Drove down to Durgapur (West Bengal) this afternoon - braving the rain and an upset tummy - to attend the wedding reception of a business associate's daughter.
I was quite awe-struck by the size and scale of the function - haven't attended a "Bengali wedding" (if there is such a term) like this even in Calcutta.
Obviously, it was 'new money' (in Bengali what we refer to as "kaccha poyesha" - literally, raw wealth) on display. But, for me it was a lesson in socio-cultural change that seemed to have swept the society in this intervening years that I have been away from Bengal. Bollywood and TV Serials have been the great unifier in this country.
The event itself must have been outsourced to a professional wedding-planner (didn't know that - we had them in Bengal, let alone in a small town like Durgapur). At the entrance - instead of traditional reception by the host family - there was a "helpdesk". Announcements over a public address system - was directing the traffic and guiding the drivers to the parking lot. There were over 3,000 guests. Needless to say the food was lavish. Apart from the main dining area - there was a "mela" kind of tent outside - with stalls for "chaat" (Phuchkas), rabdi-jalebi, coffee and ice-creams etc. There was an open bar (unthinkable till some years ago). A live musical performance was on - compered by a female MC, right across the stage where the bride was sitting. Clowns were walking through the crowd - entertaining the kids.
But, the ultimate was a Barber Shop and a Beauty Parlour for interested guests. Couldn't take a peek into the salon - but found the chaueffeurs were making good use of it - getting a shave or a head-massage.
So, it isn't as if there's no money left in West Bengal. But, wealth seems to have flown in a different direction. While industry has died a slow death and there has been a flight of capital from the state - it is the contractors, transporters, wheeler-dealers and political middle-men who have made it rich.
There's another strange breed of organisations - which have mushroomed in recent years. Some of these companies' have a mind-boggling range of businesses - from cement and steel, to food products, cosmetics and personal care products (soaps, shampoos and toothpastes), education and even tourism (Read article here) . Their source of funding is anybody's guess and theories abound from them being cover operations for politicians' monies to chit funds and ponzi schemes. One will probably never know the truth - but veryone seems to think that - the bubble will burst soon - like the great "Sanchaita" scandal of the 70s.
Till then - the newspapers and TV Channels (some of them fronts in their own rights) can make hay - as many of them are big advertisers while they last.
At the risk of sounding shamelessly parochial, I must admit - I came back to the hotel with a mild perverted sense of satisfaction that, at least in this case - the owner of the wealth was an ordinary uneducated Bengali. A rare specimen indeed !!
Post-script: It would be an unfair commentary if I didn't acknowledge, the main dinner selection was excellent. One of the best Pabda-maach I had in a long-time. The Iilish -tho' not exactly the "barsha" (peak monsoon) variety was good too and so was the Fish-Roll. Simple dessert of Rasogalla, Pantua and Kacha-golla. Wrapped up with a nice paan (from one of the stalls on the way out) - it was a satisfying meal indeed. And, most importantly, the hospitality of the bride's father - dressed in a simple white-turned-yellow shirt (his usual daily work attire) was genuinely warm.