I was watching this popular TV talk show. MILs were pitted against DILs. Whether the show had a stylist or not, all the DILs were wearing pants/ salwars/ churi and the MILs were into Kanjeevarams. Blood was shed! MILs started off by accusing the DILs of not cooking “proper food” but using ready to eat stuff or worse, bread. The DILs were defensive, saying that they checked the nutrition quotient of the food even if it was fast food and that they made a point to serve “home-cooked “ when they woke up early. A husband was brought in who insisted that his mom’s cooking was unbeatable. I could hear the tears in the poor wife’s voice as she told him that he could have told her what was wrong, when he ate it. He claimed diplomatic immunity. I could have told him that whatever brownie points he had gained with his mother, his marriage was heading downhill after such public betrayal. More serious issues such as dowry deaths were of course not discussed, but the MILs scored when they triumphantly announced that DILs never bathed before cooking in the morning[ what a crime!] It is not only India , where this mother worship is such an issue. Once, in a judges’ training in Bangladesh, I was told not to say anything which might be interpreted as derogatory to the mother. Apparently, she is sacred! This is so unlike the western stereotype, where being tied to the mother’s apron strings is the sign of a wimp! As gendered an assumption, but being a wife, I know which one is better! Just flipping through western magazines, one can find many letters to agony aunties bemoaning the fact that the son is refusing to leave home, by mothers! They don’t want to nurture anyone, just have a good time, finally. I can’t find fault with that. The Indian stereotype is of a woman who is constantly ready to sacrifice ANYTHING for her children [ read Nirupa Roy, Mother India]. If there is no mother, then by default the elder sister gets landed with that stereotype. If the mother wants to have a bit of fun, she is shown as a wicked witch or incredibly unfeeling – Bindu in Bobby, comes to mind but there are more recent ones such as poor Aishwarya in that Tamil Madhavan-Sada starrer. Let’s now deal with the assumptions which were touted at the show. The wife is a substitute mother for her brawny/ scrawny/supposed to be mature husband, even if, as usually happens, she’s younger than him. So, she may be a PhD, but she has to be a kitchen Queen and a goddess combined, bathed, prayed and ready to wield the ladle at dawn, a la Nargis in the jago Mohan pyare song[ 1950?] in 2010. Wah India! All mothers in the end are like Chetan Bhagat’s hero’s in ‘ Two States’. Not one MIL or DIL actually said, in the show, that surely such a hulking hubby could cook or wash up himself! We might be sending women abroad to study and work, and they may be merrily working at call centres at night, or even heading companies and banks, but the hand which rocks the cradle, is the hand which the Indian male [and his darling Mom] want.
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