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Society often dictates how our lives should be led. Kiran Jhamb brings forth a dilemma society poses for parents, with this evocative story.
Wearing a lovely pink salwar-suit, sitting at a vantage point on a plush sofa, her freshly dyed hair made into a French knot, she is watching the rituals of her grandson’s marriage. Grandson here means daughter’s son and not son’s son. And therein lies the root of her unhappiness.
Her daughter Abha and grandson Sanjay have been treating her like a queen but she still pines for her son Rajeev and his son Nikhil who have conveniently forgotten her. How confusing can human nature get?
Three years ago, the things simmering since the last twenty-five years had come to a boil.
Three years ago, the things simmering since the last twenty-five years had come to a boil. She had asked Abha to take her in because she could no longer take the treatment meted out to her by her Daughter-In-Law Suneeta. Over the years, Suneeta had gradually, craftily isolated her. At meal times, she wasn’t invited to the dining table. The grandson had been tutored not to speak to her. Monthly shopping of household things, fruits, toiletries, no longer included what she needed. She had her room, her TV – in short, a dog’s house. Even the servants had realized that she had no power and generally ignored her requests. There were three cars but when she had to go for her kitty party, none were available, and she had to take an auto. She felt excluded, insulted, depressed. Her health problems were presented as hypochondria by Suneeta. Rajeev was too busy minding his expanding business to be fully aware of what was going on under his roof.
To be just to Suneeta, the Mother-In-Law (MIL) had hurt her when her new nine days were going on. Suneeta had helplessly tolerated the MIL’s behavior,who was fully enjoying her newly acquired powers. Now, it was payback time. So, she had reduced the MIL to a non-entity and even grudged the room given to her because she could think of so many different uses for the space occupied by her. Her very presence irritated Suneeta. Her ‘I will tell Abha’ was like a red rag to the bull. It enraged Suneeta all the more. Why doesn’t Abha keep her if she is so worried? It is easy being concerned from far away. Abha will send mother packing within two days. Suneeta felt living with her cantankerous mother will be Abha’s just desserts for being sympathetic.
Suneeta felt living with her cantankerous mother will be Abha’s just desserts for being sympathetic.
Unwittingly, the daughter Abha had been made the villain (yes, not the vamp) of the story. Abha had become the repository of her mother’s complaints.
She became her emotional anchor. A gradual role reversal had been going on for some time. Abha was now being the parent to her mother who was acting like an inconsolable child. She had tried to make peace between the two warring women, and failed. She could see the point of views of both the women and sympathized with both of them. She could see the faults on both sides. Despite her entreaties both were not ready to give in an inch and their horns remained locked.
One day, out of the blue, the mother threw a telly tantrum, “I will commit suicide. First, I will make a complaint at the police station.” She was on a regular television diet and knew a few smart things. Being tele-bred she was well informed in using the media. The MIL and DIL had had a great slanging match. The declaration was the concluding shot. All the cultural, religious, spiritual learning of her odd seventy-five years had collapsed before the current storm. In the evening, the son, listening only to the version of his wife, couldn’t believe his ears and heatedly declared that he would go to police before her and lodge a complaint. The matters escalated beyond control.
The matters escalated beyond control.
The couple blamed Abha for encouraging her and intruding in their domestic matters. Abha couldn’t take the chance – what if mother really carried out her threat of suicide! Abha knew her conscience would make life hell for her. So she brought the old woman to her own home, thereby earning the tag of ‘Interfering Daughter’. The old lady was full of don’t-let-him-touch-even-my-ashes stuff. Abha was deeply saddened. She knew she was going to lose her brother forever. The blow to his ego would make him see her as the culprit because this was going to earn him a bad name in their circles.
The whole household now revolved around her. All her ailments, real or imaginary, were attended to. She lapped up the attention like a deprived child and blossomed, but soon this lost its charm. She started pining for her son and his family.
When Arjun had refused to kill Karna in the Mahabharata because Karna had been maneuvered by Krishna in a weaponless state, Krishna had started reminding Arjun of the reasons why he should kill Karna: Karna had participated in the killing of Abhimanyu, Karna had done nothing when Draupadi was insulted in the court and so on. That was Lord Krishna, and it was okay for him to do so.
That was Lord Krishna, and it was okay for him to do so.
But if today someone tried remind the old lady of past quarrels, s/he would be condemned of raking up mud. Abha watches mutely, since she is no Krishna. She tries gently to steer her mother away from disturbing memories.
Absence always makes the heart fonder. Suneeta is having a hard time playing Krishna’s role in reverse – to hold Rajeev back, who is almost ready to gravitate towards his mother. The mother too remembers Rajeev’s birthday and wants to call him. She reminisces about how she had celebrated his birthdays in the past.
Pining for what you do not have and overlooking what you have – sums up human nature. Correction: nature of ordinary mortals who have taken in large doses of culture, religiosity, and scriptures. The notion that mothers are to be looked after by sons, not daughters, cripples her – she is too old to analyze the ‘why not’ aspect. She feels she has committed an irreversible mistake. The cultural construct – that dying at her son’s door would have been much better for her next birth than dying at her daughter’s door – haunts her.
Pic credit: Anirudh Rao (Used under a CC license)
The roots of these stereotypes in India go deep. The older generation finds it harder to break away from them. Your story highlights this perceived moral dilemma very well.
Thank you, Arunima. Hopefully we are moving in the right direction – the mother at least came to live with her daughter.
An important issue raised. The society stereotypes often go killing the relationships. Wonderfully penned down!
Thank you, Nibha.
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