Suffered and suffocated, she opened the doors to her balcony, longing for the gentle breeze to soothe her frayed nerves. But no sir, what waited on the other side was not open garden with view of the fading horizon or a playground with the tiny feet chasing rubber balls, trailed by their innocent voices. She knew that. Her balcony leads to another reality. Clothesline with washed petticoats and underwear, trying to dry themselves in the stagnant humid afternoon air, kind of harsh reality. So stoic and stagnant, almost like how her life has become. Standstill.
Her flashback was flashing before her eyes too often. When she stood first in class, her dad hugged her, his darling daughter and blessed her with infinite success in life. To aspire. To achieve. Her dad and dreams, both no more today. The dad whose wishes she went against and stepped out of her house to marry the gentleman she loved. The marriage that her gentleman’s family had not only spent and arranged for but reminded their gesture to her every now and then to make her feel forever indebted and obliged.
The gentleman. The soft spoken, responsible family material gentleman who spoke kind words during their brief meetings, had love and concern in his eyes and wished her to be his companion for life. She wanted to be his companion for life too, which was why she broke away from her maternal family companions. Instead she became a mere extension. His life, she realized much later was too full with commitments, compulsions and companions that came in different forms of friends and relatives that her only task was to blend in and become invisible. It was his bed and board that she came to share and ended up playing to the expectations of the entire cabin crew which no matter what, always judged. Prioritization or balancing act was not her gentleman’s forte. Whatever she did for him was taken for granted as a wife’s duty to her husband and whatever he did for her was praised and glorified by her mom-in-law as the generosity of her son. Doesn’t duty and appreciation go both ways in a relationship?
The mom-in-law. Born last among a string of brothers and sisters, her mom-in-law was her family’s princess in her younger days. Even after being pampered in her role as a princess to the fullest, even after assuming the title of a queen for years together, her mom-in-law was too naïve to step down the mantel and handover the torch to her daughter-in-law whose turn it was now. Her outlook on the world was entirely biased on her teachings of customs, traditions, superiority of castes and ‘In my days…’ beliefs that anything different was difficult to digest. The new educated daughter-in-law from different belief and background who won her son’s love and affection made her feel threatened and possessive that she resorted to emotional blackmail of health and sickness to have her say and have it her way. It worked with her husband, the father-in-law, won’t it work again?
The father-in-law. The husband who once pushed his wife behind in his priorities to attend to his parents and siblings, just like how his son was acting today, realized the importance and value of his partner with age and experience. Rather than advising his son to not repeat his mistakes, he merely eases his conscience by acquiescing to whatever his wife says these days even though he knows on some level the havoc that it was causing to his son’s matrimony. To ease his conscience more, he resorts to watching television cricket, leaving the daughter-in-law to fend for herself.
The daughter-in-law, our lady staring from the balcony is still silent, without voice or a choice. In an attempt to blend and adjust, she has lost her own self, her dreams, and her identity and shares the masks that each member of her new family wears, smiling on the outside with a heart full of longing and resentment. And so runs the family life with an outward impression of happiness and satisfaction but a burdened heart and silent tears that they dare not shed in front of one another, not even their spouses, but in the privacy of their own pillows. Strange people who try to fish in muddled waters instead of clearing out the mess first.
This post is an amalgamation of a number of heart-to-heart talks that many mothers and daughters-in-law had with me on an one-on-one basis. Mothers-in-law still from old expectations and beliefs, daughters-in-law with a modern upbringing seeing the unreasonability of the expectations and sons, knowing both the worlds and not knowing how to tackle it. The post here is a sample of a day in cusp generation families.
After seeing around and hearing stories, I take this moment to stop, acknowledge my mother-in-law for something that I perhaps had taken for granted and give her some credit. Soon after marriage, mom-in-law and I had issues, who doesn’t? But thereon, the way we drew boundaries, understanding differences, respecting individual beliefs, valuing the importance of spaces, each handling our house and home in our way and yet getting together for a function or a holiday has kept not only our relationship smooth and neat but has helped a happy bonding between my husband and me. For that and more, I thank her for letting me be me. Good or bad, I wouldn’t trade her for any other mothers-in-law who had opened their hearts to me while letting their daughters-in-law open doors to an empty balcony. Mine is solid and real and I truly appreciate that.