Manoj Finds a Bride
1979. A fine year for weddings. But I, in my 30’s, was still unmarried and doing quite well, thank you. An IIT Kharagpur graduate, I was working for an engineering/construction company in California. Having survived a failed relationship, I had no desire or inclination to get tied down. Especially since a few local Bengali ladies had adopted me and I had no shortage of good home cooked Bangla meals whenever I had the craving. Free as a bird, I travelled the world in my job, enjoying new experiences as the river of life streamed by. My only concern was for my elderly parents in India. I would go visit them whenever I got a few days off which was at best once a year. So, like in other years, I decided to pay my family a visit in April. I had no idea how fateful that would be and how soon my life would take a tumble.
I landed in Dum Dum quite late at night when it was too late to go banging on relatives’ doors looking for a bed. So I checked into the Park Hotel on Park Street. I planned on taking a late train the next day for Jamshedpur where my parents were with my eldest sibling. Next morning, as soon as I woke up, I started calling up Dada’s, Didi’s and sundry other relatives in Kolkata to find out the status of life locally. I had breakfast and was about to step out when two of my mashtuto didi’s (elder female maternal cousins) turned up. Incurable romantics, these ladies were on their way to New Alipore to visit their older brother, popularly known as Bhaiyada, who was laid up with a broken leg he got when he crashed his motorbike in front of the Victoria Memorial. In passing, they remarked that I, Manoj, was not getting any younger and wasn’t it time I found a life partner? Not wanting to get into a discussion about the merits of a life partner, I agreed but said that I had not met any desirable females recently. That’s where the matter rested and the cousins went off to New Alipore.
Later on that day I landed up in Jamshedpur. That day, Jamshedpur was gripped in a communal riot that was violent enough to preclude any ideas of stepping out of the house. I was confined. A couple of days later I got a call from one of the Didi’s inquiring if I was serious about marriage. I had made a commitment and could not back out, but I felt trapped both physically and metaphorically. I was trapped in the house and trapped by my commitment. My cousin told me that they had a fine match and would I come over to Kolkata immediately? I said I would but only if my parent’s agreed. So the Didi spoke to my parents and convinced them of the merits of this girl. Reluctantly, I went off to Kolkata after braving the threat of imminent violence on the way to the railway station.
Dear Readers, you may have noted that after meeting me at the Park the Didi’s went off to Bhaiyada’s place. They told him that I was visiting from the US and not at all disinclined to get married. Now, Bhaiyada was a fun guy and being laid up alone was not in his nature. So, every week a bunch of his friends would visit him for adda (general BS), scotch and bridge. He remarked in passing that a cousin, a real sweet guy was visiting from the US and wanted to get married. One friend had an unmarried shali (sister in law) and his ears perked up. Returning home he informed his wife about this unattached bachelor and that Bhaiya vouched for him. That was enough for his wife who called up the Didi’s and told them to get this bachelor over to Kolkata. Now mind you, all this was done without the knowledge or consent of Jayoti, the bride-to-be. Also, I had no idea of all the machinations behind my back. When I came back to Kolkata I assumed that the girl I was about to meet had knowledge of the entire situation. Rather I found out, this was far from the case.
Next morning, Jayoti’s Didi called her up and told her to come by her place pronto. Jayoti went there on her way to work where she was informed that she would not be going to work that day and to change into a nice sari right away because she would be going to visit someone. Jayoti complied because her Didi is a tough cookie, all the while itching to get away because she had plans with her friends, most of whom worked with her in NRS, the hospital. So, Jayoti’s jamaibabu (brother in law) dropped her off at Bhaiya’s place and left with instructions to give her a ride back home. In time, I turned up and was introduced to Jayoti, who still had no idea what she was doing there. Like all stilted conversations in such encounters I enquired what Jayoti was doing. Turned out that she was a social worker at NRS with a MSW from Delhi and was pursuing a PhD in psychology from Calcutta University. She said that her thesis subject was on some aspect of psychosomatic disorders. Not having a clue as to what psychosomatic meant I had to steer the subject to something else. So, I took out my Polaroid and snapped a picture of Jayoti. Immediately a white rectangle slid out of the camera and in moments converted itself in to a vividly colored portrait. Jayoti was impressed. She had never seen one of these and she was also quite impressed by the fellow who could own such a camera. I in the meantime was thinking that if this thing went anywhere I would have a picture to show my parents.
Just about that time, knowing what was going on at Bhaiya’s, his two sisters turned up. They grabbed the picture and decided to keep it. So, there was no picture for my parents after all. After cha (tea) and jalkhabar (refreshments), I was instructed to drop Jayoti off at her Didi’s. I found Jayoti to be pleasant enough and on the way back home asked her out to dinner. She did not respond and I thought that she was just too polite to turn me down directly. On reaching Gol Park, Jayoti invited me in to meet her Didi. After pleasantries Jayoti and her Didi went in to prepare cha and then Jayoti came back and said that she would join me for dinner. Later I found out that Jayoti did not want to accept the invitation without checking first with her Didi. The conversation went something like this:
Didi: Manoj ke kemon laglo? (How was Manoj?)
