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In vogue: NRI grooms!
Sunanda K Dutta-Ray |
June 14, 2005
he case of the bridegroom who disappeared, sending Kolkata's media berserk, highlights society's obsession with Non-Resident Indians.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi set the fashion when he set up his political shop here after closing his law shop in South Africa.
Now, NRIs are the dream, delight and darling of every bride and her mother.
Before coming to that, we must note that the Rajiv Bhattacharya saga also draws attention to another popular theme, and that is kidnapping.
Anyone who was anyone had to be raided.
"They ransacked all our cupboards!" society madams would squeal in smug excitement.
"Our walls were gone over with metal detectors!" would be the rival one-upwomanship riposte.
No mention of whether or not caches of bank notes, gold and jewels were actually found. It was enough to be suspected of stashing away an illicit fortune.
Now, you must have a brush with kidnappers. Any old body snatcher will do, but the really important are victims of 'up-country' operators, preferably Delhiwallahs.
As globalisation spreads, no doubt our jet set will claim the attentions of Moscow mafias and Chinese triads. The local goonda holds his captive in a godown for a few hours, a day at most, thereby earning a few thousand rupees.
The up-country operator spirits his victim away by car and train and extorts several lakhs by way of ransom.
A few days, or maybe a week, later, the victim emerges like a conquering hero. Mum's the word.
No syllable passes his lips about the ordeal he suffered, the high-powered strings his family pulled to get him out, or the fortune they had to disgorge, naturally without turning a hair. Silence implies it all.
Whether society imitates politics or politics imitate society, Protocol, Prestige and Precedence -- three indispensable Ps -- demand that the guardians of our state be barricaded round the clock by carbine-toting men in black.
Woe betide the heretic who dares to suggest that the hon'ble minister of shady deals would be quite safe with one less armed protector. Status is a matter of life and death.
The hon'ble minister's entire constituency, nay, democracy itself, is insulted if he has fewer guardians than his colleague, the hon'ble minister for scams.
The recent hugely publicised and bitter battle between the two hon'ble ministers was not over cut and commission, as might be imagined, but about how many security personnel each thought was appropriate to the other's rank. They are the dwijas, the twice-born, of the political caste system.
The NRI is an addition to the hierarchy. Far more weighty than the old England-returned. Clubs throw open closed membership lists for him, hotels roll out the imported red carpet, bars concoct fancy mocktails to pander to his taste.
Trains and planes, packed to the brim for ordinary folk, become miraculously empty when he desires to travel. Everyone complained all these decades that shabby old Suruchi, run by the All Bengal Women's Union, was the only place for Bengali cuisine in Bengal's (once India's) capital.
Now, a dozen swanky air-conditioned restaurants serve Bengali food for visiting NRIs who taste nothing else in their expatriate abodes.
That could be one reason why women fall over each other to grab NRI grooms. They are just like the boy next door, whose endearing Hinglish or Benglish boasts the giveaway local accent.
Or is it because the NRI is the closest many mommas can get to clasping a gora sahib son-in-law to their bosoms? Remember those 'to let' ads that declared 'suit foreigner' meaning, 'Desis, don't apply'? Matrimonial ads also make their preference clear in code.
Upper middle-class India's most suitable boy is no longer an IAS or IFS officer. The former makes too little money unless there is a flood; the latter is small fry until he manages to board an international agency by when he is already long hooked.
But a computer engineer in Montana is even more attractive than an excise or customs official. A mushroom crop of Indian-owned publications in North America live off matrimonial advertisements.
A mushroom crop of detective agencies in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata live off checking on prospective spouses. Travel agents batten on the trade.
Special web sites flaunting sweet chubby faces prove that marriages are made in the ether, which is as near to heaven as you can get.
A bride's parents had to watch out in the past for the England-returned groom's Ll D (as it was called) tag, meaning attached (officially or unofficially), to his landlady's daughter.
Nowadays, the detective agency must establish that the bride isn't lesbian. Or the groom gay. But imagine the disappointment of the British-born Gujarati girl, whose hope of marrying a simple desi boy and returning to live happily ever after in the land of her ancestors, was dashed.
Every single respondent, from Bhuj to Bhavnagar, sought her hand only to migrate to Britain.
Clearly, things are not what they seem. West Bengal's chief minister, whom one might expect to have weightier things on his mind than NRI grooms, says Rajiv Bhattacharya, the IBM executive from London, wasn't kidnapped at all.
It was cruel to rob a promising young man of a painfully acquired status symbol. Who knows, Buddhadev Bhattacharya might now give the knife a twist and suggest that Rajiv isn't even an NRI.
"He spent only seven months there!" I can hear the cognoscenti sniff. That would be the unkindest cut of all.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier