“My in-laws don’t hate me at all. But ‘love’ isn’t about all this. ‘Love’ is about letting your loved one ‘live’.”

Sharing an email.

Loved the sensible and powerful message that accompanied it. What good is ‘love’, if it does not include respect for the loved one’s happiness?

Dear IHM,

I request you to put this up in your blog, because most women think that you need to fight back only in extreme situations such as an abusive spouse or money-minded in-laws or something. Many women and men think that it is enough if their spouse has a “good character”.

With my story, I want to show that it isn’t. My in-laws don’t hate me at all. FIL has never hesitated to buy my favorite vegetables or fruits or tiny treats that he knows I like. MIL and grand MIL are actually quite affectionate. But “love” isn’t about all this. “Love” is about letting your loved one “live”. Love is supposed to be unconditional, and if you don’t have it, you shouldn’t pretend to have it.

I want readers, especially married women, to know that it is important to fight back for whatever is important for them in their life – happiness, career, hobbies etc. And this fight should be fought regardless of who snatches this away from them – parents, in-laws, spouse, why, even children.

Thanks a million!

My story- “adjustment” in Indian families.

I have been silently reading your blog for quite some time now. With your last post “In my bubble marriages are the stuff of feminist dreams!” I finally decided to comment.

I had what you’d call a “love-cum-arranged” marriage. My in-laws are very orthodox and I was brought up in a much liberal environment. As far as “adjustment” goes, mine is a long saga.

1.

I was 22 and I had just finished my PG and joined a job. Like most young women from non-conservative backgrounds, I had no clue about cooking or other complex household duties. I only used to help my housewife mom in small chores. After my honeymoon, when I joined work, my workplace was more than 20 kms away from the house. I had to live with my husband’s brother and his 70 plus paternal grandmother. I used to wake up at 5:30 a.m. (considering I was newly married), bathe, and stare at the kitchen, wondering how I should cook. MIL and FIL weren’t living with us. Grandma was too old to wake up so early. I used to feel so alone and lost in the kitchen, with no one to help me, as the entire house was sound asleep, unaware of my woes.

Grandma eventually taught me cooking and helped around a bit, considering her age, but as far as DOING it was concerned, I was totally at loss. My workplace being far away, I would come home late, cook, clean then repeat the same chores the next day. NOBODY helped me. I had no option but call my mom and pour my heart out. My husband was working from home then, and you’d be surprised how little sympathy I received from him despite having dated for 3 years.

2.

We are *** (community), famous for our orthodoxy. My in-laws were even more so. Apart from the above, I was also pelt with a huge onslaught of religiosity and mindless rituals; being isolated while menstruating, bathing before cooking, taking madi baths, performing special poojas on auspicious days, cooking complex meals for special occasions I had no clue of, trying not to touch uncooked items after touching cooked items (what they call patthu in our language) – things that were totally unheard of in my parents’ place.

You guessed it; my husband was clueless and wasn’t bothered about it as long as he wasn’t directly affected. Everyone, including my own family, told me to “adjust”.

3.

Eventually I learned managing the household and completing things on time before office. But I was still a one-woman army. Nobody even as much as picked up their used coffee cup from the table. Grandma started commenting on my incapacities in managing the household, citing examples of herself and my mother-in-law. My own mother commented on my “slowness”, “laziness” and “incapability”.

I would like to point out that by this time, all my hobbies were gone. I was a voracious reader, and totally into DIY art projects, was learning music before marriage. Now, I wasn’t even given the allowance to watch my favorite programs on TV. Everyone else hogged the TV. I had no time for ANYTHING. People said that is the sacrifice a “working woman has to gladly make”.

4.

Relatives would pop in (both sides), and would look at the house I disarray. I was blamed again, being the WOMAN of the family.

5.

It was around this time that some harsh realities clearly established themselves. My FIL, as I found, was not only extremely domineering and violent, but also used to drink and smoke in the house. He paid no attention to the fact that I had asthma and was allergic to smoke/dust. The common bathroom would reek of nicotine every time they came visiting. He is extremely finicky about food as well; a grain of salt missing and he would simply toss the plate at my MIL’s face. He also used to emotionally blackmail everyone into giving him what he wanted and used to beat up MIL if someone didn’t budge. This beating was used as leverage for his blackmailing. MIL is a total slave of this family and she is shown as the example of the ideal MIL.

6.

FIL forbade me from wearing jeans in his presence, ordered me to quit working if necessary to have a male baby to carry his line forward and told me to learn from my MIL. With several talks, my husband started intervening in this one, though he too told me to “adjust” as did several other women of “my age and status”.

7.

This went on. I finally cracked and attempted suicide several times, though not with the full conviction or courage; I barely even injured myself. This was all thanks to my sanity and courage urging me to stay back and fight, and battling against my desire to run away from all this.

It showed up on my health. I gained a lot of weight, and had to quit my well-paid and well-loved job due to attacks of migraine. Moreover, I wanted to try for higher studies, but due to some problems, that couldn’t materialize.

