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.
I said I’d be a mother someday.
He said I needed a man.
I didn’t say I’d be pregnant.
I said I’d be a mother.
You don’t need anyone
But a child for that.
*Earlier posted here.
XX Factor welcomes a longtime friend (of mine and of this blog) as its newest guest-contributor. Many of my insights (on relationships and on relationships) have come my way, courtesy conversations with her wise, funny, fun self. If you’ve been following the Indian blogosphere (especially the Pune troupe), she’ll be no stranger to you. As it goes, I’ll let her introduce herself.
“You look like your mamma”
my daughter is told often. She invariably makes a face that leaves no doubt about how she hates being told that. And of course, she is asked, “Why? You want to look like papa?” or “You don’t like to look like mamma” or something of the sort. And her reply was as instantaneous the first time as it is now, after many years of repetition,
“I look like me.”
I try to hide my pride every time this seven-year old, tiny thing does this. Of course, I haven’t coached her (it’d take away all the charm from HER line, wouldn’t it?). It just feels good to see such confidence, clarity of thought and articulation at this age. My, my what a woman of the 21st century she’s going to be!
Having spent most of my life in the 20th century, I come with my share of insecurities and inhibitions. At times, I do catch myself trying to figure out who I am. Am I a movie reviewer or the ‘deadly’ CA-cum-MBA combination? Am I a 15-years-and-counting aspiring good bahu (daughter-in-law) or am I a liberal ‘live and let live’ friend to one and all? Am I a mother of two or am I me? Or the scariest possibility – all of the above?
*Image via Ambro on FreeDigitalPhotos
When IdeaSmith and I talked about me being a regular guest here, we discussed the identity I’d have, the voice I’d be. I’ll be talking a whole lot about being a mother of two and everything that goes with the territory. Yet an identity called “mum2two” or “mommy” didn’t feel right.
Not because I’m more than just a boring “mom”. Maybe, I’m not. Who knows? We’ll figure that out.
But because being a mother is more about not being motherly all the time. Because not being mommy-type makes me a better mother. And an irony it is, that I have to remind myself of this every day, day-after-day for it’s the easiest thing, to let go of everything else and focus your entire existence towards your children.
Of course, we’ll know if this theory works as the kids grow older. (Where is that self-assuredness when it is needed!?). But, let’s start here –
As narcissist as it may sound, we are going to start with I am me, I am meetu.
When I received a corporate pat-on-the-back (with a financial award), my mother suggested that I spend it on jewelery instead of frittering it away on clothes, books and shoes. Mum still believes in jewelery being a good investment. It took months but I finally agreed. I went diamond-shopping.
It was not the first major purchase I’ve ever made, not even the first time I’ve bought jewellery. On my first job, I saved up to buy my father a new cellphone and my mother, a diamond ring. That was a funny feeling. A memorable feeling, a funny one and one I’ll treasure all my life…the exhilarating thrill that comes from being able to buy something for the people you love, who have provided for you, all your life.
But when I went big-purchase-shopping again, a few years later, it just was different. A different kind of different. Inside my head, despite all the freedom of financial independence and mental release, my liberation has a few gaps in it. Like little stitches still binding me to old ways of being, long after I’ve snipped away the life I want to wear.
Diamonds are usually received as gifts, not bought for oneself. Gifted by a man…a father, a brother, a lover, a husband. If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, it’s because those sparkly stones carry the monetary value that they were bought for, but also the power of being cherished and indulged by men. For years, diamonds have been financially tangible tokens of men’s allegiance to those women. They continue to be so.
Only, these diamonds don’t represent the men who lavish their affections on me. They remind me of everything that I’ve worked for and achieved. The power to buy a diamond as well as the right to wear one that is truly my own. It’s just odd how long it took me to accept the feeling. To not feel guilty about lavishing it on myself, not feel obligated to spending it on someone else or something more important/intelligent, not wonder if brandishing my economic power made me seem like even more of a man-hating feminist than people usually accuse me of being.
It took me a long time to accept that it was okay to buy a diamond for myself and feel good about it. Newfound power doesn’t come easy; it’s scary. I actually took about a month, after agreeing to actually bring home the diamonds. I browsed online for different brands (and read a great deal about blood-free diamonds). I contemplated the merits of a pendant-and-chain versus a ring. I visited several stores and compared prices. I sketched out designs and pored over them. I considered local ‘known’ stores versus big jewelery brands. And finally I went and picked up a pair of earrings. Tiny diamond chiplings fashioned into three petals, with a thin golden stem wound around them. I did it all on my own.
Then I wore my new earrings to work the next day. For about ten minutes my entire body hummed in excitement, wondering if anyone would say anything. Nobody noticed anything different, no one even tossed the odd compliment my way. But suddenly, I realised, I didn’t care. I knew and that’s all that mattered.
I’ve had the earrings for a couple of years now. I wear them when the outfit and occasion suits them. But sometimes, just because I want a reminder of what I can do for myself.