Jayoti: Bhalo. O amake dinner e dakeche. Jabo? (Good. He asked me out for dinner. Should I go?)
Didi: Tui o ke haa bolechis to? (Did you accept?)
Jayoti: Toke na jiggesh kore kichu bole ni. (I wanted to check with you first.)
Didi: Aare, oke jaa giye bol. (Go, tell him you will go.)
And so I took Jayoti to Skyroom on Park Street. I wanted to impress her with the Baked Everest, Skyroom’s signature dessert but it was not available that evening. During dinner I decided to ask Jayoti to marry me. On the way from the restaurant taxis were difficult to find. Jayoti started insisting we take the bus. I shuddered at the thought of proposing in front of a bus full of people. I stuck to my guns and finally landed a taxi. I proposed during the ride. I said “I have just one more week of vacation left. I like you. Will you marry me?” Rather a kathkhotta (not refined, from hicksville) proposal but to my total amazement, Jayoti accepted. So, within a week of that first date we were married.
And, this is how Manoj found his bride.
But this is not the end of the story. The wedding was an intimate affair with family and a few of Jayoti’s closest friends. She just took a day off to get married. Her colleagues and friends at work were unaware of the reason for the day off. The morning after the wedding I found Jayoti all dressed up and ready to go to work, albeit with a huge big sindur on her forehead. Jayoti had a reputation as a prankster, so when she reached NRS there was pandemonium because nobody could believe that she could be married one day and back to work the next. She had to work hard to convince her friends and colleagues that she was not pulling their legs but was really married. This left many pissed because they had not been invited. Jayoti’s father subsequently arranged for a reception where all were feted.
I in the meantime asked for and received a one week extension to my vacation. Jayoti and I went to the US Consulate and applied for a spousal immigrant visa. In 1979 the processing time for an immigrant visa for a spouse was about a year. Jayoti was totally happy with that. With a bunch of dollars in her hands she could have a grand time with her friends before having to worry about going off to some godforsaken land with a stranger. But Fate was waiting to pounce on her again.
About three months later she spotted Mr. Rixon, an Indian employee of the US Consulate Consular Section, who had interviewed her when she filed her application, wandering around NRS looking distraught. She went up to him and asked him if she could help him. Turned out that his uncle had been run over by a train and he was having no luck in getting the body released from the morgue. Jayoti worked her magic and Mr. Rixon did not have to face any more bureaucratic hurdles.
Two days later Jayoti got a call at work from her Didi. Didi had a message from Mr. Rixon for Jayoti to call him in the Consulate. Turned out that he was so thankful to Jayoti that he called Washington and had her visa number issued the same day. The good news from Mr. Rixon was not so good for Jayoti because her good time in Kolkata was being drastically shortened. Regardless, her family convinced her to leave for California within two weeks.
This story is true, but Manoj and Jayoti are not our real names. Jayoti and I are still in California. We have faced the joys, sorrows and challenges of most immigrant couples. Our family consists of a son and a daughter, both now adults who are loving, compassionate, generous and occasionally, exasperating.
Manoj and Jayoti met and got married because Bhaiyada broke his leg. Jayoti got her immigrant visa expedited because Mr. Rixon’s uncle was run over by a train. Out of pain and despair came a new beginning for a young couple.
Dear Readers, would you consider the events of this story mere Chance or Divine Intervention? You decide.
(Posted October 1, 2017)
EDITORS' NOTE: Manoj is not the author's real name.
Note: Readers interested in commenting on this article should email their remarks to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Comments received from Gautam S. on October 2, 2017: "Please convey my appreciation to the author of the subject article. It is a story with a happy ending and the author did a great job of telling the story! Thanks for doing a great job of publishing these stories."
Comments received from Susmita B. on October 9, 2017: "Monoj and Jayati story could happen only in India. I think our kids would find it unbelievable! Enjoyed reading this life story."
Comments received from Sujan D. on October 3, 2017: "পাঠক জানতে চায় মনোজের আসল নাম...এইভাবে পরিচয় লুকিয়ে রাখলে ফেসবুকে আন্দোলন হবে...।"
Reply received from the author on October 8, 2017: "Thanks you for your desire to know the author's identity. I hope that it is because at some level the story has touched you. If I were in your place I would like to know the identity too. I used a pseudonym because of personal reasons. However, if you have the time and desire to identify me I will give you enough info to do so.
I graduated from IIT in 1966 and completed my masters in 1968. I then went to Canada finally moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1974. I now live in the Los Angeles Area.
I apologise for not replying in Bangla because I am in Mumbai and my cell phone does not have the script.
I wish peace and happiness to you and your loved ones. I also wish you success in your "andolon" to identify me."