by Partha Mazumdar
Sharmila lived in Kolkata with her family. After completing her bachelor’s degree in English, she was working with a reputed advertising agency in Kolkata as a trainee copy writer. During her tenure she picked up some new creativity skills and wanted to pursue higher studies. She found the perfect master’s degree course in one of universities in Melbourne. She had saved some money and convinced her father to finance the rest. Melbourne was going to be her first destination outside India, and she was excited but nervous.
She was wowed by tall buildings, fast cars and the windy lanes of Melbourne city. She had taken up accommodation in one of the hostels near her university. The city was very alien to her but one thing that she felt at home with, were the trams. Especially the “city circle trams”, the red coloured old wooden trams that operated just like it was 100 years ago. She could instantly relate to the “Australian” version of Kolkata trams. She was in love. Every evening, after her classes, she would buy a pack of sandwiches and sit in one of the trams and go for a ride. It was free. As days passed, she fell in love with Melbourne but if you ever asked her what her first love was, she would say “city circle trams”.
As time passed, she got busy with studies and assignments. She had moved to the suburbs as accommodation was cheaper there. Her life soon became monotonous and boring. She would occasionally take the “city circle tram” ride before heading home, as if she didn’t want to lose that connection with Kolkata.
“Her life was about to change”
On a summer afternoon, after her classes, Sharmila bought her sandwich, and got in her favourite tram for a ride. She sat on the last seat and was enjoying her sandwich and the view, as the tram rolled on the tracks through Docklands. She didn’t realise that her life was going to change forever. There were two boys, one of them looked like Indian and the other was a white Australian “Blue eyed” boy. They boys were young and handsome. The Indian boy was more interested in his mobile phone and the views outside whereas the white boy was more interested in Sharmila. She was a bit shy and felt uncomfortable as “the blue eyed boy” was staring at her at times. On a couple of occasions, their eyes did meet “nope I shouldn’t do this” she thought. As Melbourne Central approached, she stood up to get out of the tram. The two boys stood up too. They started following her, she was a bit disturbed and started walking fast. She also thought about talking to the two police officers at Melbourne Central Station. But then she thought maybe it was just her mind. As she was walking into the platform, the two boys were right in front of her, as if waiting for Sharmila. The white boy walked up to her and said “Hi, my name is Sam, are you new in this city?” She wanted to avoid the boys, but the platform was crowded. She hesitatingly said “yes”. Then she looked here and there trying to ignore the boys. The boy asked politely again “Are you Bengali”? She was taken back. How on earth could a white boy guess it so right? She asked, “why do you want to know?” and the boy smiled back as if he was sure of her being a Bengali. She boarded the train and left.
This was going to be her first Durga Pujo, away from Kolkata. She waited for a long time to meet “Ma Durga” in Melbourne. Pujo is generally celebrated during the weekends in Melbourne. She and one her friend decided to visit the puja mandap on the first day of celebration. Dressed in a cotton saree, she and her friend, reached the Puja mandap (Hall). She offered her pushpanjali and stood in the line for Prasad.
She was in for a big surprise – standing on the other side of the puja hall were two familiar faces. The two boys she met during one of her “Melbourne tram rides”. The first question that came to her mind “What are they doing here? Have they been following me”?
The boys slowly walked up to her and introduced themselves – “I am Sam and I am Rajeev”.
Her brain was working overtime “Hmm one is a white Australian and the other a north Indian” and she was trying to reason out as to why would they be at Durga Pujo Hall. Sam had a bright smile on his face as if saying – “I knew you are a Bengali”.
The two boys also offered pushpanjali (floral offering to Goddess) and had “bhog (food offering)” with as much bhakti (sincerity) as any other Bengali. As the whole Pujo function was about to end for the day, Sam asked “will you be coming tomorrow?” to which Sharmila replied “am not sure, let’s see”.
“OK but we are coming” said Sam.
They got friendly and started talking more freely. As they were about to leave the Pujo Hall, Sam asked Sharmila if she wanted to visit his house or maybe have a dinner with him someday. Sharmila was shy but intelligent, she knew exactly where the conversation was heading.
