Sunday, December 29, 2013

You have heard about the Curse of the Mummy. Now read about the Curse of the "Mummyji"

Trust the Economist to provide the most intelligent and fact-filled yet engagingly written feature I have ever read on India's vexed saas-bahu relationship.

The headline is perfect: "Curse of the mummyji".

The intro is brilliant:

TIHAR jail in Delhi has a special wing just for her. Young women fear and revere her; their husbands seem crushed by her embrace. On television she is a sari-clad battle-axe. Books about her offer advice including: “Run, she is trying to kill you.”

The direct quotes are kept to a minimum, both in number and in length (unlike the long and often pointless quotes we skip in most Indian publications). Here's a sample:

An elderly woman in north India, laughing ruefully, recalls how, after her rural wedding, it took “three days to work out which man in the new family was my husband”.

By tradition, a wife accepted her saas’s tyranny. The life of Renubala, now an elderly woman, is typical. Married at “12 or 13”, she moved in with her husband’s farming family in Tripura, in north-east India. For three years she shared a bed not with him but with his widowed mother. “I was very scared of my mother-in-law, even when she was nice,” she remembers. “I would call her ‘ma-goshai’ [Godmother].”

Mrs Venugopal sees sex and shame behind such obsessive control. Mothers-in-law, she says, “don’t trust [daughters-in-law] to be faithful”, so they try to desexualise them, locking them up, fattening them up, phoning several times a day.

The transitions are smooth, which is the hallmark of good writing and, also, the hallmark of Economist writing. There's an easy flow to the whole three-page feature, and in no time at all, before you even realise it, you arrive at the concluding paragraph, which you have to admire for its ingenuity because it says so much about the saas-bahu relationship without saying too much.

Read the article in its entirety here to soak up the brilliance and to learn a few things, as I did, about Indian mothers-in-law.

PS: You will be shocked to read what happened to Renubala, the mother-in-law worshipper.
  • Photograph courtesy: The Economist

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