It was just another day of the usual chat between two girlfriends. And after such numerous chats with several friends, offering a shoulder or simply a listening ear to many women, I have realized that the story is the same. Despite the little logistical or realistic differences, it is essentially the same situation. An educated smart woman marries a guy from an educated family, having similar background in education, finance or any other factors considered important in Indian marriages. She thinks she will have a happy life since she has lots to offer. She can multitask, loves children, is okay (and sometimes good) at household chores, has a good professional life going and most importantly is willing to adjust/sacrifice for the man she loves. Whether it is a love marriage or an arranged one, she already loves the man ‘cause that is how she is brought up. Little does she know that when she was being prepared for being a complete woman, there was another kind of woman who was preparing her child (aka the hubby) to obey the command (the great mother-in-law) to the letter. Thus, was born the idea of writing a book on such a commonly occurring issue in India.

I hate to generalize things but I have seen so many such stories unfold right in front of my eyes that I wonder if there are any other types of in-laws or husbands. If there are, I would certainly want to know more about them! But mostly, I look around and am amazed to see that men might respect their friends, girlfriends, colleagues even, but when it comes to respecting the one woman who loves them the most, their wife, somehow they find many reasons not to. Is it because they have been brought up to resent the wife character, irrespective of who might be filling in the shoes? Or is it because “respect” is not something their ego permits them to have for their wife…after all, they are the “man of the house”.

Consider this. She is smart, earns almost as well as her husband, can cook, a good partner in every way – emotionally, financially, even ***ually, yet she is continuously ill-treated, ridiculed, abused even. Then there is the MIL, who might be equally educated but probably while she was graduating or specializing or getting various degrees, conveniently left the “education” part out (aka the ‘uneducated literate’).

From my numerous conversations, I can cite just a few examples of the kind of person this MIL is.

When the daughter in law is going for her delivery and the doctor declares a surgery is imminent for saving the two lives at stake, she says, “What’s the need? It’s not like the baby is going to stay in the womb! It will come out.” Yeah right, perhaps when the baby itself is dead and maybe even the mother. But I guess the MIL is happy anyway since she gets to win either way!

When the husband arrives back from a long business trip abroad and the wife plans to go and pick him up at the airport, the MIL quips, “Is he a little boy who cannot come himself.” If she stays, MIL will tell the son later how the wife had used those very words when the mother so lovingly asked her to go to the airport. If she goes anyway, then the MIL will be ready to show the couple how she had been cleaning the house and cooking dinner for them while the daughter-in-law so recklessly just went to welcome her husband. Now, that’s a win-win!

When the couple wants to take a vacation or perhaps even go for a drive all alone, the MIL will find several reasons to either accompany them or get their trip cancelled. She doesn’t even let them go for a honeymoon because there was some pooja that HAD to be done at that time of the year, or some long-lost relative/neighbor/friend has to throw a party in their honor or has suddenly fallen sick.

When she wants to work, the MIL says she is over-ambitious; when she quits her career to take care of the children, the MIL opines it is because she is a greedy bitch who likes to live off of her husband.

You get the picture!

Now, I am not saying there are no good mothers-in-law out there. Hell, I even know a few closely. One of them is so considerate of her teacher daughter-in-law that she does all household work and babysitting the kids till the daughter-in-law has finished her afternoon nap after coming back from her school. Even then, the MIL prepares the evening tea for waking up her DIL. Then, there is another one who doesn’t mind even doing laundry and ironing for her daughter-in-law as she believes wouldn’t she do the same for her own daughter. Then, there is another who when buys a piece of jewelry for her daughter, gets an equally priced or even more expensive one for her DIL. My own grandmother has been quite good at this role for all her daughters-in-law, and once she told mom her secret. She said, “It is not really required to ‘love’ your DIL to be a good MIL. All you have to do is just practice non-interference in the DIL’s family matters, including those between her and her husband. After all, you wouldn’t want someone to constantly interfere between you and your husband, would you?” And, that comes from an illiterate woman who has spent her entire adult life in one village. Wise!

