Choti Mata's Note: This is a departure from what usually goes up here primarily because it was written two years ago, around the time Choti Mata had not really discovered herself and was still prone to taking herself and everything else a bit too seriously. That being said, it is still extremely heartfelt and I endorse everything in there--except that if I had written it today, it may or may not have said stuff (all in good humour of course) that could have potentially jeopardized my next trip to beloved Kolkata.
Thank God for small mercies!
We should have known. We really should have.
She was the uber romantic, quintessential Bong for whom Amit Ray continued to be a realistic expectation even as rest of us had given up hope of finding our Darcy. She reveled in every relationship she came across, every affair that was gossiped of, every love story she perceived in making. She read love stories, hummed old romantic melodies and justified every cliché that ever was associated with romance.
But marriage! Isn’t marriage the end of all romance? Isn’t marriage the violent whirlpool that sucks in all the fantasies, leaving behind the rut of marital responsibilities? Isn’t marriage the ultimate suicide for all romantics; a second life one chooses to take on only when every possible avenue of the first is exhausted?
We were fresh out of college, well paid professional. Marriage at this point was an insult to our liberalization. Ironically, she, the most liberated of us all, had chosen to tread this path of cardinal sin.
It was as if she had skipped several steps in the flight of life and landed straight on the ground floor.
“Are you mad?”, her laughter rung on the phone, “ I know it is early, but I am very happy. Also, nothing is going to change, I am not giving up on life, stupid; just stepping into the next phase.”
I was not convinced.
The plane landed in the Kolkata airport. The constant chatter at the airport had a familiar ring to it. Five years with a Bengali are sufficient to acquaint anybody with the sound if not the meaning of the language.
Kolkata’s famous old world charm is the obvious first impression for any stranger. What is remarkable is the enticing expression that the city lends to the old times. While rest of the country is in a mad rush to multiply the latest models on the streets, Kolkata delightfully flaunts its multitudes of now otherwise extinct ambassadors with a charming pride. It is not a customary tribute; it is a celebration of the era gone by with a sincerity that tugs the heartstrings. The attempt is not artificial; it is the very nature of the city to preserve the old while the new flourishes. It is this harmony which has made Kolkata an eternal muse for countless poets, authors and artists.
Kolkata and its people do not alienate strangers; their spirit embraces everyone with an affable and reckless abandon. The narrow lanes of this city have the warmth of an old friend’s hug. The old constructions exude character and invite imagination to weave stories around them. The settlements are dense but their claustrophobia is poetic. Kolkata evidently nurtures romance in every form. Once in Kolkata, it was not difficult to guess the roots and reasons of her undying romanticism.
Her house was teaming with guests. The chaos and babble, however, was remarkably subdued in tenor. Unlike
North India where weddings are
the God sent license to sing, dance and make as much noise as possible; Bengali
weddings are quiet, intellectualized affairs.
I tried finding the proverbial glow on her face; locate some sort of difference that might have been triggered by impending marriage--I could find none. She was the same old girl who had sauntered on the college lane in a pair of jeans with us. The idea of her marriage refused to sink in even more.
It was ritual time. She came down dressed in a splendid red sari. Dressed to kill was a phrase obviously inspired by Indian brides. She looked resplendent in the perfectly balanced Bong bride make-up, designed to multiply beauty zillion times.
The photographer instructed her to pose variously for her album. After all, even memories for the eternity have to be planted. Her family was busy with the rituals amidst the loud sound of the ulu and conk shells.
A tear shone in her eyes as she smiled for a snap with her parents.
Everything suddenly fell into place. The rituals made sense just as the joy of her face as she gave borderline ridiculous poses for the photographer. The glow on her face I had been searching for was suddenly as evident as the satisfaction in her parent’s eyes. Their indecipherable pain of giving up their precious daughter to a stranger mingled with the satisfaction of securing her future, the hopes of her happiness. I could see the spring in her feet and the twinkle in her eyes when she talked about him- the lucky one who was to wed this precious being. Her excitement for the wedding trousseau made sense just as her disappointment at yet to darken mehndi in her hands. The conviction that led to her quitting her hard earned job was understandable just as the hopes for a happy future that awaited her.
She lowered the paan leaves for the first auspicious gaze on the bridegroom. Every romantic fantasy in the World culminated into one glorious moment. Her eyes fluttered. His gaze softened as he intently gazed at her.
It was the moment when I realized that Amit Rays and Darcys of the World do not exist; they are created by the romance of women like her. In this corner of Tagore’s Kolkata, amidst the festivities and chants, quietly and discreetly, when nobody noticed, her very own Amit Ray was born.