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Differences between a Mother and a Mother-in-Law

January 26, 2016

I really don’t know anymore what it is like to miss one’s mother. It’s been too long – some 30 years minimum. Still everytime I cross my mother’s school gate, a single involuntary tear rolls down my eye. A moment’s choking that’s all – and this is what I am left with of her. The minute-long emotion everytime I torment myself with is enough proof, my mother never left me, will never leave me in this life time. Amazing, right?

My mother-in-law is completing 79 shortly. So let me have a heart and spare her much ugliness. There is a ton to add if I have to start over here but don’t wanna dwell into old history.  I don’t want this post to become one more banal saas-bahu rhetoric. The lady still gave me her best – and I must be happy for that.

Out of 4 sons and 1 daughter, that my MIL spent maximum years with me and prefers to live along in my place in my absence must tell you something. Because I am the most unwanted DIL of all, coming from humblest background. None to take up my cause – and I am tired of arguing my own case really.

Last month someday I rang up my MIL from Doha, telling her of my intended visit. ‘It’s only 3 months since you left’ was her reply. I reminded her gently it would be over 5 months by Jan. I called in December on booking because I wanted her to get used to the idea of having me again in my own home. Yeah true, our flat is her inheritance first.

For the first time ever I also stopped in my sister’s place on way from airport on landing, for lunch – an unusual thing for me. 10 years she was in Mumbai and I never want to disturb my aunt. Dropping in at my sister’s place was like homecoming for me. Piping hot food was waiting, my sis had packed a tupperware container of Idli batter (our lifeline) and gave me loose cash (so I wouldn’t need to go to ATM right on first day of arrival). She asked me to stay over but I refused. My aunt for her part had pitched in with Bisibela bath (sambar rice kannadiga style) that she delivered to me in a tiffin box for night dinner. My uncle held in his hands pakoras for evening snacks. I left what must have been like my mother’s place armful and with a heavy heart. But not before gulping down also a steaming hot cup of Madras filter coffee…

(Through all this my family did not forget to ask about my regular cab driver for whom they gave a food parcel too. My nephew took him a mug of coffee as well as the driver was resting).

I asked to book for night flight to land in day time principally NOT to disturb my MIL’s sleep. Giving her the rudely jolting early morning 3’0 clock call from airport was troubling me. Finally I knocked on our door by 4 pm refreshed totally but longing to sleep, tired to the inner bone.

‘How are you amma?’ I asked my MIL who opened the door to me. I had previously called her upon landing (9.30 am) and from my sis’s place. ‘How will I be in just 3 months. It’s only 3 months since you left’ she said and I could see she was not at all happy to see me. I had become an intruder in my own home. It hurt a lot at that moment. One more time I reminded her gently it’s 5 months really. ‘Oh’ she said.

I put the idli batter and the sambar rice in the fridge. I looked around my simple and small apartment. It looked okay and neat. ‘Sumathi (my maid of over 12 years) has done a good job’ I said. Responded my MIL, ‘you lavish her with money. Anyone will oblige in that case.’

With that I went to the upstairs bedroom, showered and started to doze (after switching on the modem which was surprisingly working). I put the phones to charge. The warm new sheets and a clean bathroom brought me peace. My clothes were neatly hung. Brushing aside my MIL’s protests I had let my wardrobe keys hanging when I left. There is nothing at home other than clothes. And tv and fridge etc. What are bank lockers for? Even otherwise I trust my maid. She is like a little sister to me.

After an hour or so, the room bell rang. It was my maid holding out a cup of masala chai. I rushed to get it from her hands. She is aware of the undercurrents in our home. She asked me if she should prepare dinner. I said I got it already from my sis. (My MIL eats at my BIL’s place next door. Otherwise she is at my place all 24 hours).

Next day, she arrived early. She prepared my breakfast and lunch and dinner. She gave me the complete rest I needed as I had missed a full night’s sleep in transit flights and the climate/place change and jeg lag were still a bother. (All the time my MIL was sulking how I let my maid handle my kitchen. The girl is real clean and good with her personal hygiene. I told my MIL it was still a lot better than restaurant food. Besides I needed help but not a professional cook.)

