by Amitava Sen
A Bengali friend asked rhetorically “Why do you think quite a few, a significant proportion at that, of our daughters are marrying outside the Bengali community and indeed majority of them preferring white Americans?” He thought he had an answer too, “They have concluded, observing their Bengali fathers I think that the Bengali men are opinionated, argumentative, obstinate, dominating and positively not romantic.”
Well that may be a strong sweeping statement, not based on any poll data or census study; but searching for causality, it is possibly safe bet to make an intuitive conjecture on the subject. I could see through the point my friend was trying to make. Our children have the luxury of wider perspective and many options, as opposed to the situation in our left behind homeland. And they do compare and choose. As such the women in general have a proclivity to make comparisons when judging their own state of affairs; children normally become the favorite targets: they are often told that the kids of their mothers’ friends are better achievers. And what may remain unspoken and is not far from their minds is that the husbands too leave much to be desired in the way they come out to be.
What is true for our daughters could be true for our wives too, but unfortunately for them the die is cast. They do not have much choices left. Other consideration for leaving the older group out in my discussion is that after four decades of life together a different dynamics come to play, acceptance looks like the order of the day. Besides, narcissism and sense of women power are not the same today as they used to be in seventies. Tolerance, acceptance and accommodation were a part of life then. And after all, here we are discussing our daughters born and brought up in USA and their generation from India in an attempt to understand why even the younger “Bengali” men may have come up short in their eyes and the conclusion that the Bengali men have had no change. Unfortunately, most of our native sons are victims of this generalized branding of Bengali men.
The older ones (by that I mean the early immigrant wives), those had been married before their husbands immigrated, went through a different genre of match making. Predominant considerations were economic, cultural, academic and social status, a negotiated or a courtship (love) marriage regardless. In any event, husband’s location in America was not an overriding factor. The picture changed in 90’s when the flood gate of H1B visas opened. The immigrant young men sensed their power and their value enhancement in the matrimonial market back home. It was their opportunity to marry up. And they did marry up much beyond what they would expect, if their prospective wives did not have the lure of moving to America. I will not sit in judgment on their decision; it is for them to determine whether they have won out or lost.
While it is true that girls are not marrying anyone from their fathers’ generation, as they look at the younger bunch from India they are still not hugely impressed and reassured. My friend (the same one, when asked whether I can identify him for this article, declined) continued, “Have you noticed how even the younger Bengali men who came to this country in nineties and later, behave in events like Pujas or in a dinner party? They promptly discard their wives at the door and dash to where other men are.” I agreed, that is not a normal way of socializing for a young couple in this country. Our children (who are born and raised here) will stay with their spouses and in the company of each other. But I question, who discards whom. May also be true that the wife does not like her husband enough to be seen with. For those who married up, it is their turn now, to be looked down upon.
Let’s face it! All Bengali men are really not Uttam Kumar both in looks or from the point of view of romantic disposition. They are sartorially challenged (indeed very poorly attired) and they do not take care of their protruding bellies as much as they are expected by their women. The complaint by the Bengali women in general that they are not appreciated by their husbands for their good looks and other virtues as often as expected does not help either. Despite all the claims of gender equality, it is not surprising that these young women congregate in a dinner party or other events, only with other women. Don’t blame them. That is where they are complimented profusely for their sarees, dresses and their looks. Of course between them the appreciation is mutual, it is promptly returned. That’s Freudian way of making up what is otherwise missing at home.
Speaking of romantic content of the relationship: In ancient society and traditionally even to this day, man has been the hunter gatherer. In addition to the need for feeding the family, hunting (or acquiring wealth) is a symbol and a demonstration of power, specially to keep the woman at awe and admiring. Through the ages the traditional power equation has changed, now a woman wants to be admired too by her counterpart. She wants open proclamation of admiration and wants to be told how much the man loves her, not to speak of presents and flowers on birthdays. An occasional candle light dinner at home is desired. But regrettably, the romantic expression of a Bengali man is limited to listening to Rabindrasangeet and watching an old Suchitra-Uttam movie in company with his wife. That is not considered adequate by our native daughters.
I wondered if there is a way of validating my observation. I thought of someone who could be a reliably good single source of survey. Someone I have known since she was born after her father immigrated about the same time I did. She (Name withheld for the sake of her privacy) is a professor, teaching Contemporary Sociology in a mid-western university. I called her and presented her with the question my friend posed. There was a long silence at the end of the line and then she spoke “My father is the greatest dad in the whole world and it still holds true.” That I had to agree with, because I was a witness to her growing up, her extraordinary accomplishment and the love and support she got form her father, a Bengali friend of mine. “When I was growing up” she continued “I always wanted to marry some one in my father’s image and I did as you know, Kaku.” She married a Bengali immigrant colleague in the same university and divorced after eighteen months.
“Would you mind if I ask what happened?” She put me at ease as she replied that I was completely within my rights to ask her this question. “When we begun our life together I started to have a lurking feelings that culturally we were not compatible. Apparently, we were equal and had equal rights. I do not know whether he was obstinate, opinionated, argumentative and all that like your friend said the Bengali men are but he definitely behaved like he was more equal than I was.” Was that all the reasons for leaving him? There were other issues; “You know Kaku, sociologically speaking a couple can not live all by themselves, they have to live in a community. After I got married my social life went in to a dump; he made sure that our social mixing is all with the Bengali friends; that’s not my ilk. And you know how you raised your daughters Kaku? To have a mind of their own and have something to talk about beyond the saree they are going to wear at the next meet!”
I had the last question. How about her father, was he arrogant, obstinate, opinionated and all that? “Could be” she said “Well, probably, but don’t forget both my parents are the products of same environment and what I remember, my mother did not complain.”
There was a pause, when I thought I heard a brief sigh and then she said, “But we do.”