A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Where she came from

Posted by Pepper on January 6, 2015

We’ve been looking out for a good cook now that we have begun setting up the kitchen in our new house. Although I seem to enjoy cooking sometimes, neither I, nor Mint has the time or inclination to do it on a daily basis. We did it in the US when we *had* to, but now that we have the option of hiring somebody for the job, we would rather do that and use the time we free up to focus on other things. Infact, we’ve always had a cook since the time we started living on our own in India. The setup works quite well for us.

While talking to my mom in law on phone, I mentioned to her that we were looking for a cook. She let out a small laugh and asked me why we wanted a cook. Does Mint dislike the food I cook? I took a deep breath before responding to her. This one has always been a sore point. My MIL does not understand why I cannot take on the entire responsibility of cooking on a daily basis. The assumption that I am and should be the self appointed cook while my husband should do nothing other than judging my abilities and skills obviously pisses me off.

I told her calmly that I cannot be the one responsible for cooking because my office is quite far from where we live, and it is too late to start cooking after I get back home. I let out another laugh and told her, that if at all, she should be telling Mint to cook because his commute is less tiring and he gets home sooner than I do. We were both silent after that.

Here is the thing. I know my MIL secretly agrees with me. She understands logic and reason. But she has spent her entire life living by the norms set by the world. She always wants to ‘fit in’. Her family is full of unreasonable and rigid women who actually believe their daughters in law should be sweating it out in the kitchen, dishing out and serving hot dosas to the rest of the family, no matter what. That is the kind of stuff ‘good’ daughters in law are made of. But most of those women aren’t capable of logical reasoning. Their minds aren’t trained to think. They aren’t very educated.

My MIL is different. At times, I think she is caught in two very different worlds. I’ve tried to understand where she comes from, several times. She was born in Madurai. She was highly interested in education and was a class topper all her life. She completed her BSc in Nutrition. Since she wanted to do her Masters, she was granted permission by her father to do her MSc. After completing that, she set her sights on an MBA. Women completing their MBA in those days was very uncommon. Since she was of marriageable age by then, her father told her that she could start doing her MBA while they were looking out for suitable grooms. If they found any good match, it would be upto the guy to decide whether she could continue her MBA or not.

Her match was arranged. My FIL permitted her to complete her MBA after they got married. They lived away from each other for the first 9 months of their marriage because my MIL was still studying. After that, she moved in with my FIL and that is how they began their married life. Equipped with an MSc and an MBA degree, she considered working for sometime. But she had married into a highly conservative family in which women did not work. In my FIL’s family. almost everybody had chosen to marry within the family. Crazy, in my opinion. But apparently, marrying your cousins and your uncles wasn’t very uncommon in South India back then. My FIL was the only sensible one who put his foot down and insisted on marrying an ‘outsider’.

She began her married life as an ‘outsider’. She tried hard to not be seen as one by the rest of the family. But that tag never left her. Given the circumstances,  she did not want to do anything that set her apart from the rest. Obviously, going out to work wouldn’t get her any brownie points. So the idea was nipped in the bud. Soon, she was pregnant with Mint. And then, with Oregano. She devoted her entire life taking care of her husband and sons. She served them with utmost sincerity, their health and well being being her priority.

That is how she has lived her life. Pleasing and obeying the men and serving her family. Sometimes, I wonder how her life would have shaped had she gotten adequate opportunities. If you talk to her, you’ll know she is a very intelligent individual. She is very knowledgeable and has a strong sense of logic. She has a good command over the English language and is also very well read. So when I speak logic to her, when I talk about feminism and equality with her, I know she gets it, even though she doesn’t say it.

And yet, she will try and persuade me to cook without any help, to look after her son, to strive to be a better homemaker and do everything that we consider to be highly sexist. She is surrounded by conservative, close minded individuals and she has been made to idolise their way of life. She has been made to believe it is the only right way. But sometimes, I wonder if she acknowledges the recurrent clash between logic and belief.

