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