All that glitters…

Two of my cousin sisters, lets call them V and M, got married last December. Both marriages were ‘love cum arranged marriages’, by which I mean my cousins were good friends with their fiancés for at least a year before their wedding and had chosen their life partners themselves, but the weddings still had the blessing of all parties concerned.

V married into a family of modest means. Her wedding was a simple affair but the affability and warmth of her in-laws more than made up for the lack of ostentation. I distinctly remember having a very nice time during her wedding. V’s mother, my elder mausi, is no longer with us, so my mother and younger mausi were actively involved in the wedding preparations and the three of us accompanied V to her new home after the ceremony.

I was initially very shocked and upset to see their tiny two-room flat in a modest chawl-like setting. ‘How will my cousin adjust to these surroundings?’, I mused. ‘Never mind’, my mother assured me, ‘V’s earlier home was not very different from this one and in any case, I know these people are very nice, they’ll make her feel at home, you’ll see.’ I fervently hoped my mother was right.

I have been in touch with V via email over the past one year. She is enjoying her married life, is very happy with her new job and busy juggling work and her ambitious plans for further studies. She was good friends with her husband before marriage too, the real surprise is her mother-in-law who supports her in every possible way, filling in the gap left behind by her own mother a few years back.

The entire family moved into a bigger and better home last month. When my mom visited their new place, the mother-in-law affectionately showed off my cousin’s neatly stacked cupboard to my mom. V has been untidy and scatterbrained all her life and her mother-in-law is trying to mould her into a more responsible daughter-in-law these days. Quite a tall task, I would say!

M’s wedding, on the other hand, was a grand affair in the posh Mumbai suburb of Andheri. Her in-laws seemed to be part of the typical Juhu-Khar-Bandra-type posh crowd. Mumbaites will know exactly what I’m talking about but I’m sure there must be similar such specimens in other cities too. Well-dressed, sophisticated and showy people, moving around in a tight clique, with warm hugs and kisses for everyone in their clan and hardly a smile for anyone else.

Being a simple central Mumbai suburbanite myself, I have a very annoying tendency to be taken in by appearances and get impressed by such people when I very well know there’s no basis for it. Hmm… we all have our idiosyncrasies, don’t we? So like a fool I wandered around in awe of everybody at the wedding, overlooking their pompousness and instead admiring what I imagined was the upper crust culture and sophistication on display.

‘Something’s fishy about these people but I can’t put my finger on it’, my mother cautioned. My mausi, the bride’s mother seemed slightly ill-at-ease too. Was it just the pre-wedding nerves of a fond mother or were my mother and mausi worried based on some past experiences? The truth came out soon enough, barely six months after the wedding when my mom visited us here in July.

The mother-in-law expects her to cook for the entire family at five o’clock in the morning before she leaves for work. (My cousin M is a successful and extremely busy physiotherapist, she leaves home early and comes home late at night.) They can’t afford a maid to do the rotis, the mother-in-law says. The husband expects M to contribute all her earnings to the family kitty and won’t make her a joint holder of the bank account or allow her to keep a separate account. And so on.

The list of her woes was long and worrisome indeed. And all this coming from the so-called well-off folks with a posh home in Khar! It later came to light that the much-bragged-about flat in Khar never belonged to the husband or mother-in-law in the first place – it is owned by the husband’s mama – something that was carefully concealed from M’s family till after the wedding. Their own flat is somewhere in New Bombay. Nothing wrong in having a flat in New Bombay, my peeve is with the deviousness and the trickery.

What is the point I am trying to make here? That simple people from modest backgrounds are always nice and honest and rich and sophisticated folks from Juhu and Khar are the devil incarnate? Although that is the way things turned out to be in this case, it may not always be true and I am not one to make such sweeping judgments. Besides, that’s entirely missing the point. All I wanted to comment on was the difference between my perceptions and the ground realities.

Two girls coming from similar backgrounds get married into two very different families, their wedding ceremonies have a zameem-asmaan-ka-faraq between them and sadly, their married lives have an equal, if not wider, disparity. Just that the disparity is of an entirely unexpected and contrary nature this time.