I was a housewife now. Day by day, as many working women would attest, I started going mad with mundane housework and being constantly bothered by lazy family members to do chores for them. I tried to re-join my old company, but they had too many formalities in re-taking ex-employees. I decided to work from home.

“Adjust” as I did, people bothered me the whole day and never let me sit at my desk in peace for more than 5 mins at a stretch. I decided that I didn’t care what happened. I went to a doctor, put the headaches in order and joined work again; this time with the conviction that I will clearly say “NO ADJUSTMENT” when I CANNOT.

By this time, my husband had warmed up to my situation a lot, as I kept sensitizing him. I understood that his apathy was not because he was sexist himself, but I discovered that he was a worse victim of this patriarchy than I was. He just didn’t share those problems with me and when I told him mine, it frustrated him even more. We started sharing our problems. I went for counseling. Our relationship improved.

8.

As fate had it, my FIL brought the house down with his mad whim once again. He took voluntary retirement and along with his second son, forced my husband to buy a house he couldn’t afford at all. FIL wanted to brag about this house as his brother too had brought a house recently. My husband and his brother paid the EMI. This house was 40 plus kms away from my workplace. People advised me to quit. I didn’t quit, but I also “adjusted”. This was just 2 months before my first anniversary, so you can imagine the financial crunch of having to cope from marriage expenses and now that of a large duplex house as well.

Husband had quit his work-from-home job and taken up work at a company close to my own, so he realized how harrowing it is to make long commutes to work everyday. He realized how shitty it feels to work at home after a long commute.

We moved to the new home in September 2013. My bro-in-law went to work abroad (escaped from this mad household I’d say). I, hubby, grandma, FIL and MIL occupied this house.

9.

FIL threw tantrums every day. The drinking and the beatings were too frustrating to watch. MIL expected us to support her when he beat her, but being the slave she was, she’d also chide us if we said anything against FIL, especially me. Those beatings were “their private business” and we had “no concerns whatsoever” with them, but we were supposed to “adjust” so that FIL would be happy.

This was the final straw. We totally stopped “adjusting”. I and hubby moved out of this house this Feb’14 and have been the butt of censure ever since, what with “budhaape ka sahaara” and the “duty of a married woman to her in-laws”.

My parents finally became supportive. I and hubby have tasted our freedom after more than 1 year of marriage. We’ve had total privacy for the first time with no one eavesdropping on us. We can finally breathe.

Yes, we still pay the EMI and live with a financial constraint that is not our fault at all (My FIL spends lavishly to appease the society, expecting my husband to pay for it as “they raised him and educated him”). But, today the man, who once didn’t lift a finger for me fearing his family’s commentary, now openly washes vessels for me and even cleans the toilet. He doesn’t hesitate to support me before his family now. We are finally a happy couple because we have stopped “adjusting”.

We have faced the music though. FIL has waged a cold war. He has declared that he will have nothing to do with me hereafter (interestingly, he is supposed to pay the mortgage for my jewellery which was pawned to pay for his exorbitance). But, then, what the hell! Good-riddance!

I guess this is a long mail, IHM. But, I just want to say that “adjustment” is a vicious cycle. The more you repress yourself, the more you want to take it out on someone. And, you eventually will- a spouse, children or even your own DIL. You can always make a few mutual sacrifices and agreements, but the word “mutual” is to be heeded here.

Everyone has their own set of negotiable and non-negotiable. Some women actually don’t mind wearing saree all the time to please their husband/in-laws. Some women don’t mind quitting working. Maybe… but, I am not one of them. The point is: Never negotiate even slightly on things that are non-negotiable for you. Also never hesitate to negotiate on things that don’t matter much in the long run.

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“I had written an email about being a DIL in the joint family, I am happy to share my current state …”

Sharing an email.

Subject: Thoughts on how my life improved_Publish this to thank all the readers for their support.

I had written an email about a year back about being a DIL in the joint family:

An email from a DIL living in a Joint Family: Should I adjust or should I leave?

I am happy to share my current state and how the quality of my life has improved as a whole.

We (Hubby and me) have slowly worked things out and turned the tide around  the house. As discussed in my previous post, I was struggling against the gender discrimination in my marital home.

There came a time when my parents returned from US (after visiting my sister) and visited my town as well, on the way. I informed my inlaws about them being in town. But against my hopes they dint bother inviting them home. This hurt me badly. My parents on their part sent lots of US chocolates for my inlaws even though they were uninvited to their own daughter’s home. The inlaws accepted the sweets without even a  thank you. I embarrased them further by telling that my parents have enquired the health of everyone at home and sent their regards for the same (in a sarcastic way). Their attitude started having a profound affect on me and my hubby and we realised my shoddy existance in the house, the scant respect for my parents etc

This attitude of theirs made us (hubby and me) more united,more rebellious.

