Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Of bahuranis and ghar jamais

Nowhere in the world (I presume) do you find the fascinating connotations attached to the position of a daughter-in-law. Let me explain.
To begin with, let’s take the daughter-in-law.  She is referred to as ‘Bahurani’, ‘Ghar ki Lakshmi’, ‘Bahubegum’, and so on.  All aimed at making her feel special.
 But she has to pay a price for these high-sounding titles.  She is expected to live with her in-laws and be a guardian of the family reputation. She has to be hospitable to all the members of the clan and take on the responsibility of managing the household under the supervision of the mother-in-law.  She is supposed to keep minimal contact with her own family, as she is now the ‘property’ of her in-laws.  She is expected to shed her old habits and adapt herself to the customs and traditions of the family she has entered.  In short, she is a combination of a slave with a Queen’s title!
As for the son-in-law, he has a very interesting slot.   He is expected to whisk his wife away from her parent’s house and thereafter she is his responsibility.  He is revered as the ‘damad’ and all his trespasses are forgiven as he has done a noble act by relieving the parents of a burden called ‘daughter’!  His in-laws celebrate each visit of his and he is given a lord’s welcome.  On festivals and special occasions he is given preferential treatment and little wonder that he struts around like a peacock.
 But woe to the son-in-law who opts to live with his in-laws!  From the elevated position of a ‘damad’ he is relegated to a ‘ghar jamai’ a derogatory nomenclature.  His wife may be the only daughter of rich parents with a sprawling house and his own abode may be a little flat in the back of beyond.  Society expects him to rough it out in a poky flat rather than see him comfortably ensconced in the posh house of his in-laws.  He is considered a puppet that has sold his soul for the money of his wife and lives off the charity of her father. Beyond living under the roof of his in-laws, he may be very independent financially, but the general perception is that of his being a parasite.  Even his masculinity is questioned under these circumstances.
Strange are the norms of Indian society.  A daughter cannot stay peacefully with her parents after her marriage while a son is expected to.  There is no common sense or logic in these unspoken but rigidly practiced ways.
Surprisingly, it’s the men themselves who look down upon their counterparts who choose to live with their in-laws. Is it envy, which prompts their snide remarks?  Is it a false sense of ‘one upmanship’, which dissuades them from living in the wife’s home? Whatever the reason, they are the losers.