The Demure, Coy Bengali Femme Fatale

The Case of the Demure Defendant, a Perry Maso...Image via Wikipedia

Demure and coy are essential attributes drilled into Madhusree, Priya, Tuktuki, Khuki and most others of their genre. It is also made amply clear that any Bengali female who grows up without believing in and practising those attributes does not have a hope in hell of eventually being called a 'Bhodromohila' (gentlewoman). Since, to most, that is a fate barely a couple of notches higher than spending the rest of your life in purgatory, very few dare to step outside the out-of-bounds markers firmly etched out by parents or guardians.

Starting with vital tips imparted at strategic times by Ma dearest, the Bengali girl, before she even assumes the contours and dimensions of the femme fatale, has her do's and don'ts all laid down and cut out for her. There are some which are classical and handed down from one generation to another. There are others which are situation and location specific and undergo dynamic alterations.

I recall reading a few Perry Mason novellas in my early teens. While the demure defendant depicted by Erle Stanley Gardner would be considered bold, brash and sassy by the archetypal middle-class Bengali household, demure and coy have always been the classical and must-have attributes of the 'Bongo-Lolonaa' (Bengali lady) down the ages.
The typical teenage femme fatale

In most cases, the classical Bengali teenage female is supposed to wilt under a variety of conditions and hence she needs to be guarded and protected by various people round the clock. She is also supposed to be under constant scrutiny by Lotharios and potential rapists who prowl the streets in their dozens at all hours of the day and night. Ergo, while she may be dressed to the nines on occasions, she will certainly not be dressed to kill if her guardians can help it. Britney Spears and Lady Gaga are aberrations from an alien world and the parents, relatives and teachers of teenage femme fatales will do their utmost to obliterate any lingering fascinations about such personalities from their ward's mind. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to know that it was after all a Bengali, who, in a desperate bid to ward off her teenage female ward's growing interest in Lady Gaga, floated the rumour about her being a hermaphrodite [Link ].

While the teenage femme fatale may date uncouth male teenagers, it is best that she does so discreetly, away from the prying eyes of humans, beasts and specially the creatures collectively branded as relatives. The parents and guardians of this teenage flower do realize that it may be downright foolhardy to even attempt to shut out affairs of the heart. Nonetheless, as a preventive measure, the teenager is groomed from an early age to believe in the virtues of coyness and abstinence even if the flesh may be understandably weak at times. Should matters take a serious turn at any stage, the femme fatale is conditioned to believe from a very early age that it is virtually essential to obtain parental approval before indulging her instinctive feelings or paying heed to the murmurings of her heart in any way. The parents of course reserve the right to launch a full-scale investigation into the family antecedents of the hapless male who may be smitten by the charms of the young lady in question. Then of course, there is the difficult and complicated task of estimating and projecting accurately the future prospects ('bhobishyot') - almost invariably material - of the anxious male who aspires to wed his girlfriend at a future date. The desired union is usually blessed after such projections have returned heartening results. The approval is not an automatic process by any chance and there are times when the male suitor has to work really hard at obtaining it eventually. There can be several twists in the tale though and, on occasions, accompanied by much head-shaking and disapproving clucking of tongues by family members and relatives, the femme fatale does tie the knot without obtaining prior parental approval[ Link ].  At the other end of the spectrum are arranged marriages which happen either through 'references' or at the end of a search process made easy by the avalanche of conventional matrimonial classifieds appearing daily in the conventional media and the specifications listed in the very many online portals catering to the same need.
The femme fatale as bride

Once the femme fatale is married, she is expected to deliberately scale down any oomph factor or sex appeal she may have had in her carefree premarital days. As far as the parents are concerned, the institution of marriage is one which truly adheres to the classical dictum of 'till death do us part' and hence the scaling-down mentioned is to keep at bay those potential rapists and molesters who otherwise may still be harbouring lustful thoughts about the now out-of-bounds femme fatale. It is also to nip in the bud the potential for extramarital affairs of any kind [ Link ].

Meryl Streep
Thus conditioned, the femme fatale turned dutiful wife often loses any aspiration she may have harboured in her earlier years of gracefully ageing like Meryl Streep. The Bengali diet and the general antipathy towards physical exercises  of any kind also puts paid to her steadily dwindling hopes of continuing to remain svelte and lissome as the years roll by. The transformation, though gradual, is radical by the time it reaches the end of its cycle which, in most cases, happens some years after the arrival of the second-born progeny. The 300 lb. aunty ('mashima' ) who is often seen steaming down the street, much like the Battleship Potemkin, en route to the neighbourhood provision store or the wet market, bears little or no resemblance to the femme fatale of yesteryears. The metamorphosis is complete[ Link ].
Battleship Potemkin

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