Sharmila commented “I come from a very traditional Bengali family, my parents will never allow me” and without waiting for a reply she walked away.
Sharmila’s friend thought she was overreacting, Sharmila sort of agreed. They decided to go to the Pujo Hall the next day.
As expected, Sam and Rajeev were at the Pujo. While having Prasad after pushpanjali, Sam gathered enough courage to talk to Sharmila “well last night… hmmm. I didn’t mean to offend you in any way”. Sharmila replied “Listen, you are very nice person, but my mother will be very angry if she comes to know that I have gone out with a white Australian, so before you say anything else … I am sorry!”. Sam stood smiling as Rajeev jumped in “So you are saying that you would only go out with a Bengali boy?” Sharmila thought that was the best opportunity to set things clear and get rid of the two boys, with a bold voice she replied, “Yes of course, I am 100% Bengali”. Sam asked, “Would you go out with me if I were Bengali?” She felt that she won the argument and replied, “Yes I would”.
Sam said, “One minute, don’t go anywhere, I got to make a phone call”.
She didn’t realise that she just made the biggest mistake of her life. She walked into a well camouflaged trap.
Sharmila was puzzled. Sam made a call “Ma… tomar jonno bangali bou peye gechi, see you soon” (Ma I got a Bengali daughter-in-law for you). Sharmila was shocked to hear Sam speak Bangla.
Sam came close to Sharmila, bowed before her “Amar nam Samar …. Samar Sarkar, (My name is Samar Sarkar), now your mother shouldn’t have any problems”.
Sharmila was puzzled, startled and confused, her confidence was shattered, she asked her friend “Can you get me a chair and a bottle of water please”. She asked, “But I thought you were a white Australian”, Sam replied “my dad came to Australia to do his masters 30 years ago, fell in love with my mom and got married. She is a white Australian, I took up all my mother’s traits. I look more like her”.
“But have you been following me? Why me?” asked Sharmila. “My mom had challenged me to find a Bengali girl…then I met you in the city circle tram and I knew you were the one. Since then, I have been wanting to talk to you. Its destiny, we had to meet again in front of Ma Durga at the mandap. I knew you were the girl. So, when do you want to meet my mother?” replied Sam.
“But you didn’t answer my question, have you been following me?” asked Sharmila. “No, I have not. But something deep inside was telling me that if you were a Bengali, you would come to Durga Puja. Smart, aren’t I?” replied Sam and they both laughed.
Sam and Sharmila spent the evening sitting next to each other watching all the cultural programs. They also had bhog at night. The night was slowly coming to an end and they had to depart. “I had a lovely time here” Sam said, to which Sharmila agreed with a nod. As they were parting for the night Sharmila was about to walk out of the Pujo hall, she turned around to see what Sam was doing, there was Sam standing with a smile on his face, Sharmila shouted “Call me next week, I am free” to which Sam replied “Of course I will” and the Pujo Hall door closed behind her.
Rajeev whispered, “Have you got her mobile no”, Oops exclaimed Sam, he ran out and Sharmila was standing there, as if she was expecting that to happen. She took out a piece of paper from her bag and wrote something “Here you go”. Sam was ecstatic.
Sam called her next week and asked her if she wanted to go out for a dinner. “Where do you want to go?” asked Sharmila, “I am still thinking. Are you free on Friday night?” Sam enquired, to which Sharmila said “I am free”.
Sam knew exactly where he wanted to take Sharmila for their first dinner. Shamila was getting inquisitive about where they would go for their first dinner and texted Sam a couple of time, Sam kind of avoided that question. On Friday, Sam called Sharmila and asked her to meet him at the Crown Casino entrance at the Spencer Street side at 5pm.
“The first Dinner Date”
Sharmila hadn’t been to the casino and was excited. She came a few minutes early and was waiting. Sam came exactly at 5. “Hello, good to see you Sharmila” Sam said, “you look gorgeous in your lavender suit”.
“Thanks, Let’s go I am hungry!!” said Sharmila.
