Isn’t it high time that we changed these norms and expectations? And one last word….next time you think of such ridiculous ideas, also remember that you have a daughter.
After a long courtship period, Rakesh and Reema got married.
The parents-in-law, who lived in their ancestral village, joined them in the city. The reason – “Bahurani needs to be taught the ropes of running a good household.” Weeks passed. They refused to budge.
Restrictions after restrictions were imposed on the new bride.
“Please put on a big bindi.”
“Please wear a sari.”
The polite requests soon became strict orders. “Stop wearing those hideous nighties. They are vulgar.”
“We have guests for dinner tonight. Go. Cook the meal.”
And then came the sarcastic remarks. “I can’t see the vermillion at all. Are you trying to hide your marital status? Whose attention are you trying to grab?”
“Hah, she rushes to work as if she is some big boss in a company. Arrey stay at home. Run the house and show me what kind of a boss you are.”
Six months! And the relationship had turned bitter. Reema approached her husband. “Can we live separately from your parents?”
Rakesh stood visibly shocked. “Is that a question?” After a moments silence, “I have to look after my parents. It’s my duty and responsibility. Since you are married to me, its yours as well. So there is no question of staying away from them. Let me also inform you that we are selling off the ancestral house. We will need a bigger flat.” And as an afterthought, he added, “Accept it and live in peace.”
Reema knew that she would never win the argument. It was always the norm for a daughter-in-law to live with her parents-in-law. It was also the duty of a son to look after his parents. Living with them was part of the package. Defeated, she made a hasty retreat and reconciled herself to her fate.
Three Years! Her brother-in-law got married. The parents-in-law decided to move in with the younger son for a short while. The ruse was the same. “Bahurani needs training.”
Reema finally breathed a sigh of relief. There was no one to dictate her, control her actions or keep a tab on her. She tasted freedom.
Six years! The parents-in-law were forced to live with their younger son and daughter-in-law. The couple needed them to look after their granddaughter while they were away at work. The elderly couple rued how their daughters-in-law were markedly different. But there was no way out.
On the other hand, Reema’s daughter was growing up fast. She worked from home so that she could spend more time with her child. Life was smooth.
And then disaster struck. Her parents met with an accident. While her mother recovered fast, her father was rendered immobile. It would take years to bring him back to his original state, the doctor informed them. There was no question of them going back to their ancestral place. The only solution was to live with their daughter and get medical help.
Days passed, father showed some improvement. Reema managed her home, her child and her father’s medical needs seamlessly. But the seeds of discord had been sown.
The husband was unhappy. “How long will your parents live with us? Why can’t they move out?”
He tried various ways to convince Reema to shift them to a different house. He broached the idea that they would be better-off in their ancestral place.
“I can’t allow that. They need me the most at this hour,” Reema reasoned.
“But you are a daughter. You don’t need to shoulder so much responsibility.”
“Rakesh, what does it have to do with a daughter? I am their child….their only child!”
“Listen Reema, in our society, women are not supposed to take care of their aged parents. It’s the job of the son. And if they don’t have one, it’s their bad luck.”
“I am amazed, Rakesh! You have a daughter as well. Will you expect the same from her when we grow old?”
“No…I mean….errr…well…Parents don’t live with their married daughters, right?”
“Why not? If the Daughter-in-law has to accept this then why can’t the Son-in-law accept it? If the parents of a son can stay with their child, why can’t it apply to the daughter’s parents?” Irritated Reema got up to leave the room. She turned around and said, “Rakesh! Isn’t it high time that we changed these norms and expectations? And one last word….next time you think of such ridiculous ideas, also remember that you have a daughter. Some day you will be meted the same treatment.”
Their little daughter had been playing in the room. She came up to her father. “Baba, when I grow up, I will build a nice house. You, Ma and me will live there forever.”
Hugging her, Rakesh hung his head in shame.
First published here.
Image source: a still from the film 2 States
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Sreemati Sen Karmakar holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She
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