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Have you ever been unfairly accused of anything? If you have been you’ll know that it’s not something you can forget or forgive easily. Not that I am keen to, I like to remember things and put the memories back to their assigned places for further review whenever in the mood. And no, I don’t belong to the set of people who think forgiving and forgetting is necessary for one’s soul to prosper or whatever. If it works for them, fine. What I resent is them shoving their philosophy down my throat.

One Sunday, about a couple of decades back, my mother-in-law and some other family members were invited to spend the day with us. This was the first time the mother-in-law was coming to her son’s house as up till then we were mostly in the northern states of India.

My mother in law had that proprietorial air about her from the moment she stepped into our home. MY son’s house, her demeanor said, and hence by rights everything here belongs to me (more than to the daughter in-law, me). This possessiveness apparently extended to the guava tree standing in the backyard. If she had worn a placard proclaiming the fact it would not have been any more clearer. The tree, of course, did not belong to us, but came with the military quarters assigned to the L&M. It was a beautiful tree, with spreading branches lush with leaves and lots of fruits hanging like small green globes, quite unlike the sorry specimen I have in my backyard now, with barely enough leaves to cover the nakedness of its branches, and fruits given us as an afterthought every alternate year or so.

My mother-in-law stood beneath the tree eyeing it critically. She then called out to her other grandsons who had accompanied her and ordered them to climb the tree and pluck some guavas. I could see them from the kitchen where I was busy putting the final touches to the lunch. The boys bit into the fruit and proclaimed they weren’t ripe enough to eat and spit it out. But that didn’t stop her. She had her son fill a bag with the as yet unripe guavas to carry home with her. But I digress.

After lunch, while everyone rested, I carried on with my work of clearing the table and putting the leftovers in the refrigerator. I barely had time to sit for a while before I remembered the clothes had to be brought in from the line. I carried the clothes to the bedroom and found the L&M reclining on the cot, his mother seated in a chair across, talking to him. I deposited the clothes on another chair and wishing to not disturb them (I might be accused of not letting them spend time alone together), withdrew with a smile.

Just as I reached the door I heard the mother-in-law say: She NEVER folds the clothes, eh son? Just dumps them! It was not even a question, but a statement. Why would she say that? There was not a thing out of place in my house. I took pride in my housekeeping capabilities. The house was clean and dusted, the brass artifacts polished, the crystal shone, flowers stood in vases, beds made, everything inside the cupboards was folded precisely (obviously not by magic) and neatly arranged. ALL this with two young school going children and a dog in the house. On top of all this I had made a perfect lunch for everyone without help from anyone.

But, all that my mother-in-law had eyes for was the clothes I had left on the chair, and that too only because I didn’t want to be an intruder while she and her son had their chit-chat. You bet I was hurt, terribly so. But I quietly went off to make arrangements for tea. You see, I was a different person back then, someone who was always trying so hard to be the perfect woman, and failing. If it was the present me I would have laughed outright and said, ‘Come on, Mother-in-law. I am not like you, rolling up your clothes and stuffing them into the almirah! And you dare blame me?‘ Or something of the sort.

It’s a huge mistake bringing up our girls to be docile, teaching them that pleasing everyone else is THE job of their life. No, it is not. So yes, our generation was brought up with that stupid idea. Sad. Don’t ever repeat the mistake. Teach girls to be themselves, to have self respect, not take nonsense, be able to open their mouths and call out foolish and/or wrong behavior. You’ll be doing them and the world in general a huge favor.

By the way, in the next few weeks, the guavas ripened beautifully and we took bagfuls for the mother-in-law till she had enough and said ‘no more!’

© Shail Mohan 2019

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