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Moms-in-law today are changing from the monsters they often were in the past. Often being educated women themselves may have something to do with it, and is a welcome change.
I love portmanteau words, tosspot words – you know where you combine two existing words to create a new word, because the changing scenario demands new words to describe new situations.
Earlier during one of my flights of serendipity, I had coined a new word ‘bliskering’ by combining ‘bliss’ and ‘bickering’ to sum up the change in the concept of marital bliss. Then, later on, I realized this word can describe the changing relationship between MIL and DIL too.
To clarify, I’ll use a new word I have just coined ‘Angesters’ to describe MILs (and DILS also) by combining ‘Angels’ and ‘Monsters’. We are all familiar with the monster mother-in-law that used to exist – still does in some instances. But they are changing into Angesters as their angelic qualities have started manifesting.
Examples of this change can be seen all around.
The number of educated, retired, independent (economically and otherwise) MILS is increasing. Most of them haven’t forgotten the pain of marginalization they experienced when they had entered their sasural. They had no voice then. Their MIL, the woman at the center, had deliberately (?) or unintentionally terrorized them, because after years of exploitation in the patriarchal set-up of the family she had got the power of center position.
One such MIL Renu, looking at her DIL Neha, who is always on her toes to visit her mother and sister during weekends remembers how she, too, used to be eager to visit her own Maa and sis. Her MIL and SIL always objected, allowed her to visit them very grudgingly, and kept an eye on whatever gifts she was taking for them. This obviously led Renu to practice deceit, hide the gifts, and use different manoeuvres – she was working and had always craftily managed to keep some cash for herself.
Today she makes it a point to ask Neha to ask maharaj to cook the chosen delicacies in advance – the ones she wants to take with her when she wants to visit her family. ‘Neha should never have to hide anything’ is Renu’s motto. Neither does she expect Neha to hand over her salary. Though Renu is unwilling, she forces herself once a year to go to Neha’s house to stay for a day or two. Why? So that Neha’s widowed mother feels at ease to come and stay in their house.
Now isn’t this angelic despite the low snarling which can be heard at times in the background. More about this snarling later.
Once I came across Meera, another MIL – a gold medalist and a housewife, thus instructing her Banglore based son on her mobile, “Betu, take some warm oil and apply it on her heels, ankles, lower back at night before sleeping. The weight of the baby makes her feel tired. She will say no, but you know she is carrying the baby all the time you can carry on massaging her feet at least, no?” Her DIL then was in the third trimester.
I had to make sure for myself that I wasn’t hearing things! Behind this coaching, there were echoes of the neglect she had suffered because her husband had been unenlightened. MILs are famous for ‘the coaching’ (sikhana) but this is a new kind of coaching. It is no more negative, no more done only to teach him to grab power, control. It is to help him to look at his spouse as a person in her own right.
Here, Charu comes to my mind, who often asks her son living in Goa what the DIL had cooked for dinner, “Ayyo, she cooked khichadi, my Chintya does not even like it,” she would tell me the next day.
This was rich coming from a retired working woman who never had time for cooking elaborate meals and was proud of her wholesome simple menus which were easy on time. When this was pointed out to her, she looked shamefaced, because I had been her bitching partner of some two decades. Then she recovered, “Oh come on when she visits I feed her like she is a queen. I had to go hungry in my time, couldn’t dare to take anything from the kitchen under the watch of hawk-eyed Aai! Times have changed. I cook all her favorites, make her sit and serve her. I am not like my MIL who declared a holiday for herself because she had been given a kamanewali kaamwali bai (an earning woman and maid) – me!”
So in her way, Charu was trying not to repeat the injustice done to her. She was plugging a few holes but new holes keep on appearing all the time.
About that low snarling in the background mentioned earlier. The cultural notion is that daughters and mothers always bond better, love each other always. A look at folk songs and stories will convince you of this prevalent notion.
Earlier, the daughter used to be younger when she left her maika and always carried a romanticised nostalgia in her heart for it. Hankering from afar, you know! You socially sanction that a grown-up/ middle-aged daughter living with her mother is okay and then see the results. The snarling will appear in the background.
So whether the MIL lives with her DIL or daughter, there will always be a tussle – which is normal when a family lives together. Healthy boundaries should be created and abided by. Being territorial (men are open about it) is human but everything has to be done civilly. It’s time to discard the nonsense like women are the worst enemies of women etc. because women are slowly stepping outside the patriarchal puppet zone.
Today the age of marriage for women has touched thirty and they have a very good idea of what they want from life in general, from their marriage. So they come prepared to make it successful.
I was startled to see my friend Abha walking demurely in a sari, carrying the pitcher of water on her head for the Graha Pravesh pooja of their three BHK in Mumbai. Why? Because her MIL wanted it to be traditional, proper all the way and Abha gladly want along with it to make her happy. She did not choose to make it an ego issue. And perhaps the MIL really has no idea of who her agnostic, world-traveled consultant DIL actually is.
So she kept her MIL’s illusion intact – bliss being ignorance etc. Smart strategy! Back the MIL went home to Khandwa, blessing the sanskari bahu she was lucky to get.
One can find many widowed MILs who want to live independently. If they have only married daughters and no son, the world does not look askance at them, rather sympathizes with them. They are left in peace to enjoy their sunset years.
Shobha, a retired Central school teacher, is one such example. Her two daughters are married. Post-retirement, she and her buddies availing the services of travel agencies, have had two-holiday trips abroad too!
These MILs don’t want to put undue pressure on the budding relationship. It’s not that the young couple (whether on the son’s or daughter’s side) doesn’t want them (e.g. the youngsters want a house conveniently nearer to their workplaces) but it is difficult for the older women to change their habits, habitats, and routines. So their wish should also be given due consideration, they should be at liberty to live where they want, and there is no need to bow to the pressure of log kya kahengay.
We must acknowledge what we are trying to teach our women – that their father, husband and then the son need not look after them. They have to discard this social construct of learned helplessness. May the tribe of Angesters increase.
Image source: a still from the movie Maine Pyar Kiya
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