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.
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.
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.
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.