Sharmila held Sam’s hand and turned around to enter the Crown Casino. “Wait – We are not going in the casino”,
“Then?” Sharmila asked.
Sam held Sharmila’s hand and said, “Come with me”. They walked along the tram lines and reached the tram stop #125 on Normanby Road. Before Sharmila could say a single word, Sam said, “trust me you will love it”. Sharmila smiled, she had started to trust Sam. After some time there came her favourite red colour tram.
Sam said, “We are taking that tram”. It looked like a tram, but it was lot more than just a tram. “You first”.
As Sharmila walked in, it all became clear to Sharmila, they were going to have the best romantic dinner of their lifetime. They were going to have dinner in “The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant”. Sharmila pointed her finger out of the window at the Crown and said, “I so wanted to go inside.”
Sam replied, “leave it with me” and the conversation continued. Sharmila enjoyed every moment that evening. Sam did wow her and made his intentions clear.
A couple of days later Sam called Sharmila and asked if she was free on the following Saturdays, to which Sharmila replied with a big yes. She woke up early on the Saturday and called “Hi Sam, when and where are we meeting” to which Sam replied, “Same as last time”.
They met outside Crown Casino at 5pm and held hands as they walked through the magical front entrance of Crown Casino. She was awed with the opulence, action, and clanking sound of falling coins in “Coin tray” of the poker machines. This was their first time in Crown. They tried their hand at the poker machines but soon realised that the poker machines were luckier.
“I have a surprise for you, let’s go”, said Sam. Sharmila smiled “OK”. They both walked into the lift and Sam said, “Close your eyes and don’t open it until I tell you”, she had started to like Sam’s surprises and she obliged.
“Okay, open” Sam said. “We are at the 28 Skybar Lounge”.
Sharmila looked around, she was ecstatic. She could see the Melbourne City lights from the 28th floor of the Crown Casino. They sat next to wall to ceiling glass windows enjoying the city views and the sun set. They were loving each other’s company and Sam’s favourite Champagne. Time just flew.
As time passed, they met over coffee, lunch and tea on numerous occasions. They were happy, comfortable and their bond was getting stronger with every time they met.
One a sunny Saturday morning, Sam called Sharmila and asked if she could meet him in the city for a day out. “OK no problems” replied Sharmila. “Meet me outside Flinders Street station on Swanston Street” said Sam.
As Sharmila was coming out of the station, she saw a big crowd of gorgeously dressed men and woman at the Federation Square.
“Wow what’s happening there” asked Sharmila. Sam held her hand and said, “Let’s go”.
It was the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. Wow what a surprise. They met a few renowned cinema artists from Bollywood, had a few selfies with them. They were enjoying each other’s company, as much as, the stage performances.
They also visited the National Gallery of Victoria. Sam bought her a gorgeous hand painted scarf by a renowned Aboriginal artist.
They came out of the event and started to walk hand in hand along the Yarra River.
“So romantic, isn’t it? It’s just like walking along the Ganga.” said Sharmila.
Sam nodded in agreement.
Everything was going very well. Sam knew she wouldn’t say “no” but still he wanted to hear it from Sharmila.
“I have been waiting to ask you something, Sharmila… We have been meeting each other for some time… and… ”
“And I think I am in love,” said Sam.
So, what do you want me to do?” asked Sharmila
“All I want you to do is say, yes.”
“But what’s the question?”
Sam bent down on his knees, held Sharmila’s hand and said, “Will you marry me?”
Sharmila cried with joy, happiness and excitement. Sam stood up, took Sharmila in her arms and they kissed. It was the sweetest feeling ever, a feeling of love and togetherness.
Sam wanted to celebrate. Right opposite Flinders Street station was the Historic Chloe’s Pub at the Young and Jackson Hotel. They walked in and were lucky to get a table. As they ordered their favourite drink, Sharmila commented turning her head “wow that’s a sexy looking lady”.
Sam turned around smiled back and said “ Oh, She is Chloe – the famous nude portrait. It has adorned the walls of this hotel since 1909”.
