The story that I share with you through my open letter is not just mine. I am sure that most of the daughter-in-laws go through similar hoops. Some dare to defy, some bite the bullet, and others like me decide to write about it in the form of an impassioned address or a backhanded dig.
Dear Hubby’s mother,
A few months back when I delivered my first child, you decided to come and stay with us. I was happy, that my baby will have a grandparent to play with. But I also dreaded thinking that I may have to bid adieus to all the peace I enjoyed in my domestic life. My worst dreams came true when upon your arrival, you started to interfere with every little thing that I was trying to do for my baby. You blamed me when my breast-milk wasn’t enough, or when the little one cried. You complained that I am no good at calming my bawling baby! You threw a fit when I got a malish bai to bathe my son (which you thought was unnecessary). You expected me to cook three meals a day when I was barely able to stand (a few days post my C-section delivery). You constantly compared me with someone else; “Oh, look at so and so. She is so smart. Look, how well she handles kitchen work with two babies in tow.” In short you made sure that my experience of motherhood (one that I had after seven long married years) was ruined.
I was reminded yet again, that you have not accepted me, and never will. I still remember the first time we met; you watched me like a hawk while I walked across the room with a tray of ladoo and chai (I think you wanted to confirm that I have no limp and that I am not half-blind). I don’t know if you hated me at first sight, I definitely did not. Your husband offered me piece of the ladoo with a smile that was even sweeter (all the while saying that he would like to make me his bahu), and I knew at that point that I had the best father-in-law one could ask for. About you, I was not so sure.
The first day of marriage, when I entered your life and your house, I saw none of the joyous welcoming that a new bride expects. I pottered around not knowing what to talk and whom to talk to. I didn’t feel anything but unwelcome. I approached you daily, tried befriending you, asked if you need my help with household chores, and you chose to not reply. Two days later I realized that my “failure” to perform bahu’s duties had been escalated to my hubby, and that culminated into a nasty fight between him and me. What you probably didn’t realize at that point was that I was new to all the household responsibilities (after having led a carefree life with my parents till the age of 26). And I am a shy person. Had you told me in a friendly tone of what you expected me to do, I would have gladly done it. But instead you chose to sit on a soapbox and deliver a homily on what an ideal bahu is and how I am far from it.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to see you every day since hubby and I worked in a different city and had a house of our own. But, whenever, we were ordered to visit you (which was once every week), I would meekly go up to kitchen as soon as I landed, and take over the household work from you.
Slowly I realized what a bahu truly meant to you. She is someone who mustn’t have a voice of her own; she exists merely to serve – her husband and his family. A bahu in your regressive textbook is someone who wakes up at the break of dawn, makes food for the entire family, cleans the house, and then leaves for work (if she has to). She has to come back again in the evening and perform the same set of duties (while expecting no kind of help from anyone). It doesn’t matter if at work she is actually someone who handles a team of hundred or a thousand and does a smashing job at it. It doesn’t matter even if she is earning the same salary as her husband. Since she is the bahu, she is entitled to perform all the afore-mentioned duties. She is not even allowed to keep a domestic help (since her priority should be to save her own as well as her husband’s hard-earned money). An ideal bahu should ask no questions but should unflinchingly answer all kinds of zany questions directed at her. For example: “Why do have to buy such an expensive sterilizer; instead simply heat the baby bottle in a vessel? Why did you buy so many earrings (after combing through a personal drawer)?
I really tried hard to be the ideal bahu for you. I cooked and cleaned, I expected no kind of help or even a little appreciation. But the harder I toiled, the more difficult you made things for me. You were never happy or satiated. You spared no occasion to judge me and gave my efforts a failing grade. I once decided to talk to my hubby about you, and it all ended up in a big fight. I now know that Indian men will always stand by their mums.
You told me several times to not give any “stress” to my hubby since he has an important job. But, you never appreciated the fact that I have a tough life at job too that sometimes leaks into my post-office hours. It is not always possible for me to come home from work and head straight to the kitchen to make soft round rotis for you. Sometimes, I have late-evening calls which I choose to take from home. I am trying my best to balance work and life without lamenting on the lack of support from anyone.
Now, let me remind you that with my hard-earned money, I pay most of the bills and a share of the house rent too! Never once, have I depended on you or your son to buy me any material things. I take care of my shit, and also on a couple of occasions managed yours as well. Then, why, if I may ask you, am I subjected to all whining and nagging. Why am I made to feel a lowly creature that must remain mum at all times, and quietly follow your raft of orders? Why must I be made to feel that my husband is the more important person in the equation (frankly, I don’t see any difference between him and me)? Should it not be fair that my opinion be sought when it comes to taking decisions in the house? Should I not expect my hubby to partake in the household chores, when I have taken on the onus of earning/spending for the house (generally considered to be the guy’s department)?
But let me be fair to you, I know that you are rooted in age-old traditions. I know that in your opinion a woman will always remain subservient to men. I know you have deeply embedded views about gender norms, and it’s not going to change. So, I don’t blame you. But let me take my own decisions when it comes to raising my son. Don’t expect me to pass on the baton of the “traditional values” to my little boy. I will bring him up to accept both genders as equals. I will teach him to never control or dominate another. And as far as things between you and me are concerned, I have decided to let go, forgive, and forget. This letter is the last nail on the coffin of a difficult relationship I share with you!
A unhappy bahu
About the Author:
Pooja Nair is an ex-film journalist (Indian Express) with a fetish for writing entertainment blogs. Her features and short stories have regularly appeared in magazines such as ScreenIndia, Woman’s Era, Unboxed Writers, and a host of other online portals. Her full-length novel, “Love Apptually” was published last year. In addition, her short stories were published in a book titled “Inner Voices” which was released internationally. Three of her short stories were published in the Chicken Soup series. Two other stories were published in compilations titled “Hope” and “Chaos”. She writes regularly for Indian weeklies and eZines.
Link to the blog: click here