The Modern, Millennial Bahu In A Traditional Joint Family. Does It Work?

Posted: February 13, 2018

What are the problems that modern daughters-in-law face in joint families? What are the problems of joint families in today’s times? A daughter-in-law muses from experience.

In modern times joint families are not suitable. Period. I tell you from personal experience.

There are scores of reasons – which are mostly due to the expectations that are there form the new bahu.

In-laws before parents

The in-laws invariably demand that the bahu sever all connections with her maiden home and family. Discard it like a piece  of rag. In earIier times married girls grew up in their husbands’ homes. Nowadays the scenario is altered. Grown up women enter new households. Hence the question of adjustment assumes importance. A common phenomenon. You express a desire to visit your mayka and there will be frowns and snide comments in undertones. Of course you will be allowed to go but the visit is best kept short.

Now why on earth does she need permission to visit her folks? Isn’t it her basic right? After all she has spent a certain number of years with that family. It has made her what she is today. Sigh!

In-laws before self

The bahu must be self effacing and maintain a low profile. In-laws before self should be her motto. She must ascertain that all the elders have had their fill, content herself with whatever food is remaining and /or happily forgo a particular food item. She must smother her tastes and food choices to adapt those of her new household. She must control her appetite to avoid being called a glutton. If she tries to binge or ask for a bit more she will chided somewhat along these lines: Didn’t your mom feed you properly? Why so greedy? Learn to share with others… blah blah. Is it a sin to eat? I have often wondered.

Early to rise…

An ideal bahu must awake at the crack of dawn, before anyone else in the house stirs; woe betide any bahu who wakes up late, even if there is a genuine enough reason – illness, late night outing etc.

Some bahus are more equal than the others

If there are two or more bahus in the family, rest assured there will discrimination galore.The affluent bahu who brings in loads of stuff from her parents’ home will be  the apple of everyone‘s eyes, whereas bahu X from a modest economic backgroud will be  slighted. Bahu Y might have lucky escape is neither of these.

Daughters vs daughters-in-law

If there are daughters in the family, whether married or single then, more often than not a bahu will have harrowing times. If the daughter makes a faux pas it is conveniently  overlooked. On the contrary if a bahu errs then she is likely to be  hauled over the coals  and her parents blasted for not grooming her properly.

The compulsion of marital symbols

If a young girl with with a fairly modern, liberal outlook marries an accomplished groom who hails from a traditional, orthodox (Hindu) household, she is bound to face enormous hardships. Her marital tokens – sindoor/vermilion, bindi (dot on the  forehead) aaltaa (lac dye for feet) and anklets must be present on her persona all 365 days of the  year.

During the early days of conjugal life sporting these symbols could be said to be logical. But lifelong… I recall with a shudder how on one occasion my own mother-in-law blasted me for twenty minutes simply because I had forgotten to apply sindoor after a shampoo.

The dress maketh the daughter-in-law

Again in my personal life the nightie was a taboo the moment I stepped out of my bedroom each morning. Many times, the patriarch has given me a dressing down for moving around the flat in a modest (with no slits or exposures) nightie. I was flabbergasted. Did the aged relative think I had evil designs upon him? On those occasion my parents’ upbringing too got a fair share of tongue lashing.

Same is the case with ghunghat/ head cover in many such households. I am still unable to figure out how ghunghat can be a mark of respect? So much Talibanisation within ordinary homes? Shocking! Consider this: If a cunning woman keeps her head well covered but silently heaps curses or obscenities on her in- laws, what is going to stop her? Why, they won’t even have an inkling. It could be so much more trouble if such families have working /professional bahus.

Lack of privacy

There is utter lack of privacy in most joint families. Many of my female cousins reveal how their men lounge in their friends’ homes after lunch on weekends. Why? Because siesta in wife’s presence (even in the confines of the bedroom) is prohibited. I have had unpleasant experiences of a different kind. If the two of us happened to chat in the living room, (without holding hands or looking into each other’s eyes mind you) there would be whispers, caustic remarks, sniggers aplenty.

The only silver lining in the cloud is that kids are certainly taken good care of in a joint family bristling with aunts uncles grand parents and so forth. The elderly might adopt a vicious, disgruntled attitude towards the son and more particularly towards his wife who remains paraye ghar ki beti almost lifelong. But for the little cherubs their love and affection is unconditional.

True, nuclear or unitary families have their fair share of  problems. However the  prime advantage of a small family is that you are not answerable to elders and can enjoy unfettered freedom, and realize all the fond hopes and desires of your heart.

Header image is a still from the movie 2 States

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