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In my marital home, if I asked for more food than my usual intake, my MIL and SIL would scream at me and call me a greedy glutton or a pig!
This incident occurred nearly sixty years ago, when my mother was a young wife. She often recalled, to her children, how one day she was served a whole machher mudo (solid fish head cooked in gravy) by her mother-in-law.
Now it is pretty well-known that among Bengalis, it is a privilege to be served a machher mudo. The highly coveted delectable item is usually reserved for VIPs and guests.
Back to my mother’s story. While she was eating away to glory, my granny’s aunt, who was visiting, appeared at the scene. As she eyed my mother’s plate, she scolded her niece, ‘Are you nuts! Bouma (bahu) eating a whole mudo? Don’t pamper her so much, you’ll regret it!’
At this, the niece whimpered, ‘Err…why not? Bouma loves it! And this was extra!’
‘Never,’ the aunt shot back. ‘You may jolly well trash it rather than serving it to the bahus! Tsk tsk tsk!’
Another story. One of my aunts married into a huge joint family, some forty years ago. They were financially in a comfortable place and ruled by a dominating mother-in-law. Though my aunt was the first bahu in her generation, she received no special treatment.
A few years passed and when she conceived, no special diet – fruits, or extra proteins – was chalked out for her. She miscarried the first time and the next child she bore, a boy, died of rickets within weeks of his birth.
My gastronomical experiences at my marital home were uncannily similar. Mine, too, was a joint family where the food and kitchen were fiercely controlled by my husband’s mother, sister and a maternal aunt. Their dietary habits were Spartan, they ate like birds while I have always been a gourmand.
So, naturally, I was shocked to see my morning glass of milk being diluted with water right in front of my eyes in the first few days of my marriage. Of the pair of toast, only one was buttered.
My staple lunch was two thick coarse chapattis with two ladles of curry. The dishes were so limited that by the time each member had been served the central serving bowls were empty. That eliminated the scope of another helping!
Whenever there was rice for lunch or dinner I often asked for ‘some more’ (a la Oliver Twist). That’s when my father-in-law would remark, ‘Your hathi ka khuraq (jumbo diet) will make me a pauper.’
The crux of the matter was: The old man was an anaesthetist, a retired government doctor-turned consultant with private hospitals. Still running a large family was an uphill task.
However his inflated ego stopped him from accepting contributions from the two of us. That made him rave rant grumble and perpetually take potshots at my food intake. Thus it went on.
On days when there were stuffed parathas for breakfast, if I pleaded for three rather than my usual two, the women screamed their heads off. They would brand me a greedy glutton, piggish etc.
After two years of matrimony, when I conceived the picture still did not change. I would have met a similar fate as my aunt (mentioned earlier) had my gynaecologist not detected that the foetus was undernourished and underdeveloped.
She gave my father-in-law, (her colleague) a piece of her mind, for his callous irresponsible attitude. Shamefaced, crestfallen the gentleman came home and spewed fire at me, “Your father must have been a nawaab/khan that he fed you korma, kebabs, murgh musallam etc.”
My mother in law interjected, “Go ask your mom, aunts and grannies if they had any special diet during pregnancy! As if they did not bear healthy children…”
After the incident they forced me to procure my weekly ration of eggs, butter and cottage cheese with my own money. My husband was not allowed to contribute. This was their idea of revenge for the insult by my doctor! To cut a long story short, a few months later I thankfully delivered a healthy baby girl!
Twenty five years later I often wonder, didn’t the gentleman ever ponder that the child in my womb was his flesh and blood too? Wasn’t it ironical that a veteran medical professional like him succumbed to whims that bahus ought not to eat too much under any circumstance?
Here is a shout out to Indian womanhood at large: A bahu and a beti can rarely be identical. You may not see eye to eye with the bahu. She may be bristling with flaws.
Chide, rebuke, reprimand her to your heart’s content. But for heavens’ sake do not manipulate or deprive her of the basic nourishment. Ask yourselves, would you like it if any young female of your family met with a similar fate?
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Dil Dhadakne Do
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