I am not into putting up longish post, at the same time, I wouldn’t be writing this article had I not overheard a mobile conversation on the Metro by chance. The girl was newly married (could make out from the chuda adorning her wrists) and complaining to her husband who was presumably settled abroad. She sounded terribly upset and on the verge of tears. From the fragments of conversation the picture that I pieced together was like this: –

Just a month had passed after her marriage that she realized an ever-widening chasm segregated her from the rest of the family. Her in-laws treated her more like a surrogate housemaid than their loving daughter-in-law. Her parents were being openly abused for not satisfying her mom-in-law’s insatiable thirst for dowry. While her daily routine predominantly consisted of taking care of the house and the family and entertaining the stream of guests that seemed to be continuously invading the household, her brother’s maiden visit to the house was singled out as a trespass on her in-law’s peace of mind and comfort. She complained of a caged, claustrophobic existence deprived of basic human rights like watching the TV and reading the morning newspaper. Obviously, she was a working woman – a lecturer doing her Phd. However, relegated to being the kitchen maid, her academic career was in doldrums. “I am so engrossed in preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner that I don’t even know who has become the President of India! What am I going to teach my students?” sniffed she.

A pitiable situation, perhaps a little over-the-top but here there is something which is worth a bit more attention than a mere passing thought.

In the Indian society, marriage is just not the boy meeting the girl and falling in love resulting in a mutually agreed ceremonial bonding. In India we “marry into a family“, especially for the girl, which has a larger social connotation that of “getting accepted by the family“. The boy is equally “married into a family”, however, by virtue of an age-old male dominated system, is able to retain an aura of exclusivity. Remember, he is the damaad of the family. No wonder, in certain parts of the country, the son-in-law is addressed as “Mehmanji” – a chosen invitee. Definitely, his stature is quite different from that of the girl.

However, the all-embracing family and the all-acquiesent daughter-in-law are both rarities.

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As per the existing scheme of things, a professionally qualified, five-digit-salaried groom looks for an equally qualified and earning bride. However, as soon as she is married and crosses over the threshold of her new home, familial demands take a 360 degree turn. Now, the newly wed girl is expected to do a double shift – be the ever-smiling scullery maid plus earn a modest income to add to the growing “wellness” of her new family.

It’s a common crib that the modern, well-educated girls do not care two hoots for their aged in-laws and won’t blink twice before walking out on them if need be. On the other hand, is it fair to confine a girl of fine intellect, brought up by her parents, in love and care, to culinary bondage?

Well, when I first overheard the conversation I was all sympathy for the girl. After a while mulling over the incident the skeptic in me suggested that the complaint was just a precursor to shirking off familial responsibilities. Repeated cogitation enabled varied interpretations of a casual incident.

Had it been the case of the bahu-of-substance who after finishing all her daily chores still makes time to complete her thesis and empower herself additionally in the dead of the night with a touch of smile on her quivering lips, an inspirational saga of tear and toil would have been in the making, drawing a lot of ‘aahs’ and ‘oohs’ from certain quarters who are given to looking for stereotypes – the superwoman so aptly portrayed on celluloid of the 60’s and the 70’s or so lovingly sketched in the novels of yester-year classical writers like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. However, the girl in question is just an ordinary mortal (and thankfully not a happy masochist) who is enlightened enough to protest when the fundamentals/preconditions of good living are infringed upon.

With the advent of the nuclear family and change in urban attitude towards the girl-child, the upbringing of the daughter is not restricted to cooking, sewing, tending to the hearth alone – a twenty four hour unpaid service, highly underrated but in actuality equally laborious and tough as any other paid assignment. Rather all her energies, prior to being married, is channelized towards her overall personal growth – physical, mental, intellectual, professional, which is rather a pity, because in the whole process, the basics of homemaking, one of the rudimentary disciplines in a girl’s educational curriculum, somewhere get overlooked or shelved, thereby increasing an over-dependence on the housemaid in later parts of her/post marital life.

The clash begins when she is married off into a family with a diametrically opposite cultural ethos where the ma-in-law suffers from the typical saans bhi kabhi bahu thee syndrome and is in a perpetually retaliatory mode or has a cerebral hitch in sharing her son with his wife or cannot think of the slightest change/modification/adjustment in her established order because she has all along been a hands-on mama or bahu.

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On the other hand, the girl of earlier times, who was equally discriminated against in her parent’s as well as her in-laws’, succumbed to her taken-for-granted status easily. Being replaced by the informed and aware jeans-clad crop, relational equations require an immediate re-hash. Mindsets fear that a tee-shirt sporting bahu may not be readily acquiesant to the aged parents-in-law. On the other hand, the new-age girls have a predisposition to snub off the saans, on minimal pretexts, whether the latter be tyrants or tender-hearted. Rifts widen when the buck full of progressive thought stops at the daughter’s door while the daughter-in-law is treated as the ET from outer space. Prejudices are rampant in both the camps. Sorting out the muck, therefore, is imperative, for both.

