When Jamai Babu is the king….

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Bengalis celebrate their son in law(s) or “Jamais” with fanfare and gluttony. They have an entire day dedicated to them, as if being the cynosure of all eyes for the rest of the 364 days, was not enough.

By Nazarul Islam

Truth must be told. I do not know about any other culture in this world, which celebrates their son in law(s) or “Jamais” with such fanfare and gluttony. We have an entire day dedicated to them, as if being the cynosure of all eyes for the rest of the 364 days, was not enough – and to follow the ritualistic conclusion if any.

There is a Bengali festival “Jamai Shoshti”—that is essentially all about celebrating our love for food.

All these give rise to a belief that the ‘Bengali Jamai’ is a much pampered lot. Indeed, they are. But then again, it is not a very easy job either!

On this day, when most of the Bengali household across Honolulu to Haldia are celebrating their “aankhon ka taara” (apple of their eyes) – their “Jamai”, (damaadji) I thought of writing one which chronicles ‘their’ side of the story.

If you are a Bengali Jamai, you will know that the most difficult part of the journey begins when you have to take the first step – that impresses the ‘Bongololona’. The Bengali girl is known to be the independent and nuanced lot and when one is out to woo her, one should not presume anything. She might love the solitaires, but books as gifts might make her happier. In short, she is a very tough nut to crack.

You have to be always on your toes while looking out forever for new ideas to surprise her and just when you think that you have found out the perfect idea to impress her by drowning yourself into Rituparno Ghosh movies and Sunil Gangopadhyay novels (because she takes pride in reading the rich variety of works produced in her mother tongue and hates being monolingual), she might just come up with a bouncer and say – “Baby, let’s do the ‘Machu Picchu trek’ together?”

You might have crossed the first hurdle, but the second one is no less than climbing the Kanchenjungha, if not the Everest. It is the part about impressing the ‘in laws’. If you are a ‘non-Bengali’, the job becomes ten thousand times more difficult. Actually, the term ‘non-Bengali’ itself is a coinage which asserts the extreme superiority complex that we have (I want to use the word ‘suffer from’ but will refrain)

So, you might be owning a roaring textile business in Lajpat Nagar and have the best cars in town, but once inside the Bengali drawing room, the first question the father in law will ask is –

“Did you go to one of the top most colleges in India or abroad?”. If one comes back with an answer like “Lovely Professional University”, the collective sigh and shock will become a sight to behold.

“Sheki? you are not from Presidency or Oxford?!!! And you thought of marrying my daughter?” the father in law will say.

“You have business? Mane Baniya? chee chee” the grandmother will die of shame.

And by chance if you have a degree from one of the elite institutions but you have bid good bye to your cushy corporate job, be prepared to hear the following.

They will be enthusiastic about ‘start ups’ but still not sure about whether their darling daughter needs a better ‘sounding’ groom – one who works with a top notch MNC and making foreign trips thrice a year.

“What did you say ‘start-up’? What are these IITians doing these days, baba re! Oh! Will it become successful? Why don’t you go back to your corporate career? The money is very good”

The English gave us many things. The foremost among them was the love for “Cha-ku-ri” or “Naukri”.

And then will come the most dreaded question- “Have you read Rabindranath?”. The non-Bengali suitor will face a ‘do or die’ situation here from. If you can sing “Ami chi go chini tomaare” at this pivotal juncture, be rest assured, you have won their hearts for the rest of their lives.

Being the cynosure of all eyes – So you have won the maiden and her family’s hearts, but do not think the war is won. Because, my dear, the story has just begun!

For the rest of your lives, you will have to be the perfect “Jamaibabu” to your wife’s numerous cousins from all across the globe. The Bengali “Jamai” has to be the epitome of everything perfect and ideal – at least that is the way your beaming in-laws will introduce you to the ‘extended’ family. So if you are a film maker and your film has been screened at one film festival that will automatically turn into an award winning venture in your mother in law’s words.

As I said earlier, dedicating a day was not enough for us, the ‘Jamais’ have to be perfect all year round. All you have to do is to wear the perfect Bengali “dhakka paar” dhoti and stick on that elastic smile that you thought you had overdone on your wedding reception day, all over again and stand to greet guests at every other wedding, “Onnoprashon” (first rice eating ceremony for the child), birthdays and the “Jamai Shoshti’s”.

You might not know who is getting married to whom but words like – “Ei dekh dekh, Manju r jamai ta ki bhalo hoyeche. Bilet ferot, tao ektuo ohonkaar nei” from a random stranger, will make your in laws chest swell with pride. (“See see, Manju’s son-in-law is such a darling. He is foreign returned but has no airs).

And if you parents in law are active on social media, you will have to pose for some selfies with them too.

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The Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist and lives in USA. He writes regularly for Sindh Courier, and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America.

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