After 2 days arrived my husband, by which time I had ‘revved’ up. This is the reason I left earlier than him. If we both arrive together, I cannot manage both house work and outings with him at the same time. I need a couple of days to settle down.

From my maid I gleaned information that in my absence, my MIL had been entertaining her daughter’s family on weekly basis and also some other relatives. She has the privilege with me that she cannot take for granted from any of her other daughters-in-law.

Yet it so wounds you to know that you will always be an outsider in their family, how many years you could be married. I don’t want to become the daughter of my MIL. The least she can do is NOT make it obvious to me how unwelcome I am in my own home.

My friends are coming over tomorrow. I suggested to my MIL indirectly that she could spend the day in my 2nd BIL’s home next door as ‘we 40s ladies would be disturbing her peace with our loud guffaws. She said, it’s alright with her, she doesn’t wanna go next door. Even this tiny bit of privacy with my friends, I cannot have at home.

I called up my aunt to complain and she said, ‘tolerate your MIL in her old age. this is the real punya you will leave for your son. why should she exit if your friends come? it is cruel to ask an elderly lady to leave for your selfish reasons. what if she has no other place to go. And will you ask your mother to go away?’

So this is how my family is.

The most unwanted DIL is also the most exploited one.

I am one of the rarest in the relative/friends’ circle to have my MIL with me. So used to her now. At 79 ofcourse, where can I send her. It angers me so much how her better-off sons have smartly washed their hands off her. The ones who used her maximum are the ones who don’t want her today (thanks to their dharam patnis). All my 3 BILs and my SIL live in Chennai. The son’s duties end with giving their mother monthly cheques that she does not need. The daughter’s duty lies in milking her mother maximum. Where is recognition for genuine affection, kindness and hospitality and service. Why should I not also send my MIL our monthly cheque and absolve ourselves of our responsibilities – my husband being the ugly duckling and the last child of their family.

I think of my return from Malaysia with my little son – to COLD reception at in-laws place. My mind doubles back to the times I would alight from train in the Central in the Ongole days. Clutching my son in one hand, I would buy parathas, bread packets first in the railway shops making my way through crowded platforms, before catching auto home. Otherwise there would be nothing to eat at home as the lady would eat with my BIL’s family. I never got anyone to drop or pick me up from stations – although my MIL would go everytime to drop her grand daughter (daughter’s daughter) who studied in medical college in Coimbatore whenever she boarded train.

Good, I learned to harbour no expectations but get thoroughly independent.

Life has got a lot simpler in last 10-15 years. From flight to train, I have moved back to flight again.

I told my MIL i would come back for Aadi month (july-aug) to do some main pujas at home. Her typical response was, ‘no need. you can do all that in Doha itself. in future, wherever you are, you can do your pujas there. you will be leaving only in february. why do you want to come back so soon. what is here?!’

Whereas my aunt who is my mother’s sister said, I should book online airtickets every other month when there is sale/discount and get back for atleast a week. ‘We are all getting old here. Come to me every month. You are the eldest daughter of this family.’

What a world of difference.

A mother-in-law can never become your mother. I am discharging my duties only because I want to leave my good karma to my son. Also because, this is the way I am raised. Unlike my other 3 co-sisters I can never bring myself to space out my MIL. All said and done, she is my husband’s mother. Believe me, I am treated 200% better today compared to what it was like in early years of marriage. My family forgot their shame. I have grown thick-skinned. I choose to forgive although not forget.

Old people – sometimes I think they only get their due in their sunset times for how they treat the younger ones when in their prime. They never reform. They long after the undeserving sons and daughters and sons-in-law and daughters-in-law but neglect and are ungrateful towards the kind, responsible ones.

The best thing about all this is, re-discovering my mother in my younger sister. In her, I see the same generosity, the abundant love, the care for family, the helping hands. 24 hours she toils in her kitchen home-cooking dishes for the boys, cleaning after them and running a heavenly home…  and everytime I step into her place I am overwhelmed with the same kind of sense of belonging I think I once had had, years and years back…

Finally I think I am going back to my mother’s place now … for weekends, for shopping or for simply a cuppa whenever I feel like… And I thought I would never know… never ever get to know…

Someone said, the best gift you can leave behind for your kid is a sibling. How I wish now I could leave such a precious gift for my only son?




From → Bharatiya Naari

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