AS Sub-Divisional Police Officer of Madhepura in north Bihar, I was required to frequently visit police stations in the area. I reached one of these, in Kishanganj, on a wintry evening in 1974. I was received by SHO Dhaneshwar Singh and the cook-cum-chowkidar of the dak bungalow in which I was to stay. I directed the cook to serve dinner at nine and bring bed tea at seven the next morning. I then got down to discuss matters relating to the thana with the SHO.
The SHO started with a request: ‘Please, sir, you should always ask for chai, never for bed tea. We had a riot here last year, involving villagers of Kishanganj and members of a baraat that had come from Patna. The baraat was put up in a dharamshala, and the bride’s relatives attended to every wish of the guests. The father and brother of the bride took it upon themselves to look after the groom.’
The SHO then told me that despite the good arrangements made by the bride’s family, a quarrel broke out between the hosts and the guests the next morning, with the two groups attacking each other with sticks and stones. In the brawl, many persons were injured. He reached the spot along with a few constables and separated the warring groups, but both sides continued shouting and screaming. The bride’s family accused the groom’s kin of insulting them, while the baraatis maintained that they had never uttered an impolite word. The bride’s father declared that he could not bring himself to even repeat the offensive demand made by the groom. It was then discovered that the groom was missing, and his family accused the girl’s relatives of kidnapping him.
To defuse the tension, finding the groom was the first priority. After a brief search, he was found hiding in a muddy pond nearby. With great difficulty, the Sub-Inspector got both parties to talk, and it was learnt that the father of the bride flew into a rage when the groom asked him to send his daughter to his room. The father alleged that the boy had insisted several times that the girl be sent to him, even though the wedding was to take place only in the evening. The groom stoutly denied that he had ever made any such demand.
‘What does all this have to do with my asking for bed tea?’ I asked. ‘That is just the point, sir,’ said the SHO. ‘The boy never demanded that the bride should be sent to his room. All that the city-bred groom had said was “Bed tea lao”, and when the hosts did not oblige, he kept repeating, “Bed tea lao!” The misunderstanding arose because the girl’s father thought that the boy was saying “Beti lao!” That is why, sir, I urge you to only ask for chai when you visit small towns.’
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