Kolkata: Since today is the sixth day of the Shukla Paksha ( Waxing Moon), men married to Bengali women are in for a treat. For, as per long-standing predatory tradition, they will arrive at the residence of the in-laws armed with a Godzilla appetite and a Mickey Mouse box of sweets.
It is thus plainly appropriate to the brand today as the Day of the Jackal, as no other living being is a suitable analogy for the Bengali son-in-law at this moment. Leech would be appropriate but rather unkind while lion would ascribe an undeserving state of physical bravery to a proudly vocal race. Jackals have the knack to be in reclusive hiding for indefinite periods while appearing promptly at the mere hint of a wholesome invitation.
Most undeniably, many a ‘jamai’ considers this meal to be an annual opportunity for sweet revenge, to avenge the usually cyanide and occasionally saccharine-coated barbs that form part of everyday routine. It, therefore, assumes the role of an inverse performance appraisal, where the bonus is dished out in anticipation of the myriad socio-domestic challenges to follow. The tenor of the tidings is sincerely diplomatic but the undercurrents of recurring border skirmishes cannot be concealed in the Richter Scale, peace being restored with spellbinding alacrity.
The defining moment of the event, once the ritualistic hurly-burly is complete, is clearly the showmanship at the dining tables. Many a choking pocket is stretched to expand the dimension of the prawns on display, as the prestige of the daughter is noted to be directly proportional. While those admitting to more affluent affiliations often choose the ‘outsourcing’ route, embracing the fine dining restaurant for necessary pampering. This is smart thinking as the brand becomes a Co-Inlaw on rigid secondment, accountable with folded heads if the Beckti is not of GOAT quality or if the toughness of the goat meat leads to a hurried dental appointment.
Amongst every other role player, the wife replaying the role of daughter is usually the past maestro. By dint of uninterrogated tradition, she must act coy and super-responsive, as her indigenous family is watching with Ayakar Bhavan levels of scrutiny. It becomes a few hours of parole for the husband, the retribution mostly served with compounded interest once the ceremonies must end. I do know many clever worthies who arrive at the in-laws with specially installed greed governors, lest the excesses of a solitary encounter queer the menus of an entire year.
On sons-in-law though, the Bengali race has many varieties to offer but invariably in multiple shades of jackal-hood. Leading the pack, observationally, is ‘YHOS’ ( Your Humble Obedient Servant), muttering succulent gratitude and lifelong adherence. This mindset is reasonably sincere, albeit influenced by the imminent smorgasbord and certainly aimed to satiate the eager-beaver wife, hanging on to every breath. Such folks do come to the party yearlong, whether parties literally or the odd medical fracas, involving an all-nighter or two at a health facility. What facilitates this mindset are a few meaty fixed deposits, adulatory conduct a convenient guarantee for post-mortality transfers.
The next category is clearly the ‘Incorrigible Critic’, conditioned to assess every element of the experience, out of native arrogance. His tenor would not qualify to be offensive in a Court of Law but would certainly raise a few edgy eyebrows in the living room of the in-laws. The Hilsa will be suitably probed on due provenance and the sweetmeats evaluated on other-worldly authenticity, even if the outcomes were Nadia Commaneci. Such fellows are usually not bad at heart, but simply societal strokeplayers, incapable of patting a good length delivery for a quiet single.
Then comes the ‘Silent Sultans’, seemingly inheritors of the earth if their posture was totally kosher. Respectfully squatting in the designated corner, they will say aye to every ritual with schoolboy diligence, granting the right of way to every conceivable elder. Not a gourmand by any assessment, but stoically patronising every dish on the table with much respect but no sign of elan. Their silence ends abruptly upon homecoming, and the lady must endure a barrage comparable to a Republic TV debate, with the TV in silent mode.
An emerging category is the ‘Great Leveller’, the new-age son-in-law who arrives with a bottle of Black Dog, or perhaps Teacher’s if the right message must be entrenched. Well-mannered, articulate and genuinely inclusive, he is a superfast bridge-maker, a spiritual successor of Bailey. The father-in-law is quickly disarmed with the initial Patiala Peg and an intrusive potency does penetrate the soft drink of the mother-in-law, sotto voice. After a voluminous evening of much banter, hugs and blessings are ably exchanged and the Uber is summoned, a night at the lock-up courtesy breath analyser surely not a fitting finale.
But jackals they all are and will continue to be, such is the trademark of the timeless Bengali son-in-law. This is their day under the sun, the outing in the Andaman Sea liberated briefly from the claustrophobic Kala Paani. Truthfully the fish and meat are simply the side cast, the true hero is the licence to feel truly special, denied firmly on every other day.