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“Bhabhi worked before marriage, Ma. You insisted on her leaving her job. I’m not like you, I can’t think like you. That reminds me, Karthik seems to be free now, it’s his turn to mop the floor today. Bye.”
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Preethi Warrier is one of the winners of the August 2020 Muse of the Month.
I gently opened the door and placed the tea mug on her table. She seemed to be in the midst of some online discussion, she acknowledged me with a tired smile. I closed the door behind me and settled on the living room sofa to enjoy my evening.
My phone buzzed, I knew the caller from routine.
“So you serve her tea in her room and cook dinner as well. So much for advising you time and again, she’ll soon take it all for granted and make a domestic help out of you, without pay.” Ma angrily barked on the other side.
I sighed, “She works Ma, she’s a bread winner and brings food to the table. This work from home thing drains out both Karthik and her, the least I can do for them is this.”
Ma sounded flustered now, “Karthik is your son, a man. You don’t expect him to cook meals. But she’s your daughter-in-law, I tell you keep her under control, or else…”
“How are Bhaiyya, Bhabhi and the kid?” I cut her midway. “Does he have online college now?”
She was Ma, she pretty well understood my ploy to change the subject. But not the one to give in, she played her game too, “Yes, he attends online classes. Rest is all as usual, your Bhaiyya works all day and your Bhabhi cribs day and night. After all these years, she still needs the maid for household chores. I’m secretly glad this lockdown thing happened and she’s forced to mop and clean. I have strictly instructed the men not to help, why should they? My son pays for all expenses, after all.”
I heard this rant almost every day, “Bhabhi worked before marriage, Ma. You insisted on her leaving her job. I’m not like you, I can’t think like you. That reminds me, Karthik seems to be free now, it’s his turn to mop the floor today. Bye.”
I hung up, well aware my last statement would have ruffled her, but that was indeed the truth. I made sure my husband and son contributed equally to the everyday tasks at home.
I wondered if I should call Ma and reconcile, I had ended our conversation on a rather rude note. But it was late, she was very old, she would be resting, so I promised myself to call her first thing the next morning.
Being a mother was indeed no piece of cake and mothers are only humans, not Gods. I realized this fact, post marriage and parenthood. I guess, until then, I carried the most basic notion we children are fed with since childhood, that our parents are super- humans, who do nothing wrong, ever.
When Bhabhi entered our family and our lives, wonder how all of us pronounced her the ‘family’s newly acquired domestic help’. We, captained by Ma, hardly allowed her any time to tune into a new family and home. Even before she made friends with us, or grew comfortable around total strangers, she was pushed into the grind.
Wake up the earliest, make tea, cook breakfast, go to work, make dinner and go to bed the last. We were the stereotype in-laws and unfortunately I found nothing wrong, she was the Bahu, those were her duties. Period.
When matters blew up a bit too much, Bhabhi rebelled. My parents came up with the best solution they could offer, Bhabhi had to quit her job. She didn’t meekly relent initially, but my family then threatened her with the deadliest of all weapons, a Divorce threat. She was silenced, but that moment on, our relation was scarred forever.
Surprisingly, when I was betrothed, Ma conducted her training sessions, lecturing me about women empowerment, how I needed to be strong and brave, taking over the reins of that family, especially my husband. Blinded by my devotion to Ma, I couldn’t notice the obvious double standards.
It wasn’t as if I was enlightened overnight, it took me sometime to realize Ma’s daily sermons were doing me more harm than help. My cliched, pre-conceived ideas about my husband’s family fell flat when I began my life with them. I wouldn’t call my married life a bed of roses, but unlike what Ma warned me, my in-laws never curbed my independence or my time with my husband. I hardly ever needed to exercise control over anyone, I seldom had any issue to complain. But thanks to Ma, it took me real long to accept them as my own.
And once the realization that my mother could be at fault too, dawned on me, I made some futile attempts to counsel and change Ma and of course, to patch up with Bhabhi. But my efforts were of no avail, I guess I was a bit too late and perhaps too engrossed with my own family.
I phoned her early next morning, trying my best not to bring up any family gossip, but Ma went on relentlessly, “That lazy Bhabhi of yours, she’s hell bent on getting the house help back, but I’ve strictly warned your Bhaiyya, wouldn’t it be unsafe with the pandemic and all? Your Bahu is fortunate though, my daughter has so generously agreed to be her full time maid and cook.” Ma scoffed.
“You know Ma, every time I look at Karthik’s wife, I thank God, I’m not you.” I had pledged not to offend her anymore, but she had put words in my mouth.
“Don’t ever say that to me.” She screamed, “You have any inkling how I was treated? For your information, I’m following the footsteps of your beloved grandmother, the family matriarch. Your Bhabhi should count her blessings, do I ever get physical with her? None of you know what I have endured as a daughter-in-law, the taunts, the slaps…” Ma breathed heavily.
“Ma please calm down.” I comforted.
But she had more, “You think I’m the only woman who wants her son to care for her more and not turn into a hen pecked moron? My husband was devoted to his mother all the time, why shouldn’t my son be? If I let them have their way, I might end up in some old age home someday. Mark my words, I’m honestly worried that would happen to you soon.” She hung up hastily, I could sense her wrath.
I gazed listlessly at the morning sky, be it fashion, talent, freedom of choice or expression, we women judge each other no end, troll one another mercilessly, all for what purpose? We talk proudly about sisterhood and empowerment, but when it comes to standing up for each other and extending support, why does the whole thing turn into a competition of sorts?
It’s not about relations alone, I often observe, at workplaces or in society in general, women many a times inflict their unhealed wounds on other women, perhaps in a way, passing on the pain to someone else. Like if I suffered it, you too better. And unfortunately, my own mother seemed to be harbouring and encouraging that very emotion, trying to hand it over to me and Bhabhi. This had to stop somewhere.
“What are you pondering about so hard?” my daughter-in-law nudged me good-heartedly.
I smiled , “I’ve now planned to work on a new mission in life, To Break The Chain. It starts with you and me.”
I walked away, leaving her surprised and guessing.
Editor’s note: Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jean Baker, and had an abusive childhood. She also went through sexual abuse at the hands of many people she trusted growing up and as a teenager. After many ups and downs, she got into the entertainment and modelling industry, and finally as an actor doing bit roles.
Despite all her struggles, however, once she got her first hit, she ruled the box office for almost a decade. Her tenacity in getting what she wanted to do in life is legendary. Unfortunately, the world lost her to suicide at a very young age, on 4th August 1962.
One thing about Marilyn that is not so well known is that she was a voracious reader of serious literature, and had a way with words too – dashing the popular myth about her and ‘dumb blondes’. An intriguing woman, indeed!
The cue is this quote by her: “For a long time I was scared I’d find out I was like my mother.”
Preethi Warrier wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the film Aamhi Doghi
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