However, there is no denial to the fact that the womenfolk are the ultimate homemakers, a role entrusted upon them by society because somewhere down the line, perhaps in the primordial state of nature, the Eve of the clan was decidedly drawn to this activity by virtue of a natural instinct or acumen which lent her greater suitability/susceptibility towards the job.  However, in whichever way they have been doing it or do it, is entirely their perspective and decision.

saas-vs-bahu-cartoon

It is also the most intimidating act that marriage entails – the cross-over from one homestead to the other – leaving behind one’s comfort zone and getting acclimatized to a foreign weather – the going gets rougher when one is not guaranteed a well-defined induction period. In this whole rigmarole, at times non-issues become issues, for example, whether pajamas or shorts will be allowed at the in-laws’ or not. Without venturing into a fresher debate, I will say that a happy family is the one which permits a steady growth of its members. Thus, it necessitates that each member of the family, especially the newest entrant, be mentally as well as physically happy and content, in order to contribute generously to the well-being of the family. A certain amount of freedom, a certain amount of let going and certain adherence to the lakshmanrekha,  go hand in hand, to perfect the familial bond – weren’t we all brought up that way?

Duty entails right and vice versa. Agreed. But when we lay the onus of endorsement on the daughter-in-law, we must understand that she is a newcomer much in requirement of a gestation period to be one of us. Also, the higher the model more is the price paid – sorry to use the metaphor. But the truth is when we bring in an engineer or a doctor bahu we cannot expect her to be in the housekeeper’s shoes all the time. However, the conventional role-playing is not entirely precluded as a rule.

Somewhere Aristotle’s Golden Mean is to be grabbed – a point of intersection where one can sit and talk amiably , respect viewpoints even if they are opposed to preconceived notions, be patient with each other, amicably resolve discords and assess if due weightage has been given to all. And this goes for both – the saans as well as the bahu.

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About gc1963

A working woman with interests in reading, writing, music, poetry and fine arts.

24 responses »

  1. Fayaz Pasha says:

    Good Post. It only makes me sad that the drama continues to haunt every house from REEL life to REAL life.

    You may find similar lines on my post ” Free Classifieds” and look forward to having your valuable comments.

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  2. we often say – before getting married you need to ask yourself whether you will be able to spend the entire life with that person. but in such cases, one has to see (applicable only for girls) whether she will be able to spend the entire life with her husband and his family members. here marriage doesn’t necessarily mean a bond with an individual.

    i personally don’t like parents-in-law drawing lines for the bahu using terms like ‘agreeable’ or ‘acceptable.’ everything is ‘agreeable’ and ‘acceptable’ (unless she is brandishing a knife at everyone or something similar to that)

    i find it preposterous when husband or parents-in-law decide what kind of attire bahu should wear.

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    • Deb! I thought I was heading for brickbats, especially from my female friends/readers, when I put up this post. But its a pleasant surprise to find such spontaneous comments from Mr. Pasha and then you. These comments bring a smile on my lips and an unshakable belief that there is still hope. Thanks for your voluntary appearance and contribution.

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  3. vimalaramu says:

    A very unbiased analysis which only an unmarried person who is out of it or a person who can rise above these things can take. It is a pity that many brides and mothers-in law do not realise that this is a short passing phase which changes after a couple of years. But the tragedy is that the trauma carries on for quite some time and gets transferred some times to the next generation.

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  4. Vimala, honestly, I thought I did not qualify to write this post being single. But thanks…you have put my indecision to rest!

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  5. Though I agree to most of the things asserted by you but only one thing is universal in this article – women are the ultimate homemakers. Else nothing is universal (even in the context of India). Though you are elder to me and possess more experience of life than me, let me say it loud and clear that the number of exceptions are no less than the number as per the (deemed) rule or practice. We perceive the things through stereotypes but the biggest lesson that I have learnt through my life that it takes all kinds of people to make this world and situations vary from case to case. Generalizing might have been appropriate a few decades back but as I have seen the (Indian) society and the (Indian) people, generalizing is misleading and risky. Sometimes, by generalizing the things, we deceive none else but ourselves only.

    Jitendra Mathur

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  6. The only thing I mean to say that the things stated in the article apply to some but not to all. And the evidences quite contrary to them as well as the common notions about married women, married life, daughters-in-law, mothers-in-law and the like wise may prove to be untrue (or uncorroborated) in several cases. What we may think and feel as true may actually be true for some cases only, not for all and even not for a majority of them. The variety to too much to frame general opinions about daughters-in-law, married life and households.

    Jitendra

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    • gc1963 says:

      Well, yes I kind of understand a little what you mean to say i.e. every household has a different story to tell. Saans-Bahu equation may not necessarily be a Ghar Ghar Kii Kahani as it is deemed or portrayed to be. The relational dialectics may be having layers to it changing from hearth to hearth.

