Kaajwali Dinamai

Berjis Desai

Dinamai, a portly, shabby, unkempt widow of 55 slipped in and out of Navsari homes unannounced and with impunity. No house had a doorbell and the front door was always open, except at night. Neighbors watched each others’ visitors and freely asked inquisitive questions ["Gayee kalé baporé Rusi kai aavélo, Piloo (Why did Rusi come last afternoon, Piloo)?”]; not to be curious was considered impolite. Of course, everyone knew the reason for Dinamai’s intrusions. For she was the most successful kaajwali or matchmaker that Navsari had ever known.
She had started her career as a gaayan, literally a singer, but actually a maker of cacophony, who sang the Aatash nu Geet (Song of the fire) on the day preceding a marriage. She opened her mouth so wide and for such long intervals that impish children tossed pomegranate seeds into it. She was also a mean pastry chef who made auspicious day delicacies like varadhwaroon and sadhana (a deep fried crispy cake of sorts and a sour sweet toddy laden crepe). In the bitter Navsari winter, she made vasanoo (a seasonal delicacy) and sold it at a modest price. Until the early 60s, as among the Hindus, after the funeral, professional bawling ladies would cry their hearts out for a rupee. Dinamai excelled in this art too. Tears welled out of her thyroid affected eyes with ease, as she lamented late Sorabji’s not so untimely departure. Unless it was a young death, most mourners found these wailing wenches hilarious and enjoyed the artificial outpouring of contrived grief. While performing these chores, Dinamai’s eagle eye was constantly surveying the young men and women.

  Illustration by Farzana Cooper


Buck teeth Behroze would not mind short Soli; stammering Shera would be acceptable to polio stricken Palan; and dowryless Daisy would make a good wife to clueless Cawas whose father had made a mini fortune by conning people in Burma and retired in haste to Navsari. Dinamai disliked cousin marriages; they ate into her market share. She had an instinctive feel for which matrimonial alliance would work. Divorce was virtually unknown to Navsari but separations were common with a facade of civility maintained at public functions or family occasions. Dinamai regarded it as a slur on her track record if any match arranged by her went wrong. Of course she did it for the money, but she was not a mercenary. Separations caused her anguish.
Like the one which had happened 30 years ago when she was only 25. She had been married at 16 in an arranged match to a much older carpenter husband who doted on his young and vivacious bride. Of course they were poor, very poor, but their marriage was idyllic. Soon they had a son. One April morning, her husband’s finger bled while fixing a long rusty screw; his wife applied turmeric. Next morning, as the sun rose, he ran a high fever. Tetanus got him that night. She did not shed a tear.
Years later, when she became a matchmaker, she mentally profiled prospective brides and grooms. A shrewish mother-in-law with a headstrong daughter-in-law spelt trouble. A compatibility matrix resided in her mind all the time. She did not like clients wanting to match horoscopes, a fairly common requirement in Navsari during those days. Astrologers meant competition. However, even she had to ensure that one of the parties was not Manglik, that is, the aggressive red planet Mars was not in an inimical position in the horoscope, as most of Navsari believed that it portended grave illness or even death to the spouse. If both were Manglik, it mattered not. Post her widowhood, she had her horoscope checked by a friendly astrologer who confirmed that she too was a Manglik.
If a sweet little thing pleaded with her to arrange a match with her object of affection, Dinamai went to great lengths to oblige. Age was no bar to marriage. A 67- year-old bachelor was teamed up with a robust lady in her late forties, prompting some wag to exclaim in the wedding procession: Sés ma batrisi mookich ké (Have dentures been placed in the ceremonial silver tray)? The gentleman died at 91, very happy. Dinamai collected her fees on the morning of the marriage day and blessed the couple. However, she never attended any wedding ever since her 10-year-old son went missing from school, never to return. Some said that a gang of beggars had kidnapped and maimed him. Others that a rich childless Hindu couple had abducted and taken him to Tanzania. Dinamai liked to believe the latter group. Hareshwar Joshi, the favorite astrologer of the Gaekwads of Baroda, as also Navsari Parsis, had predicted that the child would be a very wealthy man in some distant land but of no use to the mother.
Even after she began to earn a decent livelihood from matchmaking, she continued to be a professional bawling lady at Parsi funerals. Not for the 16 annas. It allowed her to cry in public, for tears seldom came in her lonely existence. They were real tears. And that grief was not contrived.

Berjis Desai, author of Oh! Those Parsis and The Bawaji, occasionally practices law.