This daughter in law would love to be friends with her mother in law, if only they could relate to each other as two human beings.
Before I met you, I had never dealt with such a complex relationship before. Initially I absolutely disliked you for your views. Though your son had chosen me and ours was a love marriage, yet you insisted on asking me things like whether I know how to sing Rabindra Sangeet or what Bengali dishes I could prepare. You were taking a damn regressive interview of my qualities as a traditional Indian wife and frankly, being the liberal, independent woman of today I found it irksome.
However, I took it in good humor because I knew you asking me those questions weren’t going to change the outcomes of our decisions. You did not stop there, though.
You insisted on a grand wedding ceremony, even after knowing that my single mother had spent almost all her earnings in educating my brother and me. I put my foot down saying that you can do whatever you wish to from your side, but I won’t let my mother spend on any elaborate preparation. Well, like a stubborn child you threw a tantrum just a few days before our marriage casting aspersions on my mother, such as, “What kind of a woman doesn’t spend on her daughter’s wedding or doesn’t even provide furniture or gold to take along with her?”
I couldn’t believe my ears that you were actually demanding a dowry! You said things which were in direct contrast to everything I stood for. Your son told me not to take you too seriously as your anger dies down after a while. But I just knew you for a short time, and you were insulting my mom! The very pillar of my strength. The reason behind my success. I answered back to defend my mother and therein started the first crack in our relationship. Anyway, since you lived far away from us, I knew that I could just act formal in your presence and not have to deal with such regressive thoughts much further.
The problem again began when you and father in law came back to India. You wanted to live with us. Through my past interactions I’d known what hell can break loose. Thankfully your son also realized the problem and hence we settled for meeting each other periodically.
What happens next? You never lose a chance to give us a guilt trip about how ungrateful we were. Does motherhood come with a contract that needs to be fulfilled by children after a while? Then what about my mother who also stays far away from us? You guys are hale and hearty, frequently travelling within and outside the country, enjoying post retirement life to the fullest, and yet you keep cribbing about how unhappy you are because we don’t want to live under the same roof.
Remember, how you visited us just for a fortnight and threw me out of the house while your son wasn’t there? Why? Because I was steadfast in my decision to not change my surname after marriage. Your son already knew my feminist views. Why were you trying to change me still? Did you really think I’d give in so easily to your dominating behavior?
But I still tried to please you. I didn’t want to be the evil DIL. I wanted us to have a healthy happy relationship. Whenever we visited each other, I took all your complaints with a smile. Your constant need to criticize others, your views about how I should keep my hair long or put face packs to clear my acne, or wear certain clothing, I took it all in good humor because I knew how difficult it might be for you to change at such an old age. I even started chatting with you through phone on a regular basis.
You appreciate the fact that I am writing mostly because you can tell people how intellectual your daughter in law is, but still it was nice to discuss about something other than people and domestic problems. But that too didn’t last for long. Inevitably our conversations would veer around your obsession for cooking. You’d interrogate me about what I cooked for lunch and dinner. You’d ask me why we ate out some day, why couldn’t I cook, or something like why did my husband have to take only one curry for lunch.
You know your son is not fussy about food but somehow you’d still say inane things like, “I couldn’t sleep last night thinking how little he ate for dinner!” MIL, you know how busy I am. I have a full time job and I also am trying to be a writer. Why don’t you realize that not all people have the same priorities? I know you left your job in a prestigious school to look after your husband and son but some women might actually think their career is as important as their family. And trust me, there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t love your son any less and we have a very understanding relationship.
He doesn’t adhere to the age old norms of gender defined roles and that is precisely the reason why we got married. Why don’t you just let us be? You and I can still talk about literature, about places you guys visit, about the sweet little child in our extended family, in fact, about anything except for you evaluating my performance as a wife.
I know you miss your son and I know that since he doesn’t talk a lot, you love to chat with me and trust me, I too love giving you company. But the moment you make it an interrogative session, that’s the time I lose the incentive to call you, to interact with you even further.
Please try to understand me, MIL. I really want us to be friends. I do not want our relationship to be defined by the stereotypical ‘saas-bahu’ rivalry. You see, I understand that you might have been brought up with a set of values different from mine. We might have different priorities but that’s alright!
We are multidimensional human beings and we all cannot like the same things, no? Please accept, that we will be different and that I can never be you. I might like to pursue my life’s passions with more zeal than looking after my household chores. Your son does the same but you think that’s natural, then why can’t you think the same way for me too, dear MIL? Is it because of my gender?
You see, we belong to the same gender and if we ourselves create restrictions for our own kind, then who can help us? I really mean no harm to you, I want to know you. Not as a mother, wife, sister, or daughter–but as the unique human being that You are. What makes your heart beat faster? What are those dreams you still nurture within your heart? What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? Talk to me about your likes, your dislikes, about things that move you deeply inside.
Let us know each other as individuals and not solely by the virtue of our relationship. I feel we’ll find much more in common to discuss. I know you’re the mother of a single son but I can be the daughter you never had. Just give me a chance to be me, dear MIL, and you’ll see how beautiful our relationship can turn out to be.