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– a 55 word story

“Show me your lunch-box!” the mother-in-law demanded.

She obediently showed the small-sized rotis, the sparse vegetables.

“Three??!” she hissed spitefully, taking one out, throwing it to the dog.

At noon, her co-workers shared from their lunch-boxes.

Her eyes overflowed at their kindness, remembering with sadness, the unkind grandmother of the baby growing in her womb.

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This is a fictionalized 55- word version of a real life incident that I came across a few years back. The lady was a well educated  ‘working’ woman. Her lunch box used to be inspected daily by her mother-in-law before she left for work, for anything ‘extra’ she might be taking for lunch. She was allowed to take only 2 measly rotis with a little dry vegetable preparation. She was pregnant at the time I knew her. Not even the fact that the woman carried her grandchild seemed to make any difference to the old lady.

It certainly was not as if they could not afford a well balanced diet. Far from it, they were a well to do middle-class family. Perhaps the mother- in-law did not want her son’s hard earned money ‘squandered’ on her daughter-in-law. Of course it goes without saying that the old lady expected the daughter-in-law to bring home the money she earned as salary from her job outside and also do bhartr seva and mother-in-law seva.

Now don’t ask me what the husband was doing while all this was going on, his wife being overworked, not being allowed to eat enough to fill her stomach and his unborn child being deprived of valuable and necessary nutrition. In such cases they all do the same thing, sing ‘Jai ho’ to Mommy Dearest for carrying them for ten tough months (as if girl children weren’t born in a similar manner!!) and bringing them up with so much love (love?? WHAT love would that be when you make another human suffer??), conveniently forgetting by doing a perfect impersonation of a horse wearing blinkers, that that was exactly what his wife was trying to do . What they don’t see is not happening. Period.

What about the lady herself, an educated earning member of the family who silently goes through this humiliation, ill-treatment meted out to her?? Can’t she speak up for herself, the hordes ask in amazement, in obvious disdain. Why cannot she apprise her husband of the facts (as if he would help her!)?? Doesn’t she care about her unborn child?? Yeah, doesn’t she, indeed?!! Of course ideally she should maul out the eyes of speak up to those treating her thus. But the hordes who ask, are discounting one important factor, a tiny factor seemingly insignificant, which escapes their attention.

Most of these women have been brought up to believe that suffering silently somehow elevates them to the position of the ultimate woman. Now who doesn’t want to be the coveted ‘ultimate woman’ especially when you have been brainwashed into thinking that is nirvana, a goal that has been set out for them by everyone including parents??! She has been taught that the ideal woman has to take things lying down to earn the love and respect of her husband and his family. So unless the parents (= father AND mother) of girls dare look society in the eye and make it wilt and teach their daughters some self respect, how will she speak up against such injustice?? She doesn’t even know she is allowed to speak up!

Of course while they are at it, parents also have to teach their sons a few things as well, that women have NOT been created (by whoever does these things) for the express purpose of serving the man and his family, that life is about give and take, that women are thinking feeling humans like him, only biologically different. The practicals of these lessons start right in a man’s home by learning to respect his own mother and sister, treat them as persons, individuals, not as maids or housekeepers to him, till another one comes along to fill the post and the degree of In-Law is conferred on them, allowing them all to turn on the new entrant.

I can see some questions trembling on certain lips. Aren’t there mothers-in-law ill-treated by their daughters-in-law?? Of course there are. There are those who ill-treat their own parents too!! There is a tiny difference between the two forms though and that bothers me. When an older woman is ill-treated the society as a whole condemns it, but in the case of a young woman society gives its tacit approval, she is asked to accept things, adjust, change herself and ‘suffer whatever it takes’ to keep things going. This indifference of society and the sacrifice asked of a young woman, may I add a sacrifice asked of her unnecessarily and that which benefits NONE, even compromises the children, is indeed disturbing.