Very objectively speaking, M is the more mature, responsible and deserving person of the two. And all apparent circumstances at the outset seemed to be very much in her favor. But appearances can be so deceptive, can’t they? I fervently wish things get better for M very soon though. She is one of the nicest persons I know and truly deserves to be very very happy.

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10 responses to “All that glitters…

  1. Very interesting post. I truly hope M’s life takes a turn for the better. But tell me, M, being a successful professional, etc., can’t she put her foot down and refuse to do all that seva? Can’t she open a bank account of her own and refuse to contribute to the family pool? I know, easier said than done.. but what for have girls been educated and taught to stand on their own feet? So that they don’t end up in such situations – so that they can take control of their own lives!
    Of course, we never know what is going on behind the scenes, but this is what struck me when I read this.
    Btw, on a lighter note – “love cum arranged marriage” reminded me of this post of mine – http://nychthemeron.blogspot.com/2006/12/its-all-in-name.html

  2. Yes, I felt exactly the same when my mom told me M’s story. But maybe she wants to try the gentler way first. And as you say, we outsiders will never know the full story. I just pray everything turns out well soon.

    Loved all your marriage definitions. I had a good laugh mapping all the marriages I know with the definitions! 🙂

  3. hey there,
    this is dhanashree..
    khoop chhaan lihites.
    its nice that you are very much in touch with your indian roots and havent americanised yourself.. 🙂
    good work with the webpage too..

  4. Thanks Dhanu! (I remember that’s what I used to call you when we were in 4th standard. :-)) I liked your blog very much too, I had left a comment there, did you see it?

  5. I hope M does not show so much tolerance that it is perceived as weakness. Didn’t she already have an account? Where was she putting her money till she got married?I hope she too is not in awe of her in-laws and hence feels the need to ‘fit in’ and ‘please’ at any cost. She, or her parents can at least insist on a joint account, maybe tactfully saying it is required for something, but why not talk frankly? You should read Imp’s Mom’s blog (http://perfect-imperfect.blogspot.com/) to know why such situations are dangerous.
    I noticed something else too, I hope you don’t mind my commenting on that. I have never lived in a joint family and my biggest nightmare as a young girl was someone trying to ‘improve my ways’, showing me how to be neater, better organised, more outgoing, somebody suggesting I make pickles, papads, try knitting …but in India most mothers in law consider it absolutely normal to tell their daughter’s in laws how to do everything. I had stopped my mother when she pointed out how my brother’s wife does not wash the vegetables before storing them in the fridge. Luckily she did listen to me and today she has a good relationship with my brother’s wife. Just because they are older and have more experience does not mean their way is always right. My sister’s ma in law used to insist she gets salt added to the dough for chapattis. When my sister organised separate atta for her (assuming she likes salt in her chapattis) her ma in law was offended, she wanted my sister also to eat chappatis with salt the way they ate. I thought it was ridiculously unfair. Is it right to expect a girl to change like this? Didn’t she have a life till she got married?

  6. Hmmm… you are right about M. I too think it’s high time she started putting her foot down. I appreciate her point-of-view too, if things can be done the gentler/nicer but slower way, it’s worthwhile to try it for some time. But everything has a limit!

    And I just read through Imp’s mom blog. Yes, the situation is scary for sure. I think I’ll have a heart-to-heart talk with M during my next India trip. (Such topics are best discussed face-to-face, don’t you think?)

    And about V’s situation (her mom-in-law trying to make her more tidy), I think you need to know V (and her EXTREMELY untidy ways) to sympathize with her mom-in-law! 🙂

    On a serious note, I get your point but sometimes when the advice is both well-intentioned and given in a nice friendly and non-threatening way, I see no harm in it myself. Don’t you agree?

  7. Glad you agree IHM! Sometimes I feel its just us young inexperienced folks chattering around here… its nice to know that someone more experienced (albeit just as young) 😉 agrees with us!

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