“Wow, amazing” said Sharmila. “You know it’s valued at $5million” said Sam.
Sharmila with a wink replied, “I know why”. They both laughed.
Somewhere deep inside Sharmila was happy but worried at the same time.
Sam was training to be a chef and had recently joined a Michelin star restaurant as an apprentice. The thought of Sam being a chef always bothered her. Would her parents accept a chef as their jamai (son-in-law)? To be a good son-in-law in a Bengali family, you had to be an engineer or a doctor or an accountant. Sharmila’s parents were very traditional. Sharmila met Sam’s family a couple of times and became friendly. While having a conversation, Sam’s mom suggested that Sharmila should invite her parents over, on the pretext of having a holiday in Australia and leave the rest to her.
Sharmila convinced her parents to visit her in Melbourne during her holidays. It was late October, Sharmila’s parents were visiting her. Late evening, the flight from Singapore landed at Tullamarine Airport. They were excited and emotional as they were about to see their daughter after a year. They had lots to talk about and they had lots of gifts for her.
Sharmila was waiting at the Arrival lounge.
After clearing all formalities with immigration and customs, Sharmila’s parents walked out the door. The door opened to a big hall with lots people waiting.
“Ma” shouted Sharmila,
“There she is” shouted her father.
As the family met, Sharmila’s mother noticed a tall “white lady” gorgeously dressed in a “Murshidabad silk saree” walking towards her smiling. She came to Sharmila’s mother and introduced herself in Bengali “Namashkar, ami Michelle, apnader dekhke khoob bhalo laglo” (Namashkar, I am Michelle, very happy to see you). Standing next to her was a handsome blue eyed boy.
Sharmila’s mom asked “Apnake to chinlam na?” (I didn’t recognise you).
“Let’s go. and the journey begins, cholo chlo (go go )” Sharmila interrupted.
Sharmila’s parents were tense and they followed Sharmila towards the car park. Michelle dropped them at Sharmila’s house and went home. Sharmila was trying really hard to make things easy and bring down the tension.
Her parents were quiet, as if there was a void somewhere and Sharmila was trying hard to fill up that void by sharing all her experiences and achievements in Melbourne.
That night Sharmila’s parents went to bed with a heavy heart. Next morning, everything wasn’t normal. There was calmness, tension in the house. Her mother asked Sharmila about who they were and why were they associating themselves with her? It is not that they couldn’t understand what was going on, it was just that they wanted to hear it out of Sharmila’s mouth. “Ma, Can you please wait for one day, it will all be clear tomorrow”.
“What do you mean?” asked her mother.
“We will all go out for lunch tomorrow to a very nice place” Sharmila replied.
She being their only child, they were just following her, agreeing with her.
The most important thing was Sharmila looked very happy.
“The Families met”
Next morning, Sharmila called an Uber and the destination was “Werribee Mansion Hotel”. It was a cool sunny morning and after a long drive they reached the entrance of the mansion lawns where they met Sam and his parents. They all headed for the restaurant, a big table for six were already booked by Sam’s father. By now, Sharmila’s parents were 100% sure of what was to come. They were just eagerly waiting for the announcement.
Sam’s dad started the conversation “Ami Sam er Baba…Bujhtei to parchen…(I am Sam’s dad. Hope you understand)” and everybody nodded in agreement. Sharmila’s mother knew exactly what was happening. Sharmila’s parents introduced themselves – “ami Reba … ar amar nam Rudra (I am Reba and my name is Rudra)”.
Sharmila’s mother thought of coming straight to the point rather than going around in circles, she asked “What does Sam do? I mean as a profession.” Sharmila dreaded this question and was worried about how her parents would take the answer, he was neither an Engineer nor a Doctor…
Sam took charge, he replied with confidence “I am a trained chef, completed by 3 year course and now I am an apprentice. After I finish my apprentice, I want to open up my own Bengali fusion restaurant in Melbourne.” Then there was a big silence. Everybody was waiting for a reaction.
