The dynamics between the two communities has always fascinated me. The rivalry between the cultured Bong and the moneyed Medo can very well lend itself to a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with the feuding families of the two love smitten characters anchoring their enmity around their parochial roots.
On a recent stop over at Kolkata, I had the opportunity to witness the dynamics between the two communities. Being early for a flight, I decided to have a cup of coffee at the Internet Cafe in the airport before checking in. The chairs around the cafe meant for public was taken up by a Medo family and it was a very large family comprising of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, some younger men who were presumably the sons and some middle aged to old men who were being addressed as ‘Mamajis’ by everyone else in the family. In the middle of this large and noisy brood sat a lone Bong lady poring over the latest issue of ‘India Today.’ She must have found her seat before the Medos laid their claim on the chairs around her.
There was a lot of jabbering among the Medo women and after consulting each other, they started to unpack bags. One of the young daughter in law started distributing paper plates to members of her family. Another daughter in law opened a box of sweets and started offering Kaju Barfis . A third daughter in law distributed Sev and the fourth and the fifth gave out Aloo Puri. Now right from the time I was a child and my family used to make these long train journeys to Kerala from Jamshedpur, I have been shamelessly interested in what my co-passengers are eating. Once I got a slap from my mother for this bad habit, but I am not the kind to reform easily. Nowadays as a writer, I feel it is my birthright to eavesdrop into conversations and stare at other people in restaurants much to the disgust of my wife and son. Since neither of them had accompanied me in this trip, I kept on staring unabashedly with no one around to chide or threaten me.
After a while , the bhadrolok Bong lady grew uncomfortable at the train like behaviour being exhibited by the Medo family around her. She got up and offered to exchange her seat with the person sitting in the corner most seat so that the daughters in law could serve better. Her act of consideration was appreciated by members of the Medo family and the daughters in law tried to force some food on a paper plate for her. I think the lady gathered she was being paid for services rendered because no one had offered any food to her earlier. She kept on declining politely saying she doesn’t eat between meals confusing the daughter in laws who kept on insisting ‘Didi, Khao Na...Please...Thoda Sa. It just got too much for her especially when one of the old Mamaji’s sitting in front of her burped loudly and said “Haan...haan Didi ko mithai khilao.” I don’t know whether it was the burping or a man old enough to be her father addressing her as Didi, but the lady had enough. She got up with a tight smile and walked away with her trolley. One of the daughters in law, tired of serving, promptly plonked herself on the lady’s chair.
Just as the lady got up our eyes met and we smiled ruefully at each other. I shook my head in disbelief and she rolled her eyes. She also muttered something under her breath and I may be wrong but I think she said ‘Stupid Medos’ before stalking off. I wish I was able to tell her the Medos are anything but stupid and if the psychodrama I saw unfolding before me was anything to go by, that was pretty much the way the Medos had displaced the Bongs from many of the pockets of the city of joy.
I had a Medo friend when I was working in Kolkata. He was smitten by that vapid actress Bhagyashree who had debuted with Salman Khan in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’. He wanted to marry someone who looked exactly like her. When his family found a match for him who he thought resembled Bhagyashree, he got married to her. After he came back from his honeymoon he called me to give me all the details. When he got to the part ‘Jab hum love make kar rahe te’ I grew alarmed. I told him to stop as his wife may not like it. ‘Kyon’ he asked, ‘Woh jaanti hai, hum close friends hain.’ I told him while that may be true there are some things even close friends shouldn’t share. ‘Tum bahut jyaada sensitive ho’ he concluded.
Our friendship broke up because although I remembered to invite all my Bong friends for my wedding, I forgot to invite him and his wife. He was very cut up about that.