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Parents get old. When considering care for elderly parents, a son’s parents have a right to it, but what about a daughter’s parents?
Why is it that parents of a married son have the right to live with him and his wife, but the parents of a married daughter don’t? Why is it that parents interfering in their son’s married life is termed as ‘guidance’, but the same ‘guidance’ is called interference if initiated by the daughter’s parents? Who has given these rights to the son bearers?
Well, certainly not God! Neither the law!
Jamai Babu needs no introduction. He is the formidable, two generations old, arrogant, quintessential damad ji (hereafter referred to as Jamai Babu), the nightmare of every daughter’s parents.
Jamai Babu was forbidden from smiling while visiting the wife’s parents during the annual punishment visit. Jamai Babu did not ‘allow’ his wife to stay at her maayka. Jamai Babu was forever ‘akhdu‘ (stuck up) and his wife’s family had a full time job of pleasing him.
Cut to 2021, and Shravan Kumar, the ‘millennial’ son-in-law.
Shravan Kumar has come a long way. Contrary to Jamai Babu, Shravan Kumar sits and laughs with his in-laws, talks about politics with his father-in-law and praises the delightful laddus made by his mother-in-law. Shravan Kumar conducts a self evaluation of himself, his benchmark being Jamai Babu, and awards himself the ‘best son-in-law’ trophy. This certificate is also reiterated by his parents who keep complaining that he is ‘too nice’ to his in-laws and if they don’t keep a check on him, one day the human race will be doomed!
However, the ‘kindness’ of Shravan Kumar has limitations. While it is his birth right to keep his parents in his house and expect his wife to take care of them, the thought of the wife’s parents living with him is preposterous to him.
The wife’s parents should also not ‘interfere’ in their daughter’s life. What is this interference? I guess their mere existence!! The wife’s parents should be happy with whatever breadcrumbs they are offered. Their expectation should be zero. Anything more, and they were delusional in the first place. But Shravan Kumar’s parents have infinite expectations, which only a robot can meet, let alone the wife of Shravan Kumar.
No wonder, in the movie Piku, Piku decides to stay single to take care of her father. Women stay single to take care of their parents. Men get married to take care of their parents! How ironic!
I remember a conversation with a well-to-do family. They are educated and have a decent amount of money. The lady, (let’s call her Summi di) had a baby boy.
Once, Summi di casually commented that she always wanted a son, and she was relieved that she did not have a daughter. I was a little shocked. I asked her why. Other family members pitched in to respond.
Beta aag deta hai! – Old Bua in her 70s.
Beti ki shaadi mein bahut kharcha lagta hai! – Masiji in her 50s.
I wanted to tell these two ladies that nowadays daughters perform the last rites, and wedding costs can always be shared. I refrained. Generation gap, I assumed and let it go. I looked at Summi di with hopeful eyes for a response. She picked up her crying infant, put him close to her chest and spoke the words that haunt me till date:
“I am raising my child with every ounce of energy I have, with every fiber of my being. With love that cannot even be measured, would I not want control over his life? What rights do I have with a daughter after she gets married? Can I even live with her? Can she even visit me without scrutiny? Nowadays, only one child, Tanvi! Why would I not want that child to be a son?”
I tried to think of a witty counter argument. I had none. “You win,” I wanted to say. I want to say it to all son-bearers.
I heard few years later that Summi di got pregnant again. She had an abortion. No, she did not get any prenatal gender screening testing. She did not do anything illegal. She was just afraid what if it was a girl? She did not think it was worth having one.
Dear unfortunate people, we are glad that you did not kill your daughters in your womb, as the sex ratio is bad in India. We are glad you gave your daughters the chance to live because you see, Shravan Kumar and their families ‘need women for sex, housework, and giving birth to babies’. You educated your daughters and made them financially independent. This is an added advantage, because now this daughter of yours can also contribute to Shravan Kumar’s household finances. Good job! But really, you are of no use anymore.
You may however be of relevance in the following scenarios:
Other than this, please remember you are the girl’s parents. Nobody cares if you want to meet your daughter and son-in-law, or if you have any views on their life! Let her settle with her new family!
The married woman is told she has left behind her maayka. Now her new home is her sasural.
