It was a big day for the jamai babu (son-in-law). He was visiting for the first time after our wedding. Undoubtedly, he was the apple of every one’s eye. His face dazzled with all the attention he was getting. It was a big fat gathering of my relatives, friends, neighbours, and acquaintances. They had gathered to celebrate Jamai Bhoj for my husband, Saikat. I am Purobi, an upper middle class bhadralok girl of Bengal and a product of Loreto convent in South Calcutta. Saikat, on the other hand, was from Durgapur and had studied at IIT Kharagpur. Today, dressed in a perfectly starched white punjabi kurta and dhoti, he looked farther from either Durgapur or Kharagpur. He looked like feluda, only more nervous and hesitating. I was pitying him in my heart, but outside, I maintained a facade of aloofness and envy at all the attention he was getting from my family.
It had taken us a long while to come to our house in central Calcutta. From Dumdum airport, we went to a relatives’ house in Alipore to get dressed for the event. Keo karpin hair oil was applied profusely on my hair and my hair was wound in to a nicely tight bun with jasmine flowers. Red altaa on my feet and nicely crafted mehendi designed palms. I did my make up again. I was dressed in a white kantha saree with bright red borders. A matching red blouse. I put red bangles of lac and a big red bindi. Meanwhile, Saikat was dressed up as a bhadralok bengali. Since he was not used to wearing the dhoti, it took some help from my uncle to make him wear the perfectly starched white dhoti in Bengali style. We made our way in the narrow streets to our home in a hand rickshaw. The relatives had left earlier to welcome Saikat, the Jamai, in my home. For the first time in a long while, we were together. Seated in the small rickshaw, our body swinged like a baby in cradle, with the harmonic motion of the rickshaw. Saikat slowly took a firm grasp of my hands, and I too clasped his hands. Saikat looked at me, at my face and then glanced down to look into my eyes and kissed my forehead, “You are so beautiful, dear.” He broke into a mischievous smile and I smiled back at him. His smile melted my heart, and I clasped his hands even more firmly. Both of us now looked ahead. We had reached near our house. My relatives were standing to welcome us.
He was immediately mobbed by the welcoming party. I slowly moved inside my house. After taking a peek into all the rooms, I slipped into one of the quite corners of the house to lie down and rest my tired aching bones. Saikat was surrounded by my Uncles, Aunts, and Grandparents. Some visitors from the neighborhood had also barged in to see the new Jamai. Jhumpa, the four year girl from our neighborhood jumped on Saikat’s lap without the slightest hesitation and stared at his face as he was doing all the talking. I wondered if Saikat looked like an alien to her.
While I was at solace in my own house, Saikat was bombarded with curious questions from everyone. Everybody was eager to know how the American Jamai was surviving at the far off land. Ironically, no body was interested to know what he did for his living in America… all they were curious about was food and food alone !
‘Do you get fresh fish there?’ was my grandfather’s question. ‘No only frozen fish’, Saikat answered after clearing his choked throat. ‘What about our desi vegetables?’ Every question revolved around food. All these just reaffirmed that we Bengalis live and die for food! If we know of a big meteorite heading towards earth, we will spend all the time cooking and dining!
While the male members of my family kept Saikat entertained, the female members were busy in chopping, grinding, and cooking. It was a big deal and there was no stone left unturned for this lavish lunch.
And when I say lavish, I mean lavish! The variety of food could easily outnumber the dishes of an restaurant. I could smell an amalgamation of iilish mach, chicken dopyaja, mutton jhol, begun bhaja, and aloo posto spinach with bodi chura (ade of urad dal), pulao, paiyesh, rasgulla, and what not.
It was impossible for me to stick to etiquette. I was too hungry. I marched straight into the kitchen, picked up my steel tray – mine because it was gifted to me on my naming ceremony and hence, belonged to me. Nothing attracted me more than the Mangsha Jhola with potatoes dunked in the gravy (Mutton Curry). I took a big serving of the mangsha jhola with some pulao and went to the courtyard. I saw Saikat being escorted to the dining area by my grandmother. Mom laid some shiny new steel plates and bowls. Saikat was literally pampered to the extent of spoon feeding. I am sure my kith and kin were sympathizing with the lad for having married me – for cooking was never my cup of tea those days. There were too many people around the table and everyone trying to say something to him. They fed him till he choked. Perhaps they thought of feeding him so much that it would last till his next visit. And that hopefully we won’t complain about my miserable cooking.
But, I quite enjoyed the scene of the ‘Jamai Bhojan’ sitting under the guava tree in our courtyard under the warm winter sun, while smacking the bowl of mutton curry clean and throwing the bones at my pet cat ‘Sundari’.