The Bhorwani Marriage by Murli Melwani

A short story, excerpted from Beyond the Rainbow by Murli Melwani
“Do you have a good family in mind, Matchmaker?” asked the plump woman as I was leaving on my daily rounds.
I invited her into my house.
“For your son or daughter?”
The question was irrelevant; obviously, it was for the scarecrow of a girl that accompanied her. However, I asked it in order to gain time to assess what this party was worth. The woman was dressed in a plain cream-coloured nylon georgette sari. She was not wearing any jewellery either. But that indicated nothing. Mothers these days were shrewd. They didn’t want to immediately reveal how well-off they were lest the matchmaker or the boy’s party or both started making unrealistic dowry and other demands. These women bargained hard.
The girl was wearing a bizarre foot-high hair-do, and I imagine that she kept her head at an angle lest it tilt over. She was wearing an embroidered sari – at 7 o’clock in the morning. She must have left bed around 4 am or so to get her hair done and to dress like a carnival. Hell, these marriageable girls think that if they impress me they’ve impressed the ‘pride-groom’, excuse the cheap pun. They should know that I’m going to inflict my sales-talk on the other party whether I’m personally impressed or not. I’m more interested in how much I’m getting out of the whole business.
“The girl now,” said the woman, indicating the showpiece. “A son later.”
She was one of the smarter ones; trying to tempt me with the possibility of a bigger commission if I performed my first commission satisfactorily.
“Of course. I know a few parties,” I said noncommittally.
“We’ve come from …” She mentioned the name of some far-off place.
Hindu Sindhis exist as a diaspora with no state or country of their own. By making Bombay their marriage exchange, or the ‘meat market’ as the irreverent young call it, the Sindhis have blended practicality with a respect for tradition.
I wasn’t impressed. “Oh, yes. They keep flying in from Japan and Basque, from Peru and Indonesia, from Jamaica and Biafra. And they all ask for Atu Maharaj.”
Yes, I’m proud of my notoriety; the other maharajs in the trade would have said “fame”. When I say maharaj, please don’t come to the conclusion that I’m a maharaja. The Sindhis, true to their habit of economizing, have tagged on the role of a matchmaker to that of a priest. The word ‘maharaj’ somehow was coined to describe this social fusion; only in the Sindhi language does the grand-sounding word of ‘maharaj’ relate to such a penurious position. Modesty, in fact, is one of my shortcomings. I’m not as smart as the other maharajs with the result that though I do more than the others, I earn much less than they do.
“Please arrange something quickly. The noise of your Bombay traffic is bursting our eardrums.”
Just then, my wife entered from our second and only other room. And for the next few minutes, the two women discussed the all-important subject of Bombay traffic. I still hadn’t been able to assess the financial worth of the party. So I asked as inoffensively as possible, “How much are you prepared to give?”
“Depending on the family you get us.”
This answer was a classic in diplomacy. The woman was smarter than I imagined. I decided to take an indirect approach.
“There’s a good party, but they live far and I’ll have to go by taxi. There’s no public transport to …”
“We will pay all your taxi bills.”
Her answer meant that she would reward me sufficiently. I was satisfied, perhaps even a little embarrassed, for having resorted to indirect means to elicit information. But the difference between me and the other maharajs was that whereas they would straightaway have demanded, grabbed at, and pocketed a fifty rupee note for taxi fare, I left it for later.
“Now who is this party?” The woman wasn’t going to let me off easily. “Tell me so that I can write to my daughter’s father. He hasn’t come with us.” Fathers looked after their business; daughters were none of their business.
“There are two or three,” I said, deliberately ambiguous.
I promised to call on her and took down the necessary particulars. They were Bhorwanis from Uruguay. They owned two factories which manufactured baby garments and had 1255 men in their employ. By marriage they were connected to the Rotwanis of Rourkela, the Phadowanis of Patagonia, the Karomuwanis of Kohima, and a number of other well-known families scattered all over the globe. Uruguay was a new country to me. I decided to ask my twelve-year-old son – as I so often did – to find out from his social science teacher where this monstrosity was located. Really, the places where Sindhis have got to!
Having got rid of the party, I set out on my daily round. I was now late by over an hour. I had to return to the Koorwanis (of Quebec) their son’s horoscope because the young man was leaving shortly – after having seen and rejected twenty-two girls. He promised to come back and continue next year. The Koorwani business had been a dead loss for me. All I had been able to get out of them were a few French chiffon saris for my wife.
