeroed in one small little 2 bedroom cozy apartment that was near to her house. It was a block of four apartments with landscaping in the middle that gave a much needed greenery in the concrete jungle. She pulled me to Wal-Mart next weekend to buy everything that was needed to start a family. Drapes utensils beds the complete works. She got busy with my house as I was busy with my work. Meanwhile all paperwork was complete and we were counting days for Shreya’s arrival.
I was too excited to sleep that night. I kept rehearsing how would I greet Shreya would I just hug her or should I kiss her, tossing and turning in bed waited for the daybreak. Dorothy was ready as I had insisted that she company me to the airport. She looked very cute that day in her usual attire but has special glow. The wait was like an eternity. My neck hurt from all the strain as I searched. After almost 1 hour I saw her. Shreya looked tired but gorgeous. Her hair bouncing as she pushed the trolley. I stood with my arms apart and she flung herself on me. “Oh! I am so glad to see you” saying she planted the wettest kiss so far. All the while Dorothy was standing a little far away looking at us with a smile. An introduction was all they required, the hug said it all. With her arms around Dorothy they walked ahead as I followed them to the car. I could not ask for more.
On the way home Shreya and Dorothy got together as if they had known each other all along. They talked about how the journey was and how I behaved on my arrival now this was embarrassing. We spent the day at Dorothy’s and then went to my house. In fact I had not seen it complete myself. She had taken care of its decor and wanted to surprise us. On reaching the 29th floor She handed the key to my wife. As she opened the door there lay a pot full of rice in the front. She pointed at Shreya to do the needful. Tipping it with her toe we gave a quizzical look at her. Holding her head high she said, “Internet it’s very informative”. The house was done up like a honeymoon suite. Everything in its place all ready and set as if it was all there and we have just returned from a long vacation.
That night after dinner and having seen Dorothy off we sat in the living area just before calling it a day. Then I noticed it. It was that big fat pig with a slit on its back sitting on the mantel. I picked it to realize how heavy it was. Then I understood that it had all the money that I was putting in that piggy bank for the last six years. Thank you Dorothy.