After a big pause Sharmila’s mother said “Really? Do you want to open a Bengali restaurant? It has always been my dream?” There was a sigh of relief, everybody laughed. Sharmila said “My mother is the best chef in Kolkata – that is my claim. If you want, you can do apprenticeship under her” and everybody laughed. “OMG you could be my business partner” exclaimed Sam. Everybody had a hearty time, talked openly, shared all family stories. Everybody was comfortable and Sharmila was the happiest girl in the world.
“Before we go home today, I have two questions to ask – one for Sam and Sharmila and the other for you Mr and Mrs Sarkar” said Sharmila’s mother. “Sharmila and Sam, are you two really serious?” … jointly “Yes” came the answer, she continued “Now that our kids are serious, I would like to see them engaged before we head back to Kolkata”.
Mr and Mrs Sarkar looked at each other and nodded with agreement.
“I love it here, look at the lush gardens and the building looks very Royal, Mr Sarker” said Sharmila’s dad, “if possible, I would like the party to be organised here – at the beautiful Werribee mansions. I want your help. What do you think?”
“Yes sure” replied Mr Sarkar. Everybody was happy and they ordered a Champagne to celebrate the occasion. Happy but tired, it was time to head back home. Shamila was smiling all the way home.
“Wedding with a condition”
Her dad had the deepest and the most comfortable sleep in his life, that night. But her mother, well she had a sleepless night. The next morning, she looked tired, as if not happy with something. She looked as if she had something to say.
“Ma, Ki holo? (Ma, what happened?)” asked Sharmila.
“I don’t know, if I should say this or not” and there was a big pause and
“You know, I had always dreamt of opening up my own Bengali restaurant and your dad was never interested, so it never happened” said Sharmila’s mother.
“So, what now Ma?” asked Sharmila,
“I want to have a talk with Sam now” said her mother. Sharmila was worried and she dialled Sam’s number,
“Hello Sharmila” Sam said,
Sharmila responded “Sam, my mother wants to talk to you”
“Sure” said Sam
Sharmila’s mom took the phone and said “Sam, can you please put the phone on speaker and is your mom and dad nearby. I want to say something” After a short pause, she continued “I have one condition for this marriage” everybody was surprised.
Sam’s father said, “what is it”. Her mother continued “Sam has to promise me that when he opens up his restaurant, he will make me a partner and give me a chance to cook in his restaurant”
Sharmila was very embarrassed at her mother’s demand, but Sam and his dad were very happy and relieved. They both shouted, “YES YES” and everybody laughed.
“Well I have one question” Sam’s dad asked. “What is it Mr Sarkar?” replied Sharmila’s mother. “Now it seems like you have been planning for the restaurant for years, have you thought of a name for the restaurant?”
“yes, I have thought of a name too – Mrinmoyee”.
That was just the beginning
Partha Mazumdar (Economic commentator and start-up entrepreneur, VIC) lives in Melbourne with his family. He was born in Kolkata and brought up in Delhi. After completing his BSc and Post- Graduation in Computer Applications, he joined a reputed a reputed software company in 1991 as programmer. He didn’t like the concept of sitting on a computer all day and coding. So he joined in Presales. His passion has always been finance and economics. Even though he wasn’t trained in finance but he knew “finance and economics” deep in his heart. He later joined a reputed Indian group as a MIS Officer. He got exposure to Project Management, Finance modelling and Analysis. After 3 years he joined a reputed Merchant Banking company and then worked for a bank. He never stopped thinking about creating his own venture.
He migrated to Australia to do his MBA at Monash University.
He started his working career in Australia as Consultant in a start-up in 2001, the dot com boom period. After the market crash in the early 2000, he joined one of the major banks as a clerk and worked his way through to securing an leadership Performance / analytics role in the “internet and Voice channel” of the Bank.
Even though working for the Bank, he never stopped thinking about creating his own venture. Last year, he floated a unique concept, he wanted to revolutionise the way people bought and sold house / business. He designed it and outsourced his software development to a small software development company in Kolkata. He is currently working on the start-up and writes on various current economic and political topics.