Then I had to call on the Dingowanis to fix a date for their daughter’s first ‘viewing’ by the Budhwani boy. By the time it was 2 o’clock I would be with the Gawlanis, just in time for the midday meal with them; the grandmother cooks the best kari I’ve tasted anywhere. My afternoon nap would be with the Loliwani family in Colaba. Then I would have to find out what the Fatwanis of Fiji had thought about my proposal for the Basarmani girl from Gibraltar. The evening would find me attending the Vayrowani marriage at the Jai Hind College auditorium. However, this was not because I was officiating. Rishu Maharaj would be performing the ceremony. I was going chiefly to point out the Bujowani girl (BA from London) to the Thapparwani boy (drawing 500,000 francs in France, I’m told). The earliest I’d be home would be 10 pm. As you can see, mine was largely a thankless job.
Thoughts of the Bhorwani girl – from the new country, what was its name? – occupied me the whole of the next day. She was thin and dark. Boys nowadays demand a white skin even if the features of the girl are not striking. No doubt her slimness could be to her advantage. Boys insist on this feature even though they allow themselves to puff out in all directions and let their ungainly baggage show through their clothes. But this girl was exceptionally thin.
I could, of course, show her to the Charyowani boy from Shillong in faraway Assam where, I’m told, dog meat forms the staple diet, snakes are served as delicacies on festive days, and headhunting is the favourite pastime of people. Parents must be mad to give their daughters in marriage to families in such parts. Yet this clown had seen and rejected sixty-seven girls. In fact, he has been renting a suite at the Royal Hotel on a yearly basis.
I could, of course, suggest the Furtani boy. But his requirements were such that no maharaj could hope to meet them. God himself would have to create a special girl for him. The Parnani family from America was not a bad proposition. The boy was an engineer, and he was not particular about the type of girl he married. His parents were the ones who were creating all those headaches for me. Ah! And my wife had told me that a certain Ringhawani party had arrived the previous day from Oslo (must remember to ask my son where that is!) I weighed what my gains from either match would be before I re-approached them.
I was sure I could get around Engineer Parnani, but his mother? She was asking for what we call ‘everything’.
‘Everything’, in Sindhi matrimonial talk, meant two diamond rings of a carat each, two pairs of diamond earrings, two diamond bangles, and a diamond necklace plus the prescribed sets of clothes and gifts to the near and dear ones. I was confident that if the Bhorwani woman was satisfied with the wealth (pedigree be damned) of the Parnani family, she would be willing to satisfy their demands. I called on her a few days later.
“Even a glimpse of yours is so rare and expensive these days,” said Mrs Bhorwani in the formal way of greeting.
I told her how busy I was and to what expense I had gone to locate a party suitable for her princess of a daughter. I gave her a list of the expenses I had incurred, not forgetting to add that taxis these days seldom used meters and the drivers charged fancy fares. She gave me more than the amount I mentioned, and I told her about the Parnani boy.
“He looks like a king. And he behaves like a king.” The daughter who was hovering around pretended not to have heard me.
“But his mother. She wants – a calculated pause – ‘everything’.”
For the next half hour, I used all the diplomacy and powers of persuasion at my command to overcome her arguments. Finally she said: “If the boy is as good as you say, we will give well.” Smart as she was, she wouldn’t commit herself to ‘everything’.
I satisfied the Parnani woman with the references of the Bhorwani family, their background, lineage, and connections by marriage. I added: “The girl is a princess in her slimness. Even the lotus with its stalk would blush before her. Boys nowadays demand slimness like hers.”
The Parnani woman agreed to allow her son to see the Bhorwani girl. I went about making the necessary preparations. This was the season of marriages, and we maharajs use these occasions to display and parade all our prospects, male and female. A marriage I had succeeded in arranging was in the offing (remember the mad Melwanis in the mango business in Malda?) and I proposed to use it for this occasion.
Amid all the glitter and noise and flashily-dressed guests, my wife pointed out the girl to the Parnani boy. He peered through the thick glasses, pointed to the wrong girl and said, “Will do.” When my wife redirected his gaze, he peered again, and again said, “Will do.”
The very next day, I went to collect the horoscopes and my pending taxi fare from both parties (the same amount from both). Usually, it was the boy’s “no” that would squash a promising development, but in this case the horoscopes threatened to create difficulties. They did not match. I reported this matter to Mrs Bhorwani first. She was distressed. But I reassured her that if we performed a small pooja ceremony – a little expensive perhaps – any unhealthy effects arising from improperly conjoined stars would be mitigated. Indeed, the more the offerings (financial preferred to those in kind), the greater the likelihood of the stars falling into positions beneficial to both the parties. The woman didn’t mind the expense involved – indeed, urged me to perform the most expensive pooja I could think of! But the Parnani father was adamant. “No marriage if horoscopes not match,” he said repeatedly in heavily-accented English. So the Bhorwani-Parnani negotiations ended there.
