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Friend: the new mother-in-law


TSI | Issue Dated: May 13, 2007
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Friend: the new mother-in-law Jaya Jaitly

Social and political activist Friend: the new mother-in-law Relationships in a woman’s life are defined by her experiencing and having to play every role afresh. When she is young, she plays the role of a daughter with innocence. Choices reduce progressively, as responsibilities increase. Even as choices increase, which woman can deny that she has to take decisions on negotiating her space and relationships – especially that of being a mother-in-law. It is said that women are their worst enemies, citing the oppressive mother-in-law as a prime example of how she harasses and torments a girl in her marital home. It is standard practice for protagonists of women’s rights to argue that this is caused by her having been oppressed by her mother-in-law and feels psychologically compelled to wreak vengeance on her daughter-in-law. This is loads of hot air, since we are moving from the era of stereotyping to understanding that individual freedom, choice and self empowerment are goals women need to achieve.

 I believe that daughters emulate their mothers. If mothers demonstrate love and are caring, they would ideally continue to do and be so toward their sons-in-law or daughters-in-law, because it is an extension of their true personality and they are extensions of their children, rather than interlopers who need to be put in their place. If mothers are critical, opinionated or even domineering, they would be so as mothers-in-law as well. We have judged the role, rather than the person and thus, have fallen into the trap of portraying mothers-in-law as monsters, who should be kept at a distance for marriages to survive.

 One of the roles thrust upon me is that of Ajay Jadeja’s sasoo ma. For this role, I should look fat and nasty, like Bollywood characters of yesteryears, except that the title comes with the expectation that I should take Ajay along wherever I go, so that the multitudes get the thrill of their lives. We are bemused by this phenomenon, as we are usually very casual with each other, without expectations or grievances. In modern parlance, the relationship would be described as cool, i.e. easygoing, fun loving and undemanding. Ajay may perform very well in cricket and I may be considered a celebrity of some measure, but we are completely unaffected about each other! The extent of feelings that I have for him (as a mother and not a stereotyped mother-in-law) dawned on me, when I observed the unbearable and abject sadness in his eyes during the period he was falsely accused and punished for match-fixing, without a trial. While he has gracefully come to terms with it, I can never forgive those who were responsible for this travesty of justice. After shared experiences like this, it is irrelevant to try and define what a mother-in-law is supposed to be.  My daughter-in-law is French. When she was en route from France to India to settle here, I welcomed her by saying that it was wonderful to have her over and so on and so forth, but she could never become the prime minister here! I could afford to joke in this manner, as she was familiar with my political views. When I introduced her to my best friends, I informed her that if ever I metamorphosed into a fiendish mother-in-law, she could complain to them and they would sympathise. I have always joked and clowned around with my children and that is precisely what I do with their spouses. I love and care for them as much and even go the extra mile for them, since that would please my children.

 With many women stepping out of typecast roles and dealing with the world with greater confidence and independence, they are becoming friends to their children and spouses, rather than law enforcers at home. It is opportune to rework the title from mother-in-law to ‘mother-in-love’.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017