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Where has the Bhrahman gone?

About Bhawana Somaaya

Bhawana Somaaya is a renowned film critic, journalist and author. She has written over twelve books on the history of Hindi cinema and biographies of Bollywood stars. She has been the editor of Screen (a leading film magazine). Her columns have appeared in publications like The Observer, Afternoon, Janmabhoomi,The Hindu, The Hindustan Times and Indian Express. Bhawana Somaaya has also worked as costume designer for actor Shabana Azmi in a few films. She has worked with a production house as a media consultant for a television series. You can hear her Friday-film reviews on BIG FM 92.7, Reliance Media's FM radio station.

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When I was a little girl, an old man in a dhoti forehead painted in red-yellow tilak often came to our home unannounced. He removed his shoes outside the door and squat cross legged on the living room carpet. He always carried a tattered cloth bag around his shoulder and a small napkin with which he wiped his spectacles.

My mother was always happy to see him. No matter how tired she was, she ran to the kitchen to prepare hot snacks for him. They were served in steel utensils.

Snack over, he extracted some photographs and horoscope from his crowded bag and got into serious discussion with my father. When it was time for him to leave, mother packed for him a customary parcel comprising of some wheat flour, rice and pure ghee; an envelope with a 10 rupee note and a coin for shagun also made its way into the parcel.

He was what they described in traditional Gujarati households- the bhrahman- and he was also the community match maker. He was learned, well versed in Sanskrit, familiar with family histories of the community. He went from home to home carrying kundalis of prospective brides and grooms. He was the confidante of all families. Parents trusted his wisdom and submitted to his foresight.

That was how all my older cousins and siblings got married.

Then one day, the bhrahman stopped coming.

My father was concerned; my mother anguished. She worried if the family had upset him unintentionally and pleaded my father to find out why he had stopped visiting us.

On investigation father discovered that our bhraman had been ailing for a while. Few days ago he had passed away in his sleep. His only son, also called bhraman though he did not wear a dhoti or the red-yellow tilak, was not keen to carry forward his father’s legacy.

My parents were traumatised by the unfortunate news. While father succeeded in disguising his disappointment, mother mourned openly. “How can a home not visited by a bhrahman ever prosper?”

My father had bigger worries. He was aging. Two of my elder siblings were yet to be married. Finding grooms for them all by himself was a task he didn’t feel too confident about.

Contrary to his fears though, my sisters found suitable partners in time. They are proud parents of grown-up children today. Some of them are looking for alliance for their children now. Even though this is the 21st century, they appear as worried about the exercise as my parents did in the olden days.

These days websites have replaced the traditional matchmaker, which on one level is a facilitator. But on another level, it is a pressure for those waiting to get married and their parents because they are gambling with strangers without records. So while some are lucky to find a soul mate aided by technology, for many it has proved to be a nightmare!

Few years ago I was invited as chief guest to a swayamvar organized by a leading marriage bureau in the suburbs. It was an unusual gathering hosted at a seven star hotel. The guests arrived at the allotted time and were led to their seats. There was a separate row for the “could-be-grooms” and a separate one for parents.

The girl was invited on stage and asked to introduce herself. It was a strange feeling because all of them were self conscious and their parents extremely nervous. The exercise went on for an hour. Everybody was relieved when it was over.

During dinner, the guests mingled hesitantly. Only a few exchanged telephone numbers. Some tried chatting up with a promising partner but majority of them remained aloof. I asked the organizer, what made her come up with such an exhibitionist procedure because the men appeared ill at ease and parents complained of exorbitant registration fees.

My hostess was unfazed. “I am a match maker not a destiny maker; my role is to make potential candidates meet not get them married”. She said.

And that is the difference…

The bhrahman who visited our home was accountable for his recommendation, accountable for the suggested family reputation and also for the potential groom or bride. He stood by the family till the couple was engaged and remained committed to the promise till the wedding was completed. He maintained relationship with both the families for ever and ever, servicing generations.

Understandably the bhraman was most important guest at the wedding for both the families.

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