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The Other Woman (The Real Other One In Every Relationship)

I should probably re-word the title of this post. For an average Indian male at least, she’s the First Woman. Technically so for every single man, actually.

Mama, Earth Mother, Ma Goddess.

I saw the appalling Devdas (with SRK, Ashen-faced Rai and la Dixit) with someone who had read the original Saratchandra masterpiece. Mental thank you to him while I reflect on his explanation. Devdas indeed was the least important character in the book. It was a story of power play between 5 women – Devdas’ mother, his sister-in-law, Paro’s mother, Paro herself and Chandramukhi of course.

If we consider that structure, it would seem like a man is really nothing. The actual dealings happen between women while men and their emotions are merely status symbols, currency…to be hard-worn or snatched, nurtured or manipulated and generally ‘managed’ the way one manages other valuable resources. How disappointing…and here I always thought men were intelligent, fully conscious and responsible human beings. There they go out of the reckoning then. Pop.

So of course we find ourselves landing smack-dab back into the age-old power struggle between a man’s mother and his partner. ‘Mother-in-law’, the Indian one is a hallowed notion. If the Grimms’ brothers’ fairytales had originated in India then Snow White, Rose Red and Cinderella would have had evil moms-in-law instead of step-mothers.

The average Indian woman is deeply wise and practical, I think. Since respect, attention and even love are so difficult to glean from her spouse who is busy paying homage to the sainted mother, she in turn creates a devotee of her own – her son. And the mama’s boy tradition continues. Of course for new bahus, girlfriends and partners, this is a mighty uncomfortable situation.

Then again, we find ourselves in the modern day situation of young women who are far more openly ambitious and in too much of a hurry to wait 20 years to create another son-devotee. Is it possible then, that the two women could share the spoils of the relationship war? I don’t know. It’s a power-game inherently and I guess it depends on the control-quotient of both women in the situation.

A friend who recently got married was moaning about her weekend spent watching a bad movie with cheesy songs and a terribly regressive plotline. “But why ever on earth??” I questioned her till she pronounced in a low drone, “Mom-in-law wanted to see it” I patted her arm soothingly and reminded her that at least ma-in-law kept it to bad movies and the occasional gift of garish dresses and OTT jewellery…which really wasn’t that bad. Annoying but not really bad.

While on the other hand I have friends who’ve gone from ‘that lovely girl our son is going to be marrying next month’ to ‘the evil witch…god knows how she trapped my son’. I shudder….the ma-in-law chronicles can get pretty nasty and invariably it is the newcomer who is starting off at a disadvantage. I tell my friends not to expect any support from man in question, from what I’ve seen, men either don’t want to get involved or will take momma’s side. Fine then, it’s all out war, woman-to-woman.

An obvious way to start off on the right note may be to strike just the right chord with the big lady herself. This is easier said than done, I suppose. I’m not entirely sympathetic to the role of ma-in-law that I’ve never played…but I wonder whether a lady who has contrived to make her son a mindless minion will relinquish her control that easily.

Ah, women are such complex creatures, they don’t like to be managed. It is a delicate situation when two women have to share the management of a man’s life, which is precisely why the saans-bahu story lends itself to such drama. I realise of course that this entire post smacks of one-sidedness. For who knows after all, how the tables will turn once we are on the other side? Kyon ki saans bhi kabhi bahu thi, indeed.

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