The old housewife and the new housewife

1. How it all started

In the olden days, there was a life of luxury and languor that Indian mother-in-laws enjoyed after their own duties towards their sons and husbands had been fulfilled. They were repaid for their services by having a daughter-in-law  or two who lived in the house and were present to attend to their every need. It did not matter that the service offered had been for someone else and that someone else entirely had to show gratitude for it. It was considered a just reward.

This lifestyle did not last long, however. When the common indian women became emancipated. She returned home as tired as her husband, no longer saw a need to be servile and began to question the attitude of her mother-in-law. The dreams of mother-in-laws across the nation shattered and daughters rejoiced. However, not all was lost. The more shrewd mother-in-laws knew their way around this problem. They searched far and wide into the countryside, for the girls who neither worked nor held degrees, the ones who had no claims to the likes of pride or dignity.

Nimmi was one of these country girls, educated only up to the minimum requirement and eager to start a married life at sixteen. She was allured by the thought of wearing bangles and bindis, of having saris of different colours to match with them and a husband who would hand her roses. Eventually, she became ensnared by them.

2. The Tyrant-in-law

Mrs.Nilu sat in her apartment in Kandolem, resting her tired legs in a tub of hot water and her tired body on a plush white couch. Her bangled hand tapped indolently to the beat of classical Indian music.

Her daughter-in-law, Nimita, scurried around the house, doing multiple tasks at the same time. She quickly chopped the vegetables and placed them into a boiling pan of curry while checking on the rice to make sure that it had not burnt. She looked through the homework her seven year old son was doing while scolding her younger daughter for leaving her toys strewn on the floor. Then, she offered Mrs.Nilu a glass of cold water. This was mandatory when Mrs.Nilu returned from anywhere. This time, Mrs Nilu had returned from a walk around the neighbourhood and she was panting from the strain on her short and obese body. Her eyes were closed and Nimmi called out to get her attention. “Maaji(mother) , water” she said in Hindi. Mrs.Nilu opened her eyes, gave her a curt nod and accepted the water. Nimmi scurried away.

Mrs.Nilu smiled at herself, praising herself on the ability to secure a slave. She had forced her son, Inder to marry a girl of her choice, a “nice docile girl” who would make a “good housewife” and look how well it had worked out for her. Most of her friends had allowed their sons to choose their wives, and this had led to their downfall. Their authority in the house was replaced by their daughter-in-laws and they sat at home fearing the old age home. As she rose from the couch to observe Nimmi’s progress at the kitchen, her husband walked into the house and took a seat on the couch.

“Papaji (father) is here, serve him water,” she said curtly. Nimmi nodded and left the kitchen. Mrs. Nilu looked at the dishes and tutt-tutted at Nimmi’s carelessness. All her cooking utensils were unwashed, the food was taking too long to cook and the kitchen counter had bits of vegetables strewn on it. She made sure that Nimmi was back in the kitchen before muttering “kuch kaam ki ni” under her breath. “Have the food ready in 10 minutes” she said and left.