You must beg, borrow or crawl, but remember to treat your son-in-law well. So goes the rule in most Indian families.
Editor’s note: Recently, news circulated on social media, of a woman who made 67 dishes for her son-in-law, although some also also stated that it was done for a contest, rather than for an actual son-in-law. This post explores some issues thrown up by the incident.
I hold no grudges against the lady who created an humungous feast of 67 dishes ostensibly for the son-in-law. Who are we to disapprove?
We only hope that the man appreciated and valued her efforts proving himself worthy of all the love and hospitality bestowed upon him by the in-laws.
Hopefully, he should reciprocate the gesture by getting her 67 presents for her 67th birthday or better still, post a nice Mother’s Day message, as not many Indian men consider it worthwhile to wish or call their mothers-in-law anytime.
While we’re all for the famed Indian hospitality ‘atithi devo bhava’, that honours a guest as God, really, food fit for the Gods is a bit overstretched by our usual standards. Was it too much, we’re left wondering.
Overnight, the son-in-law became the spotlight of envy and pride. Was it vanity, setting benchmarks so hard for other women to follow? Or a cringeworthy exercise for the reasonable ones? Whatever the reality of it was, it certainly made everyone sit up and take notice of how the Indian son-in-law is treated as a personage only next to the Gods.
The problem with most Indians arises when our love finds expression in culinary gastronomy. If we love someone well enough, we must express it through food; so we teach our daughters to be perfect cooks with the hope that they will find love and win over their marital families through their culinary skills.. We trust the ‘stomach route’ to do the trick for us.
So, hunger, a pretty much basic need in all living beings cerebral or otherwise, became the barometer of love. If you love someone enough, you take the effort to cook and feed him or else you won’t; the sum total of it all is that food is the deciding factor of ‘how’ and ‘where’ you stand in a relationship.
I have a problem with people who ‘win over people with their food’, because I believe that it’s exploitative of something as basic as hunger to determine a relationship. If ‘food flattery’ is the best way to a man’s heart with no other noteworthy ideas, caring, sharing, and friendship can all go take a hike…if kitchens alone rule relationships.
It’s believed that when you ‘feed somebody well’, you win their gratitude and loyalty…because, once we eat someone’s food we are indebted to them. We call it ‘namak khana’ – if I’ve partaken of your meal, I owe you gratitude for it, but I don’t see a son-in-law feel it ever, because it’s entitlement for the boys.
In fact, men are asked by their own probing families back home of the kind of treatment they got at their wife’s place. “How many dishes were laid on the table?” In Kerala, the first question is aaharam endha ayirunnu? “What did you have…what did they give you to eat?”
After all that you’ve done by way of feeding a son in law, you can never expect to win his regard, because despite the hospitality bestowed, he’s not expected to owe any kind of allegiance towards his wife’s parents or family. In the event of any dispute or discord, he’s never expected to side with his wife’s family ever unlike women who bear a burden of expectations and obligations towards marital homes for a lifetime.
…and despite all the ‘food flattery’ you cannot be assured that he will never ask for a furnished house, swanky car, jewellery, gift, cash or any other monetary benefit ever. Indian marriages have too much dowry content inherent to make a man forget it, even for the ‘love of food’.
Okay, now the woman in question is believed to have created a feast, but haven’t we heard of it before too? In fact, our weddings are replete with stupendous spreads for every kind of ceremony, catered by professionals and covering half a football stadium and come to think of it, we never consider it wasteful or vulgar either. In fact, the bigger the better we say… we never consider it wrong or criminal in a country where millions go to bed hungry without a bare minimum meal.
So what’s the big deal here, we say, even an ordinary sadhya boasts of 25 items. It’s only that in such cases we fail see the back breaking effort of a mother to secure ‘lasting acceptance’ and ‘respect’ for her daughter in her marital home.
While it might seem amusing to several of us, we miss seeing the desperation of a mother while doing the unimaginable, because, we’re a patriarchy, where the girl’s mother gets castigated for not serving delicacies or berated for not doing enough, even if it meant a back breaking exercise or facing severe financial crunch.
You must beg, borrow or crawl, but remember to treat your son-in-law well. I recall my uncle who related his story with pride. He had gone to meet his aged mother-in-law – the poor lady who was incapable of cooking anything had dragged herself through the back door to buy some tea, snacks and fresh fruits from the local tea stall…so much for empathy and kindness!
If we have a ceremonial jamai bhojan or feeding the son-in-law festival, why has nobody ever thought of an equivalent celebration for a daughter-in-law? Rather, we have the most misogynistic ceremony of bahu ki rasoi when the new bride is put to a test of her culinary skills by preparing her first meal for the family. So, if boys and men in the families get our love, why don’t girls and women get some respect in exchange is something nobody asks…
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