Shravan Kumar’s mother’s generation had a large number of siblings. Shravan Kumar’s mother probably has 50 people in her maayka who she is totally devoted to. Yet, the daughter-in-law’s attachment to her maayka is frowned upon.
The DIL is fed the same old, boring, dated DIL manual about how the MIL adjusted with her in-laws, took care of them and made a beautiful home blah blah blah. Of course, the DIL does not have a time machine or supernatural powers to go and check! It doesn’t matter, because Shravan Kumar and his family are the certificate givers, and her job is to accept the shame and failure.
The married Indian woman also has no family because the parents who gave birth to her are called ‘bahar walas’ (outsiders) as per convenience (refer above exceptions). In the new family, she is monitored and given an appraisal on a daily basis, and it is invariably a poor performance!
Who wants this new family that has such conditional support for you, where you are guilty until proven innocent? Who wants a bad appraisal for a job that doesn’t even pay!
But do your thoughts even matter?!
Parents get old. Let me break the shocking news. Even the parents who have a daughter get old! All parents need emotional support. Even if they are not physically dependant on their child, they may be emotionally dependant.
Should the parents of Shravan Kumar stay with him and his wife, as a rule? Then where do Shravan Kumar’s wife’s parents stay? Does Shravan Kumar have any siblings? Does his wife have any siblings? Do any of these siblings stay outside of India? Should the parents move around? What if God forbid, either side of the parent is bereaved? Would the responsibility of the child be greater?
I do not want to answer these questions. It is for Shravan Kumar and his wife to take a joint decision. Generally, in India, Shravan Kumar’s wife will not have any say in any decisions, especially such decisions. Decisions will be imposed on her. She could take it or leave it. The ultimate threat every Shravan Kumar throws at his wife:
If you make me choose between me and your parents, I will choose my parents!
Duh! Every wife knows her place. She never asked him to choose! But is it fair that Shravan Kumar gets all his priorities and his wife gets none? Shravan Kumar wants equality in finances, so why not equality in the treatment of parents?
Please do not give me a lecture on family values, and respect for elders. People who have given birth to daughters are also elders. Do they not deserve to have any say in their child’s life? And if they don’t, why do Shravan Kumar’s parents get that benefit? Because they can?
Please remember beloved Shravan Kumars, even though you and your families think that you are the boss of your wife, you can give her additional responsibilities, you don’t owe her explanations, you can perform her appraisal and give her the ‘failure’ certificate, please remember that your relationship is not actually of a boss and subordinate. The relationship is of a husband and wife. Partners. Equals. Lovers. Lifelong companionship. It would be nice to leave some scope for your wife to trust you, love you, and respect you.
Now that my angst is over, let me tell you, you may be doing a lot better than your counterparts. But please do not hold such low standards for yourself, where you compare yourself to the 80 year old Jamai Babu from another era, or worse, the grumpy Jamai Babu from your generation. You do not get to compare yourself to the worst and win a trophy, and compare your wives to the best and demean her.
If you want to live with your parents, please speak to your wife about it. Please take her into confidence. Convince her. Set boundaries. If your parents’ happiness and comfort is your responsibility, so is your wife’s. And please remember, her happiness includes the happiness of her parents. You get to be called Shravan Kumar for being good to your parents. Your wife gets called ‘immature and irresponsible’ for being good to her parents. She has to prove her loyalty towards your family at each juncture. Why?
How many ‘loved ones’ does a person have in this short life? Parents, spouse, siblings, children? How can you expect your wife to be happy by restricting her relationship with her family or determining her boundaries with them, while you have none with yours? Is it natural to unlove and uncare for her parents and go out of her way to accommodate your parents? Her parents are not second class citizens! Your parents are not royalty. All parents deserve respect, love and support.
No matter what you were taught, you can change things. You are smarter than that. You are better than that. Caring about your wife and her parents does not make you a ghar jamai, or joru ka ghulam or less of a man. It makes you a good human being, which you probably are. It is a just that you have been taught something else by your family and society. Break the cycle.
And if you can’t, please remember, that you have blood on your hands. It is because of thinking like yours, that agle janam kisi ko bitiya nahi kijo! (don’t make anyone a daughter in their next life!)
P.S. Summi di’s unborn child is judging you.
Image source: a still from the documentary series A Suitable Girl
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