“Be the perfect daughter-in-law. Humari naak mat katwana”, said my parents as I got engaged with my husband who belonged to one of the well-to-do families in South Delhi.
Sadly, my MBA degree had never got the recognition that was anywhere close to the respect given to the fact that his family owned a bungalow in South Delhi. That’s what our society is all about. We value shallow status over education. But that’s a topic for a different day.
Coming back to my attempt at becoming the best daughter in law.
Since my childhood, I respected my parents a lot. And, I managed to perform best in all the avenues of education and employment to make them proud as much as I could. So, when they mentioned “Be the perfect daughter-in-law. Humari naak mat katwana!”, I automatically started my quest to become a Perfect Bahu.
After 7 years of marriage and numerous attempts to achieve that goal, I have come to the conclusion that I can never become a perfect daughter in law, and neither can you!
If you feel you are a perfect bahu and your in-laws also feel the same, then you don’t need to read my story. You should drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to share how you became the perfect Bahu. And, I would be the first one to read your story and learn from your experience.
For the ones who have tried hard, and still failed to win the perfect bahu title, this story is for you.
I am going to share the 5 critical qualification criteria that one needs to fulfill to be a Perfect Bahu in Indian Society.
And, this might explain why you and I failed.
Qualification Criteria 1: Giving up the right of free speech
You need to have educational degrees – more the merrier – so that you can contribute to the household income. You should be intelligent enough to teach mathematical equations or scientific facts to the futuristic grandchildren. But, you shouldn’t be smart enough to tell your in-laws when they are being superstitious or unreasonable. E.g. You can’t wash your hair on Thursday because it brings bad luck.
You can’t have strong opinions about anything in this world. Doesn’t matter if it is about a TV program or a relative who committed a felony? Though every citizen of India has a free speech, being the Perfect Bahu means giving up this fundamental right.
I couldn’t give up my right to free speech and raised my voice and opinions on the matters that I shouldn’t have.
So, I failed.
Qualification Criteria 2: Kicking out Self from your own priority list
Doesn’t matter if you are suffering from high fever or you had a bad day at work, the only thing that matters is how you are treating others around you. Because “self” doesn’t qualify in the priority list of a Perfect Bahu.
You can’t express emotions of sadness and disgust at all. Because if you do, then you are not being “Sanskaari” and you don’t care about others. You might insult someone or hurt someone’s dignity because you didn’t make them feel welcomed or you didn’t follow what they were expecting you to do.
If you have the ability to feel any emotions for yourself, then you will fail to be a Perfect Bahu like me.
I had a long day at the office. I had a huge fight with my manager as he disregarded my hard work and performance during the appraisal cycle. He gave me an average rating just because he felt that I am at an age that I will plan a family, and would be out on maternity in the coming year.
I came home disgusted and sad as I had really worked hard through the year. So, when I entered my home, I forgot to smile at the people around me. The high performer in me was mourning the average rating.
After 7 days, I was accused of being high-headed and rude. My own family was angry at me because I didn’t smile at them on the day which was definitely the lowest point in the entire year. They felt I don’t respect them and I don’t make them feel welcomed around myself. Nobody even cared about my feelings and my mental state during those times.
On that day, I declared myself a failure at this criterion too.
Qualification Criteria 3: Say “Yes” to everything and everyone
Now this one is very important criteria. So ladies if you ever say “No”, then you have failed as the Perfect Bahu. It doesn’t matter if that “No” was for the right or wrong. All that matters is that you said “No”.
A Perfect Bahu operates on a default mode of “YES”. Whether it’s her husband or kids or in-laws or society, the perfect bahu always says “Yes”.
Though on this parameter, I was sure that I would pass with fly colors. I always said Yes to people because of my intense desire to be accepted. Since my childhood, if I ever said “No” to anyone, I used to experience extreme guilt. I always wanted to be perceived as the most helpful person around. But, then I went through personal experiences which made me realize how the habit of saying Yes was doing more damage than good.
So, once I changed my habit of saying “Yes” to everything, I have immediately declared a failure at this criterion too.
Qualification Criteria 4: Forget who you are, and be flexible!
On the New Year’s Eve, I had cooked Sooji Halwa in my own style which was slightly different than how it is generally made at my in-laws’ house. My husband really liked this new recipe and was praising me at the dinner table and just then my mother-in-law said: “Now, it’s for a reason that society says, A girl is reborn after marriage!”. At first, I couldn’t understand what she was trying to imply, but what she said next completely devastated me. “At my house, we always make Halwa the way I made at Diwali and no one likes it this way”.
I was never told that a perfect daughter-in-law must forget everything that she has learned before marriage. She is expected to constantly adjust to new people, new ways of living and make compromises on what she wants happily and joyfully! And while these sacrifices should place her next to Mother Teressa or Mahatma Gandhi, she is degraded for even the slightest misses.
I decline to forget whatever I learned before my marriage and refuse to let my marriage kill all my earlier years. I am flexible to other needs but not so flexible that I land up forgetting who I am!
So yes, I failed this criterion too!
Qualification Criteria 5: Choose home, over work. Every single time!
If you are one of those ambitious women who believe in having a fulfilling career along with a happy family, then you should not even dream about being a perfect bahu after all.
Early this year, I had a crazy one month at the office where we were trying to deliver a critical project. And, I had to bring work home and couldn’t spend much time with my family and kids. But none of it mattered. Every time I would sit on the dinner table, I would be questioned about why I need to work so hard. Why do I need a career? Why can’t I quit my job and focus on kids?
Two-three times I tried to ignore it, but then eventually I expressed what I really felt. I’m an ambitious woman who knows how to ensure professional growth and my kid’s wellbeing together. I’m not ready to give up on my dreams just because someone wants me to.
But no one in the family wanted to understand my feelings and yet again I was declared a failure on the test of perfect bahu.
So the question is if you want to be the perfect bahu, are you ready to give up yourself in return. Can you be the girl who will fulfill the above criteria and be able to live like a dead soul?
I know for sure that I cannot. Rather, I’ll say I don’t want to! Do you?
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of I for Her. Authors are responsible for any omissions or errors. And, I for Her does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.