      Yes, it does; at the same time, the blog is an attempt to analyze both the camps – their perceptions and prejudices, their expectations and limits, their hang-ups and their hide-outs, without being subjective and judgmental. Moreover, its a spectator’s viewpoint – an outsider – who is not cramped into a claustrophobic corner pushed by in-laws, hounded by society and at the same time placated by the poor husband who has to ‘maintain’ balance in this lopsided conflict. 🙂

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  7. Nuggehalli Pankaja says:

    It is a powerful subject that you have taken,one which I would not dare to, for it has many
    angles which calls for a psychologist to analyse. It is a perennial problem modified time to time, according to circumstances; The onus of adjusting falls mainly on the
    daughter-in-law’s shoulders since it is she who goes to the new house ; That family cannot be expected to toe the line of all incoming newcomers; But they should create affection in her by recognizing her as their own, and treating her with respect. It will pay in the long run. In the first few years it is the mother-in-law who rules the roost, but
    it is the daughter-in-law who gains the upper-hand later on. If the mother-in-law understands this,and deal with the girl tactfully, the rest will follow suit gradually,

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  8. Nuggehalli Pankaja says:

    You are correct Geeta, I erred in using that word.Perhaps I should have written like this-
    ‘That family cannot be expected to go out of the way to please all the incoming newcomers.?. . . . .’

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  9. Saritha says:

    Very well written geetha..i love the way you play with words…..

    I feel in our society they give too much importance to the son-inlaw…he is just like everyone in the house…Why when he visits the inlaws house he is treated like a king and all are slaves to that king…only because your daughter got married to him….

    I love weddings but the worst part is when bride groom feet are washed by mom and dad of the bride. I protested before my wedding that no one in my family will wash my husband’s feet, everyone thought i am mad…and they went ahead with welcoming him and telling him to put his feet in a plate and washing it. He should have protested but he didn’t 😦 I was not allowed to come out to see maybe they thought i will create a scene there….Sorry for taking the subject of the way…

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    • gc1963 says:

      I understand what you must be feeling, Saritha. But the ordeal begins much before that when the boy’s family comes to visit the girl’s family and the girl is ‘put up’ as though she is an exhibition piece. However, with growing no. of love marriages or marriages where the boy and girl both know each other for a very long time before settling down to marriage, the scenario has changed much. However, its the same still in the rural and small towns though the latter is also not behind imitating the urban culture. In our marriages too the boy’s feet are washed and the bride is made to touch his feet at the end or middle of the ceremony and accept the groom as her elder/mentor.Thanks for being on this post.

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  10. numerounity says:

    Yes, truly agree on the “golden mean” approach. I believe all problems can be solved if only people r willing to. Unwillingness creates more problem n makes relationships difficult.
    _______________________________
    ektakhetan.blogspot.com

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  11. Very thought provoking and critically engaged article. I love your unbiased and objective approach. You have raided some really important questions for the society at large to ponder on. In today’s time, especially the tragic events following December 2012, the discourse about women’s rights, freedom, safety and public spaces has been generated very strongly. And along with that, it is also important for us to look at the domestic space very seriously. It is not just the “street” but also the “home” that becomes a major site of women’s oppression. So we should seriously engage with questions of marital/conjugal and other inter-personal relationships. It’s high time that we become flexible and allow different family dynamics to enter the scene. Just as we need strong, educated and self-assertive bahus, we also require enlightened, emancipated mother-in-laws as well. Thanks again!!

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    • From your detailed comments on my posts I can very well make out how absolutely perceptive and enchanting would be your papers and seminal works related to your subject. I am delighted to have you on board as a commenter/reader/thought provoker and obliged that you could spare so much time out of your hectic schedule to read all these articles. You’ve masterfully analyzed the needs of contemporary society and the most important organizational unit therein, the family. In today’s global scenario when we tend to exert so much of our ‘will and wish’ on individual liberty, the obligations of familial bonds automatically stand deprecated and devalued. I wonder how conducive (or detrimental) individualism is for human cohabitation. The other issue which I have not dealt with in this article is the mutual feelings of suspicion and scepticism that we nurture in any relational equation. In this context, I am reminded of Ray’s ‘Aaguntuk’. The genius had pointed it out years before the ‘virus’ took the human race over in galloping steps. Are our relations today really based on faith and respect for each other?

      It is a pleasure to write for such readers like you. Every comment of yours opens the gateay to more elaborate debate on the issue. Indebted to your presence.

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  12. Rani says:

    its hilarious, why bahu in india, can’t be treated as a human. Her character,dignity,knowledge,experience all is judged only by her household work. If she can work like a maid and listen like a slave to her in laws- she is the best. But the moment she speaks for herself or complaints, she becomes the worst women on this earth. So much injustice, she is not allowed to step out of the house, questioned for everything. In fact if in the house- she is not allowed to sleep as per her will and questioned why she took so much time for bath. Its as bad as being in jail.In laws can disrespect and abuse her anytime but the moment she tries to defend- its not acceptable and she is asked to get out of the house.If she is well educated and want to pursue her career she is asked- Why you got married? And icing on the cake is if her husband also don’t support and believe blindly on in laws.
    Is this twenty first century India- so much gender discrimination/inhumanity/injustice. Then I don’t want to be a part of it. This is my story

    Like

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