10 Responses to “Where she came from”

  1. I really liked this post, Pepper. Loved the warmth that came through in your writing of your understanding of your MIL’s social conditioning. Also impressed that you can be so frank with her in general. Extremely brave.

  2. First, good luck with finding a nice cook.
    Secondly, after reading your post, I am terrified to see my life going in the same direction. I really don’t want to be your mother in law.
    I can see why they say, “get hold of yourselves and control your life or else you will be controlled by others”.
    Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

  3. mevsrogue said

    I was going to post something about this. During our Bangalore trip, mom said how she feels she has wasted her life 😦 My aunt (mom’s brother’s wife) too said the same thing. Both of their husbands had told them that they shouldn’t work. I could only imagine the pain and dissatisfaction she must be feeling, but that itself hurts me so much. I’m sure there must be many women silently lamenting away this way. As usual, being the idiot that you know I am when it comes to communication, I didn’t know what to say…I told her to please do what she wants from now on at least, but she hesitates or probably doesn’t know if she could do what she wants to. She says she won’t have moral support and probably feels she has to take care of dad too…It just pains me so much. If only I could turn back time for her. However, I know for sure that I won’t treat my wife like this, i.e., if I get married.

  4. MR said

    The mind knows and agrees but the heart is afraid to agree . I see the same in my relatives. and I’ve also seen cases where the MIL was forced to do somethng and she forces her DIl to do the same. This generation needs to change it. do what you want. be accountable, be independent, contribute to society. Its like I’m a old tape repeting this to my kids 🙂

    Your MIL knows and agrees but it’s not possible for her to change it, how many can she fight with for what??? sad na?

  5. Bhavani said

    Lovely post Pepper…I am impressed with your MIL’s qualification but so sad that she could not put it all to use…I am sure this is the case with lot of women na…my MIL herself was working and was asked to quit after she got married. She still talks regretfully about it. And same story in our house..though she tells my hubbt to help with all the chores, she cannot take it when he actually does it when she is around visiting us. She will say..”naa irrukene naa pannaren”…i used to get upset…but once I decide I am not going to do something..I will not..it is upto mom and son to finish the chore;) I will never budge…

    Hopefully things and thinking will change some day..


  6. Sue Narain said

    Am guessing, it’s not a generation specific thing, since my MIL on the other hand is used to having a cook all her life (before her marriage and after). She never cooks when she is India, so when she visits us in Seattle, it’s a challenge cleaning up after her 🙂

  7. Bikramjit said

    First of all finding someone to do house work is a big big challenge, I had some hiccups in life in the last few weeks and my house looks like a TIP or a Pigsty.. not had time to look into it at all.. but I have failed to find someone who can at least comes twice a week to do the house. the hunt is on..

    I think the way we are brought up plays a important role so even if we know something is logically wrong , of our heart says it is wrong we still do it because thats how it has been always.. Hopefully it is all changing now slowly and i guess in a generation or two things will change a Lot for sure

  8. Well if she can see logic and understand your views, why not let go now and turn things around, even for herself?
    She still has a lot to live for.. Her life is still left …

  9. Shweta said

    You live in a totally different world, Pepper! Having basic culinary skills is still a need for daughters in law on my side of the world! Precisely in Gujjus and Marwaris. How many degrees you have does not matter when it comes to test your domestic skills. I hope my generation can change this so called ‘culture’

  10. MoRS said

    🙂 I can relate. My MIL is similar. She did work at an equal footing with FIL but still tried desperately to be a perfect home maker. Cooking, sewing, knitting etc. She prided to be known as the woman who does not compromise on homemaking because of her career. Hence, she had similar expectations from me and did not really like when H entered the kitchen! But slowly and steadily she is moving over to my side 😉 I continue to tell her that there is no need to be perfect at everything. That there is no need to work double for women. That we need to make ourselves happy and not the extended family. She understands and agrees but is clearly uncomfortable. This discomfort is reducing as the days go by. It is so hard to unlearn what you were made to believe all your life! I am just glad I have a MIL who can understand my point of view and does not judge my lifestyle most of the times. In our country that is a rarity!

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