Finally there came a time when my dad visited my town yet again and had to stay in a lodge (because he was unwelcome at my place). I found it ridiculous that the in laws,who have taken loads of dowry from this man, the same man who even provided the plates and spoons you eat in everyday, is not even eligible to share a tea with you and meet his daughter. Hubby said enough is enough and slowly and gradually we stopped participating in the inlaws kitchen and started our independent life upstairs. We cooked what we wanted, we ate out when we were lazy, slept when we felt like and wore what we wished.

It was awesome and liberating. Of course there were many awkward moments with the inlaws, where the whole family had food in one kitchen and just us in another.

But it was worth it. The inlaws were cold initially but gradually warmed up to us. It was a clear case of them doing things wrong and facing the consequences

We would meet and greet them, would visit them and talk to them but never get lured by their hints of asking us to come back and depend on them

Eating together can in many ways enable inlaws to control their child and child-in-law’s life.  Every time we wish to eat out, we need to inform them, every time we come home late(for dinner) we need to inform them, we need to participate in the kitchen chores and this makes us stay before their eyes and less time together/any other activities of our choice.We are bound to a routine and little chance of exercising any deviation from the set routine. If after a tiring work week we wish to unwind by going out for breakfast,a spontaneous long drive later, a fun cooking activity of trying new recipies etc are discouraged by this eat together culture. Basically we can’t do anything unplanned, exciting and thrilling.

Eating a snack outside becomes a crime. Not to mention rising early on weekends to cook and slog out for the whole family. Cooking (for 7-8 people 3 versatile meals a day) becomes the primary activity of life.

We can as well meet without having to compulsorily ‘eat’. The family was very rigid in terms of the ‘bahus’ slogging and everyone else enjoying. Father in law proudly claims that the family has to eat atleast one meal together a day. If that is the case why does discrimination creep in, in terms of who cooks that one meal. Why does he (along with his son/daughter) shy away from cooking? Why only eat together? Why not all cook together, work together and then eat together. I was considered the house breaker who changed the son, took him away and broke the family.

But by moving out of the kitchen, I have rediscovered myself and really enjoying my marital life. It takes one firm strong step. My funda has been ‘be polite’ but ‘be firm’. Learn to say ‘no’ in a smiling way.They may blame you , say all sorts of nasty things but it is only so much they can do. Rise above it, sometimes without reacting to it, in a calm and composed way. Do what you believe is right, but be nice to them.They also have their own insecurities.They are also scared of the society .They also will not go out on a war with the son cause they also need him and value his relationship with them. But they ‘try’, try to see how much the controlling can happen ,and raise the bar each time we are quiet.

As a result of this, my whole family has visited our home multiple times.

They also go visit our in laws and have a cup of tea with them. We also hinted to our in laws that if any uncomfortable vibes are passed during any of my family visits then we may leave the town or shift to a neutral home where both sets of families are equally welcome. Fearing this, they treat my family well. When my family visits, we all visit my in laws first, have a cup of tea and then move on to my floor where my parents spend their rest of the time.

Every mature educated couple unfortunately goes through a vicious cycle after marriage.The cycle begins with the parents of the boys trying to play around with the bahu by placing expectations on her shoulder, inch by inch, level by level, and see how she deals with it.Usually in India, the bahu is new,shy,coy bride and is testing the waters so does not resist initially.This encourages them and her discomfort increases. At this time she is not even on a completely comfortable platform to discuss these issues with her husband because they are also still getting to know each other. Mutual trust is still not strong enough for her to liberally complain against his own folks to him. When she finally does, it is a bit of a surprise for him also, he has never seen his parents in bad light before, never felt his parents can be wrong. But if he is a mature guy, he slowly sees all the discrimination, all the wrong. He takes time to come to terms to it, validate it, and agree to act against it, but things start going out of hands by than. And his struggle to gather guts to fight his parents, the actual showdowns,the emotional blackmail are very stressful for the couple, especially him. This is because for her, she knows her wrongdoers easily, but for him its his own people,who have always wished him well till he gets married.The people who behave irrationally are your own people, you have to fight for justice and risk losing all ties with them .

Once the showdown happens, ultimatums given/received the marriage and also the relationship with the in-laws reach some stable state.

All this I have written about is true if husband is a fair,mature guy. I don’t even want to think what happens otherwise.The sad part is,every couple goes through all this, reinvents the wheel each time. Most in-laws try to fit old marriage templates to new modern women. There is struggle, friction as a result. Its high time new customs, relevant for today’s youth are popularised.

We need powerful mediums for that.The religious leaders (who are of this generation) should speak out about such things. The media also needs to grow up to cater to the new lifestyle. I don’t see a single popular soap where the bahu is working in a challenging profession and the Indian families adapting to it. We need to telecast everyday lifestyle changes in positive light.This would solve the major stress problems every couple invariably goes through. I hope to see such soaps/films which educate the society to rise to the modern day demands rather than spewing patriarchy nauseatingly.

IHM’s blog  is the first step which has achieved this purpose in a fearless way. Thanks IHM for your efforts in solving the major concern the Indian youth is facing.

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