While some Indian families have broken the curse of being regressive, there are many whose thought process is still deeply rooted in patriarchy. And, when these families welcome new brides in their homes, they burden them with unfair expectations.
While they may call them Ghar Ki Laxmi or Bahu Rani, ideally they treat them as nothing more than educated maids or baby sitters!
But like many progressive women, I refused to believe that well-educated and well-to-do families also carry this regressive thought-process. I felt that after completing my MBA from one of the prestigious colleges in India and making an earning of 20 lakhs a year, my destiny would have been way different from my mother or sister! But, time proved me wrong!
I married a man, who is equally educated and intelligent. But, what no one told me was that Indian marriage is not about husband and wife. Rather it is about in-laws’ expectations that define your happiness!
My married life was going peacefully till the day my in-laws joined us for 6 months. Initially, I was very excited. I thought we would live like one happy family under the same roof. But, their movement showed me how Indian families pamper their sons and want their wives to babysit them!
Before they arrived, my husband, Rohit, was quite independent. We would cook and clean together. Frankly, he never complained about it either. But when his parents arrived, I felt my husband transformed into this sanskaari son who refused to acknowledge the supportive husband in him!
The day my in-laws arrived, my struggle within my marriage started.
“Mummy, Papa, you freshen up! Till then Rohit and I will keep your breakfast ready!”
“Rohit cooks with you every day? Is he still leading a bachelor life?”, my mother-in-law exchanging disapproving stares with my father-in-law.
Not sure how to respond, I said: “Mummy. We cook together, then we get ready and leave for the office!”
“But, men don’t know how to cook and they are not even made for cooking! They are not hard-working like women. They need rest once they come from the office. They are not even good in multi-tasking like us. They can’t cook food and be equally productive at the office! No wonder, he keeps sounding tired whenever he calls me!”
Her words put me off for various reasons. I was disgusted how she was telling me in the politest way that I was making her son do things that are making him unproductive; how she was shaming me for seeking equality in my marriage!
The next few months were tough. Every day, my in-laws or husband would do or say things that would make it clear that they wanted a nanny or a babysitter for their son, not a wife!
One evening after a long tiring day at the office, my mother-in-law told me how Rohit needs to rest but I need to join her in the kitchen to cook food for the family. On that day, I lost it. I felt the pinch of discrimination in my own home that I fought against throughout my life. I couldn’t take it anymore. In a polite tone, I said,
“Mummy, even I had a long day as Rohit. Even I am tired. Why you just want Rohit to rest and relax? Why not me?”
Realizing that she doesn’t have an answer, she started crying. Being clueless, I started apologizing to her. I couldn’t believe that I was apologizing for standing for myself.
Rohit came into the kitchen and tried to calm her down. He told me that why I couldn’t adjust with them as they are with us for just 6 months. Why don’t I do as she says? Why should I stop giving a lesson on feminism and equality to his mother?
Suddenly, my beliefs about equality that Rohit adored so much before became a problem!
In the next few months, I was told how cooking for a husband brings happiness to women! How doing laundry for him is not a household chore but a way to show my love for him! How to keep the house in order will make him fall in love with me and much more! Making me do things for their son became an everyday affair for my in-laws. Smita, please pick up Rohit’s clothes, give him tea, poor thing has just come from office and many more.
I was suddenly feeling lost, empty and irritated in my own home and marriage. But, Rohit was happy. He was enjoying the pampering of being the royal king.
I felt so alone in the marriage. But, what hurt me the most was the man, whom I was in love – the man of equality – was lost somewhere. He was not interested in treating me as his equal partner anymore. He wasn’t interested in helping me with our house chores! Rather he was interested in following the patriarchal rules set by his parents!
A few months back, my in-laws left. My home is changed and so is my husband. It is heartbreaking how only in six months, my in-law’s presence changed my marriage into a babysitting exercise. As I struggle to find happiness in marriage, I wonder if Indian marriage is just a trap for turning women into bonded labor to serve man, without complaint!