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Posted at: Jan 7, 2018, 12:37 AM; last updated: Jan 7, 2018, 1:29 AM (IST)BUREAUCRATIC TALES

In search of a suitable match

Maninder Singh
There is this urge to marry for social advancement within a particular group
In search of a suitable match

By Maninder Singh

No women officers were ever recruited for the Indian Civil Service (ICS).  Those distant days of the Empire witnessed the rampant phenomenon of the fishing fleet. These consisted of shoals of young women who sailed from ports in Great Britain, on the great liners of the Peninsular and Oriental, with the sole objective of finding a suitable boy, in the fabled East. Some modern day historians are of the view that the popular version of the fleet is a myth.  Of course, no one ever matched the strike rate of the owner of Harry’s, outside the Academy gates in Mussoorie, to find suitable matches among the ranks of those swelling up the heaven-born service in independent India. 

The matrimonial marketplace is hardly marked by open competition and, much like free market economics, is governed by the ebb and swell of what is perceived to be most market-worthy, according to our own pride and prejudice.

In our days, the bright, ebullient entrepreneurial women of the so-called fishing fleet had vanished, as had the British Empire. Although endogamy perpetuates an unequal society, the urge to marry for preservation of status or social advancement within a particular group is natural. Thus, what we came across were sharp-eyed parents, encamped in the fashionable Savoy Hotel, who came over to the Academy to find ‘meritorious’ matches.  Over the years, as more and more women officers were recruited into the services, matrimonial alliances sprang up within the Academy walls.   

Finding a match

In the 1985 batch, one of the officers had resolved to marry only a fellow lady officer.  Trusting in beginner’s luck, he was the first to assiduously draw up a list of officers, observing them quietly and attempting to strike up conversations.  He was, however, unable to locate one of the ladies, despite rambling all across the Academy, the library, the class rooms and the sports fields, in tandem with a trusted accomplice.  To the great amusement of all, who were in the know of the matrimonial crusade, the elusive lady called Saraswati Prasad, whom he was looking for desperately, turned out to be a male officer, who is now working as an Additional Secretary and Financial Adviser in the Government of India. 

Villain of the piece

Many a time, instead of developing the fortitude to await heaven-made wedlock, officers quickly took matters in their own hands.  A golden-hearted lad of the 1989 batch, unable to develop any forbearance at all, marched bravely up to the lady he had set his sights upon and summed up his pious intentions.  The lady was not convinced and the officer had no option, but to await the lady officer’s change of heart.  While impatiently biding his time, he learnt of another officer having proposed to the same lady.  Thereafter, having determined upon the villain of the piece, he threatened the second suitor of dire and unhappy consequences.  That, as history records, jeopardized his case and cause for all time.  

Marriage & challenges

It was often said by old-timers that one of the first mistakes that some IAS officers make is to marry much above their fledgling status in life. Oftentimes, it took much effort and time for them to sail across the matrimonial challenges that arose as a result.

For those who married other officers, and these were marriages that were celebrated with great fanfare by the batch mates, the results were not always what one expected.   To the utter surprise of so many of us, some of these alliances foundered and floundered over the years, which always evoked great disappointment and regret.  

One of my good friends, who had determined to marry one of our batch mates, came back one evening from leave ---- gloomy, teary-eyed and dejected.  What should have been a happy engagement ceremony had been cancelled at the last minute by the lady officer and her parents, who had decided to go in for another officer in the matrimonial sweepstakes.  The officer took many months to recover from his life-altering experience, never ever being able to comprehend why the matrimonial Gods had dictated so drastic a turn of fortune.

Eventually, the ones who were more successful rode happily into the districts with their spouses.  Those who were spurned or believed themselves to be unlucky, took years to recover.  There was always a fringe group which grew disillusioned and disenchanted and never married until much later in their careers, when their batch mates had already begun to marry off their offspring.  Some developed into the eternal bachelors and bachelorettes, such as Jim Corbett’s famous Bachelor of Powalgarh.

After all the wooing, after all heartbreaks,  after all tear-sodden recordings in mournful diaries, and after all happy endings, and when all the tales were told, on the Academy campus, what one was left with were the memories of some of the happiest days of our lives.   

— The writer is an Assam cadre IAS officer currently on deputation in Chandigarh

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