Urmila Pishi was not conventionally beautiful. Her beauty didn’t adhere to the compliance of the Bengali matrimonial market. She was plump, dark complexioned, had specs and above all too educated. Nobody liked an educated working girl as a daughter-in-law in those days. Moreover, she was almost thirty years old and thus too old for the marriage market. Above 30 were not suitable as a baby-making machine. Bengali marriage market only preferred fair complexioned, petite, below 25, skilled in housework girl from a reputed family.
Every Sunday family of a prospective groom used to come to ‘see’ Urmila Pishi. What they came to ‘see’ I have no clue. Many of these families used to come in a group of almost 7-8 people. They used to sit in the living room and chomp on Shingara and Sandesh. Then Urmila Pishi used to enter wearing a nice silk saree holding the tea tray. My grandma used to accompany her.
After entering the hall she used to get projected to hundred questions. The first being ‘what is your name?’ followed by ‘Can you cook?’ ‘Can you sing Rabindrasangeet?’ the answer used to be ‘yes’ and then many of them used to ask her to sing one song. Obediently Pishi used to take out her harmonium from underneath the bed. Sit cross-legged on the floor and start singing. She only knew one song ‘Aguner Parashmani’ and she sang it for everyone. Invariably there used to be no request for a repeat performance. Her song used to be well rehearsed but monotonous and reluctant. No wonder it never sounded good. Some families thankfully spared her the trouble of singing. I guess more than singing Pishi used to get irritated by the ordeal of taking out the harmonium.
Even after so much effort, she used to get rejected by the boy’s family. They used to find some fault in her. Some said she was too dark, others said they didn’t prefer a working girl, and then others said she wouldn’t be ‘homely’ enough or she was too old to have babies. Few of them never bothered to give a reason.
Pishi started getting depressed. Girls younger than her were getting married. She became a national concern. Elder women in the family started getting gray hair worrying about Pishi and then something happened. On Sunday, as usual, a family came. Father mother and the son. The usual routine continued. The parents were asking Pishi questions and she was replying. AND then Pishi looked up at the mother and said ‘You asked me so many questions and I replied now can I ask questions to your son?’ Looking at her audacity the mother gaped like a hippo while my grandma almost fainted behind the curtains. My grandfather was looking with bloodshot eyes at Pishi but she was nonchalant. She then looked straight into the eyes of the boy and asked ‘Do you know how to cook and take care of kids because I am going to keep working after marriage. If you have a problem let me know now itself.’ My grandma could have killed Pishi at that instant. The entire family was shocked and they muttered that Pishi has lost her mind. My grandfather was profusely apologizing to the boy’s family for this.
However, a miracle happened instead of rejecting Pishi the boy said that if he would marry ever it would be only with this girl or else he would remain a bachelor. He had fallen in love with Pishi the moment she dared to ask him a question. Urmila Pishi is the first feminist in the family and she is now 80 years old and till date, we all look up to her for inspiration.