The Curious Case Of A Flexible ‘Family Culture’ That Appeared To Adapt To My MIL’s Wishes!

To wear a saree or western clothes? What should a sanskaari bahu do? A hilarious account of a mother in law's fluctuating opinions.

To wear a saree or western clothes? What should a sanskaari bahu do? A hilarious account of a mother in law’s fluctuating opinions.

I have read so many articles in which the MIL insists that her bahu wears a saree. It seems to me, that a saree is synonymous with ‘Sanskari’ and ‘Agyakari’ which is why it is so popular with all the MILs. Anyway, here goes my story.

Right from the day I got married, my MIL wished, no insisted that I wear a saree. Being a new bride, I started wearing one.

It’s not that I didn’t like wearing a saree, but wearing one throughout the day, that too during the summers, was not my cup of tea. Also, she didn’t allow me to wear cotton sarees because she felt that I looked ‘fat’ in them.

As the temperature soared, one day, I gathered courage and approached the subject. She instantly replied in a calm voice, “You are free to wear whatever you want when you go out with your husband. But at home, and in front of our friends and relatives, you have to wear a saree. It reflects our family’s culture and you should take care of it.” I didn’t have the nerve to protest and so I meekly agreed.

Moving to the US and a change of clothes

Three months later, my husband and I moved to the US, as my husband was offered a project assignment. I felt free and light-hearted after discarding the mandatory saree, and the commanding presence of my MIL.

A year passed, and my husband soon invited his parents to visit us in the US. She accepted me in my western clothes, but couldn’t refrain from saying sarcastically that I wore all the wrong colors, and that a saree suited me better. I took her comment with a pinch of salt.

It was agreed the next day that we would take them to visit New York first. The night before our trip, my MIL came to my room for a casual chitchat. I had never seen her in this mood before, as she kept talking. Suddenly, she laughed a bit self-consciously and said, “You know, many of my friends have children living abroad. I have always found them wearing western clothes in the photos they sent me. God knows how I will look, if I wear some.” She sighed heavily, “I have never worn anything but a saree all my life. Here in this foreign land, no one will criticize me.”

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What family culture now?

At that moment many befitting replies came to my mind, but I silenced them all, and out of politeness, offered her my jeans and tops to try on, since we both were pretty much the same size.

To my amazement, my MIL wore my clothes (the same ones which she had criticized earlier) to all the places she visited while in the US. She didn’t just stop there, but clicked lots of photos in her new ‘avatar’ and sent them back home to her friends and relatives to see.

I could visualize our so-called ‘Family Culture’ flying right out of the window, and taking a ‘doobki’ (dip) in the holy Ganges.

Jokes apart, my story didn’t end here. Many more surprises were in store for me.

A few years later, when we returned back to India, I had missed wearing traditional clothes, so I started wearing them often. I thought finally I had pleased my MIL. But alas, she was aghast.

Now she wanted me to flaunt western clothes in front of the same friends and relatives so they could see my MIL’s “foreign returned, smart and modern” bahu. Besides, she added that everyone was wearing them these days.

I silently asked, “But what about your family culture?”

I think I have finally found the answer to that.

It seems to me that family culture is an elastic, flexible and stretchable material which can be molded quite satisfactorily, according to the whims and wishes of my dear MIL.

But I had enough, and I was tired of playing this game of ‘pleasing others’. So I now wear whatever I want. Of course, I wore everything in the US, but here in India with my MIL present, it feels like I have regained my self-confidence, which I had unknowingly lost somewhere. And now I can’t help rejoicing in my new-found freedom.

A version of this was first published here.

Image source: a still from the movie 2 States

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