Getting back to the main story, the MIL gives all kinds of crap to the DIL and the son is a moron who is never able to see what is right in front of him, because he has been conditioned to see only one side of the story (which most of the time is a lie), while the wife keeps claiming she is telling the truth, absolutely loves him, cares for the children etc etc. But it is never enough. It never will be.

This is the same man who had left no stone unturned to woo this woman to be his wife because she was so wonderful. Suddenly after marriage, he is convinced that she is out to get him, perhaps take some advantage of him. What advantage? She will take away some love for love in return? She will run off with the very little money that he has, which she can easily earn in as many years as he did? Or that she might get the joy of motherhood? Well, yeah, that might be an advantage because the children will clearly carry her name…right? I wish such men would grow a pair, stand up against their tyrannical mommy and instead of trying to control their wives, would really get a control over their mind first.

I do not understand such mothers also. Why does she do it to her own son? She was probably abused by her husband, brought up by indifferent parents, but what is the fault of the daughter-in-law in all this? Perhaps the MIL is simply a disgusting person who wants complete control over her son. For whatever reasons, she has made it her life’s agenda to screw her own son’s life to be in control. I wish such MIL would meet an equally nasty daughter-in-law. Well, sometimes they do when they have more than one son, but that still doesn’t stop some of them to keep screwing the one son who listens to them. Shame on such women! I just wish they were only a few of them, but reality is frightening.

Once someone I know was going through a similar phase and consulted a divorce lawyer, who gave them a shocking statistic. He said that 90% of the Indian marriages that end in divorce are because of such day-to-day issues created by the mother-in-law (in rare cases, it could be the wife’s mother too). But isn’t it sad that what we consider non-issues and advise our friends to simple ignore actually cause couples to split up? And then, there is another major divorce-causing issue – money. This is despite the fact that the average household income is higher now because more and more women work to support the family. The main reason behind this is also almost same – the husband expects the wife to give him everything she earns while he takes all the financial decisions alone, send money to his own parents, without bothering to even inform his wife where the money is spent. Yet, he expects her to still not spend anything on her or her parents simply because she is a woman. When the wife refuses to give him her hard-earned money, in rare cases, he either cajoles her or just refuses to have any cordial relationship with her until she agrees. Even if by some remote chance, they do arrive at a decision to keep money matters out of the relationship to avoid conflicts, he expects her to give him penny-by-penny detail of where she is spending her money.

Coming back to my dear friend, I wish she finds courage to break free from a man who just brings out the worst in her, has taken away several years of her life, has given her nothing except never-ending insults and still expects her to just adore him and his family. You know what the worst part is, if and when they separate, she will be the object of everyone’s ridicule and rumors. Men will hit on her, women will criticize her behind her back, and relatives will start keeping their distance. She will probably remain alone for the rest of her life. She might lose the ability to love or trust anyone.

This is the sad reality of many households in Indian society today. No wonder, there are so many unhappily married couples out there who have simply given up hope to be happy. Some of them have relationships outside their marriages just to fill the vacuum; some are even driven to kill themselves or others. There are many cases of domestic abuse which are never reported. There are still dowry deaths, which are now not even frowned upon.

When I had conceived the idea of my first novel, I knew I wanted to write on domestic violence since there are so many unreported cases where women just keep staying in a relationship because of fear of society, lack of courage etc. And these are capable and educated women who can make a life on their own. I wanted to write their story and also give them hope that second chances at happiness are possible. But then, when I explored lives of more women, I found that it is not just violence per se, it is also this kind of torture when you berate another human being so much that they just exist from one day to another wishing it to be over. No one should make another person feel so helpless that they are driven to ending lives. So now, I am still writing the book as I planned, but somehow I want to include the stories of women who survived it all and made a better life for them and their children. If you are reading this, and you want to tell your story or you know someone who wants to share their story, please do write to me. Of course, anonymity is guaranteed if you so desire. Perhaps, your story could be an inspiration to someone.

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