“Tum hamari beti jaisi ho!”
is a line in-laws often use to console and reassure a daughter-in-law. You are just like a daughter to us. All those married women who have found a healthy replacement for their own parents in their in-laws, read no further. Please continue on your search for unicorns instead! I, on the other hand, am more interested in exploring the myriad hues of the great Indian culture which seems to have trouble respecting people without overstating a relationship and/or without forging a relationship where none is required.
Don’t believe me? Have you seen how we Indians make uncles and aunties out of everyone older than us even if this is the first time we’ve ever met them – it don’t matter that uncle’s vehicle scratched yours; don’t matter either that you only needed to “excuse” yourself as aunty was blocking the entry to your flat with her veggie basket in tow. What to say, we are a respectful lot!
India is a land where we make bhaiya (brothers) out of cab drivers, milk vendors, vegetable vendors, even shopkeepers. But, what’s interesting to note is that no salesman in a mall is called bhaiya. There, bhaiya morphs into ‘excuse me!’. Our politicians are didi (Mamata-di), behenji (Mayawati), Amma (Jayalalitha)… but Soniaji is Madam. Got it? Bhaiya versus Excuse me. Didi versus Madam. Same difference, you see!
It’s normal for us to be bhaiya and bhabhi to our drivers; as it is for our maids to call us bhabhi or didi while our husbands become ‘sir’. As people, we are always guaging our distance from others in all walks of life and these addresses present a key to the whole web of our relationships.
So, coming back to the question of bahu as beti, is that promotion or demotion? Well, let’s be sure – the way Indian daughters are treated, yes, even in progressive families, this is not consolation. Modern Indian families may not neglect the girl child, may not discourage her from her pursuit of studies but I haven’t met many whose parents have granted both their sons and daughters equal inheritance. In fact, I haven’t known even once such case here except where parents had only girl children. Girls may study, they may be seriously encouraged to perform well academically, but they are also reminded how important it is for them to be able to perform household tasks well. Again, I haven’t met many boys who are told to do so. Agreed, these issues are not the same as what we have seen in the gruesome past; but, society also works to rob our girls of many advantages that modern Indian families provide their girls. As a daughter you may dress up any way you want within the limits of your home but stepping out, especially using public transport independently, is always a challenge. Always. I cannot stress this more.
So, I seriously doubt that being a beti rather than a bahu is a sweet deal. Another major problem this implies is that of distance. Indian parents suffer from the So-what-if-I-am-60-and-you-are-30-I-see-only-my-little-son-in-you-still syndrome and what’s more, pride themselves on it. It’s probably a major reason why most Indian men have a lot of growing up to do. Why do I isolate men here, you say? Well, because it’s boys who are treated as babies even well into their 40s. Girls, as young as 16, are advised to grow up, behave in a mature manner, take responsibility, learn how to manage a home… So, back to meddlesome. I am afraid that this tendency of meddling in their children’s affairs be it their income, financial management, family planning or even the clothes they wear would exponentially increase if a bahu becomes beti. They draw you closer with the result you’ll suffocate sooner as a beti than you would have as a bahu.
It goes without mentioning that since they’ve elevated your status to beti from bahu, your JD involves more “seva” than before. That reminds me eerily of the time when I won a promotion without any actual increment to my salary bracket. Only the title changed. Well, at least the title changed, I thought then. I could at least join competition. Here, you don’t even have that edge. You only compete with the bar you have set. So, you thought you wanted to be the best bahu? Well, you are a beti now, take that. And you get to do that by upping the seva quotient! I don’t what’s with Indian in-laws that they (especially men) can’t have a glass of water without the bahu serving them. Sorry if they feel thirsty 16 times a day. You must be there with a glass on a tray. Enjoy!
Don’t even get me started on the family planning lectures. The best and the most preposterous charade is when they actually talk as if they are not talking about sex at all! Your sex life that you share with their very own son. I wonder how many in-laws will actually go through their lectures were they to be reminded of their endeavours in such crude but real terms. We just want a beta! (shrug!) Of course you do, don’t you… Let’s go tell your “jigar ka tukda” to lay off the condoms for a bit… Of course there are times when many of your friends and near & dear ones will hint at the prospect… some even in good humour, some to make you blush… it happens in every culture, I get it! The intensity I am talking about w.r.t Indian parents is a whole other thing. They will sit you down, ask what “exactly” your problems are, will threaten you with the fear of a lonely future, questions from the society, will remind you of your duty to the society, will emotionally blackmail you saying “we’ll die without seeing the face of our grandchildren?”, and may even humiliate you by hinting at the poor quality of your relationship. They may have never had “the talk” with their own son about bees and birds at any point of time in their lives but when it comes to “this talk” with their bahu-turned-beti, they take to it like a duck takes to water.
I’d much rather be a bahu, if it constantly serves to remind them that I am a woman, an adult, married to their son. I have a husband, I have a family of my own, and he is the one I share the closest relationship with. If I am related to them, it is through him. It means that there are boundaries they must respect, even if they are not dying out of love and respect for me, per se. I don’t want to be a daughter to them. I am already a daughter to someone. I have a set of parents already. I am in their lives as their daughter-in-law and that’s perfectly fine for me. There is something iffy somewhere if they have to make me “like their daughter” in order to be able to respect me as someone their son has committed to.