The Charyowani boy from Shillong and the Furtani prince would say “no.” So I turned my thoughts to the Ringhawani party. The boy didn’t speak much; hence, he appeared to be a sensible sort of fellow. Both the parties agreed on what was to be given and accepted. The preliminary ‘viewing’ at a marriage went through without a hitch. The horoscopes also matched. The Bhorwani father was called over; he was constrained to leave his business because he was assured that something definite was in the offing.
My house was chosen as the venue for the ‘viewing’ by the boy’s mother and sundry other female relatives. Mrs Bhorwani thoughtfully saw to it that I bought enough snacks and soft drinks to entertain everybody.
“The girl is rather thin,” remarked one of the women in the Ringhawani group, popping a huge marzipan in her mouth. She spoke in what may have appeared to be a whisper but was loud enough for all to hear.
“Perhaps she doesn’t get enough to eat,” added another, addressing the first in a whisper also intended for everybody’s ear.
The girl pretended not to hear, buried as she was in a well-thumbed magazine. I kept a number of magazines handy for such occasions.
“Poor thing, even her collar bones are showing.”
My wife is always indignant when such remarks are bandied about, but I see it as our inverted way of expressing approval.
My reading was correct. The women, impressed by all the jewellery that was being offered as part of the dowry, said that they would set up a meeting for the boy to meet the girl. The final round in the negotiations had been reached. The women shrewdly threw the ball in the boy’s court, since, they argued, it was he who would have to spend a lifetime with the girl. But their motive was to absolve themselves of all responsibility. If afterwards the boy complained that he had been saddled with the wrong partner, they could turn around and tell him that they had merely given their opinion and at most advised him, but the decision had been his; he could have refused when he still had the chance.
The inevitable Apollo sea face was chosen as the meeting place. The Bhorwani family, as is usual on such occasions, was there before the boy’s party arrived. The boy was wearing mustard-coloured trousers and a magenta shirt. In our days, such colours were seen only at the circus. Skilfully, very casually, everybody was kept busy speaking with everybody else, leaving the boy and girl free to speak to each other. We walked up and down the sea face a number of times. A few strollers stopped and stared at this gaudily-dressed charade. On such occasions the boy and girl are too over-awed, the others too preoccupied, and I too anxious about a hopeful outcome to be conscious of the humour of the parade.
I overheard the Bhorwani girl say something about Bombay traffic. I am thankful to this feature of city life for providing these two young people an opportunity to discover that they held similar views on life.
The next – and logical – step was for both the parties to entertain each other at tea in the splendid Taj Mahal Hotel that looms over the waterfront.
The waiter placed the menu in the centre of the table, and for a few minutes no one noticed it. The waiter then reminded no one in particular: “Menu, sahib.” I then placed it before the boy. All courtesy, he slid it towards the girl. The girl shyly pushed it to her mother. The mother out of deference placed it before the boy’s mother. The menu must have made two rounds of the table before someone ordered chutney sandwiches and coffee. The waiter made a slight bow and slipped away. Chutney not being readily available, the sandwiches arrived after a long time. The pauses were filled by reminiscences relating to sundry features of Bombay’s everyday life, its traffic not excluded.
Since everyone’s views were similar, everyone believed that the other would make a good relative. When my wife asked the boy whether he found the girl suitable, he nodded his assent.
Preparations began to be made for the marriage. The woman who had found the girl too thin now found virtue in these very proportions: what a fairy she was compared to the shapeless creatures one came across these days! Collar bones visible over blouses were the latest in fashion – according to a difficult-to-recall-at-the-moment fashion authority in France. An older relative praised the girl for fasting with such faith and fervour for a good husband as to reduce herself to a skeleton. All the new relations were happy with each other. They insisted on being photographed repeatedly during the marriage in pairs, sharing a bottle of Coca Cola with two straws. Even in the video that was then shot, they wanted to demonstrate their happiness in this manner. I was happy for bringing two young people together for life, and also because I earned the equivalent in rupees of a hundred thousand US dollars … from each party. I didn’t bargain, but gladly took what was given to me. Considering that about eight hundred thousand US dollars were blown over the pomp and show, I was satisfied with what I was given. One must be grateful for the crumbs that life throws one’s way.

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