Friday, December 27, 2013

THE TIME OF MY LIFE XI...Integrating with in-laws

Integration is the key word in a marriage. In our Indian society a marriage is a fusion of two families, not just two individuals. My mother stressed this again and again and she herself had practiced it. So, becoming a part of Srivatsa’s family was not difficult. His cousins and their spouses are great fun and we all enjoy being together.
My father-in-law (appa) is a remarkable person. He was in a wheel chair for over ten years. An acute diabetic, he was a little careless with his sweet tooth and his legs had to be amputated for gangrene in the Command Hospital. He was slipping into a comatose state when they wheeled him into the OT. The next morning, it fell to our lot to break the news to him. He took it very calmly. Soon, the other leg was to go. He was such an active man and any one with less tenacity, would have not come out with his spirit Intact. With his wounds still raw, we had to take a decision of moving him to the Naval Hospital in Mumbai as both Srivatsa and I had exhausted all our share of leave

The airport was crowded the day I was flying appa to Mumbai. Amitaab
Bachan had arrived and there were teeming crowds. Even appa wanted to see him, lying in the ambulance with the intravenous drips going in! For nearly three months, Appa was in Asvini, the Naval hospital and thanks to the excellent nursing and medical care, he got out of the dangerously ill list and came home.

Appa is very energetic and extremely helpful. His indomitable spirit and positive attitude have kept him going, despite being tied to a wheel chair. Even to this day, he runs the house: wheeling himself around. He knows what is happening where and continues to be the lord of his manor, where we live together. As of now, there are four generations of men in the house. My father-i-law, his son Srivatsa, his son Arjun and his son Karan. We performed Kanakabhishekam of my father-in-law. It is a sacred ritual in which, after Vedic chanting, holy water is sprinkled on the eldest member of the family, through a sieve filled with gold flowers. This is to bless the subsequent generations with health and prosperity. The priest, who performed this, told us that in the fifty odd years of his priesthood, this was the first time he had performed this ritual in a fourth generation household. Normally, only the husband or wife is alive at that stage. Little Karan, my grandson, is lucky to have been carried by his great grand parents from both his grand mom and grandpa line.
(Both my parents-in-law are no more as I post this)

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Right from Vasanta’s wedding which took place a year after mine, I have wholeheartedly participated in all family functions. I took my role as the eldest daughter-in-law, seriously and got into the act. I guess this cemented my relationship with Srivatsa. We work as a team. Our role was clearly defined with mutual understanding. I would be the home maker, which included taking care of the entire running of the household and family PR, which is keeping track of various social commitments and organizing gifts and parties. Srivatsa would be the bread winner and chairman of our home organization. While the division of duties was a little imbalanced in that I had the major share, it was a fine arrangement for me. Not a career woman, I would walk in and out of jobs, staying only if the content and environment suited me. Since Srivatsa assumed the role of the provider, I did not have to work but did only what gave me pleasure and satisfaction.

Marriage has also been learning process for me. The first chapters in the book of do’s and don’ts reads (a) No One upmanship. As husband and wife, Srivatsa and I have a common goal…family peace and happiness. There is nothing like one having the upper hand over the other. When this happens, there is conflict of interest and the result is disastrous. Whoever is mentally or physically stronger calls the shots and the other person is unhappy. Over the last thirty years of our married life, we have both given and taken, sometimes- less and sometimes more. But we retain our individuality and continue to do what each believes in as long as it does not contradict the goal.
We tell each other everything. I have seen some of my friends’ husbands who behave different when their wives are not around. Srivatsa openly compliments a lady on her looks or cooking or housekeeping in my presence and I can compliment a man on his looks too. Sometimes, it is so uncanny when we open our mouth at the same time and say the samething! We know exactly what the other is thinking. No guess work there.

As I wind up this chapter, I remember the advice given by my grandmother. She asked me what I cook when Srivatsa is away at sea. I told her I generally lived on bread or fruits. “Don’t do that”, she said, “A woman is the pillar of the house and has to be strong. You take care of yourself first and only then can you take care of the rest. You eat the cream and give the rest, milk. Don’t wait up for your husband or children, to eat, if they are late at work or school. You eat and when they come, serve them. A hungry mother or wife is an angry one. We women have to take care of our mind and body. Then no one can exploit us. Remember, you come first and every one else, next. Only, don’t stop at your self. That is being selfish!” What she said made so much sense that I have practiced it.