Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mind over in-laws ......

There is a violence which is often very physical. The impact is very visible, elicits immediate reaction from those who witness the aftermath, and if the subject is lucky, she gets help from those around.

Then there is violence, which violates the mind like no other. A constant chipping away , a hammering of the psyche, a chiselling away of confidence, a crushing of emotions to pulp, taking a toll of some great patience shown by a immensely tolerant woman, struggling with her situation in life, all the while keeping up apperances...

October is supposed to be domestic violence awareness month.

R was a classmate in college. A very friendly, sporty person, we were both part of some daily practice sessions for intercollegiate sports. Those were the late 60's, in one of Pune's moderately progressive colleges (then), when we played in appropriate gear (divided skirts), went "Ahhhhh!" at those daring to play in short pants, but outside the courts, moved around in voluminous skirts draped over the short sports gear. Our parents encouraged our sports, were very proud of us, and we kind of fit in with the prevailing norms, without being, say, revolutionary in attitudes and so on....

Somewhere in the last year , our graduation subjects diverged, and a year later we moved to different towns, because our families were in different towns. Her parents (like mine), were very easygoing, progressive, education-aware folks, who gave their children maximum opportunities in learning , regardless of their sex. R herself excelled both at her chosen subject as well as her sport.

I heard about her getting married, going to the US , and being fairly happy with life. She herself did a few courses, while her husband did research, and we were briefly in touch, when I was in grad school in the US. The next thing I heard was that they had suddenly wrapped up everything and gone back to India. His parents lived in Mumbai, in one of the nicer part of town. The story went that they worried him with their health concerns, and frightened him into a premature return. He soon got a job in a prestigious institute up north, they were looking for people in R's field too, and she too got a job offer.

Some parents often cannot accept the fact that their son has his own life. And he , unable to counter their demands, kept making frequent trips to Mumbai, at the drop of a hat, whenever they raised the health bogie. R made the best of what was on offer, immersing herself in her job, managing their social life, and frequent absences , when one day, the husband unilaterally decided to return to Mumbai.
Without any thought of what happens to his wife , and her job, something that was an economic necessity at that time. She , in time, resigned, despite pleas to stay on, lure of promotion and so on, and singlehandedly packed stuff and moved back to Mumbai.

Subsequently , her life was made hell by a set of parents, who found fault with everything she did, including simple things like "tadka" for vegetables, why she cooked what she did, why she cleaned the living room, why did she pull the curtains so, why did she talk and invite the neighbors during a festival, and innumerable other more serious things. They accused her of not caring for her husband, when in reality you could see the opposite was true. She was verbally constantly humiliated, in front of outsiders and relatives, the husband,
the ever faithful son, kept mum, and one fine day, she declared that she couldn't stay there any longer and returned to her parents, who welcomed her back.

(I often suspected there were other reasons. But the source of everything was the parents in law)

It was doing this period that I met her again, as both our parents had settled in the same town. She had gone back to our college, and met her old department head. She was a star student earlier, and they were only too thrilled to have her join as faculty now.
A lot of her husband's relatives stayed in town, and she never cut off her acquaintance with them, because as she said, she had no fight with them . A lot of aunts in law and senior uncle types, advised her husband to take a stand vis a vis his parents.

But a lifetime of cowering under parents who played with your mind, made him gutless.

She would entertain his relatives and attend family functions at their places . The husband cut off all contact and even stopped visiting his own relatives as a result.

I asked her once , why she didn't separate, and look for a new life . And was completely amazed to hear her say, that she had no wish to be married to anyone else ! Her parents were exemplary in her support, and let her be, happy as she was, with her professional life, her ability to remain cordial with her husband's extended relatives, and the original family cocoon.

After a lifetime of keeping the fellow on tenterhooks with their health problems, sometimes even insinuating terminal health situations, his parents had things under what they thought, was control. Their mobility was reduced, attention wavered, and the son, himself now approaching middle age, probably felt the first stirring of a limited revolt.....

Many years later, her husband initiated the first move.
Said he wanted to see her. She was a bit guarded, but said "fine", welcomed it and her parents honored her wishes. He just started visiting occasionally, then a bit more frequently. It was not known what his parents thought of this, whether they knew he was in contact, and she really didn't care to find out. He met her friends at work, and enjoyed their company. This time she wasn't going to move anywhere and stayed put. Her colleagues at work who knew her as a student stood firm behind her. In time, he actually started leading two lives. It is not known what his parents felt.

By and by they found that she was with child, and the couple was delighted. A strange situation. His visits increased in frequency. No word from his folks. His other relatives continued to fuss over her, and came visiting in hospital and attended the naming. His parents did not acknowledge the existence if a grandchild.

She continued living apart with the child, and holding on to her job. Her parents were old now, her siblings were married and had moved. The child was a ray of light in the eyes of the maternal grandparents.

I once asked her mother how they could see this kind of life for their daughter and why they didn't advise her to start afresh earlier.

You know, when an edifice shows cracks, you first work at filling them. If that doesn't work, you start thinking of how to support the structure with minimum trouble for those who live inside. So we are the support structure, and the putty that fills cracks. And we keep an eye out for the remaining parts of the edifice too. Hopefully, it should not need a destruction of the edifice to begin a new structure, because the old one has "life"...." , she explained , "but should a dismantling be necessary , we will be the backbone of support...."

Many years later, the in laws had finally passed away, and the house in Mumbai was empty. The child was in middle school by now, and reasonably attached to her father. R moved with family to Mumbai, to the same house that she had walked out of. If there was a
vaastupurush in that house, he must have breathed a sigh of relief. She took early retirement, as her husband had a Mumbai job, and the child went to one of the better schools, and was an outstanding student. The trauma of earlier being a child with a missing father figure was minimised by the occasional visits and the presence of grandpa, uncles, and others who doted on her .

It's not as if R doesn't hurt. There is a huge amount of scar tissue. She has been subject to sharp, relentless, insensitive, chipping away over a long period of time. Not allowing her to be hurt free for any big length of time. She is probably permanently scarred somewhere in her mind, but is able to brush it away, and get on with life.

But this has been a domestic violence case of the thoughtless,quiet type. A raging storm in a mind. The insecurities playing on the spouse and his mind. Her immense effort at adjustment. Her initial resolute deafness in the face of disgusting comments from the parents in law. A shameless , gutless , blind, husband. A constant adjustment to situations as they played out, randomly, in keeping with the senseless thinking of folks lacking any empathy. A mountain of tolerance till the hurt overflowed, unbarred on the other side, flooding the mind.

Her story had a happy ending, but took away the
best years of her life and her child's early life. Today she lives, her self respect intact, part of a family , happy together once again. Hopefully the spouse has learnt. He took his time. Played the nail while his parents hammered it into her on the head. Hope he knows how lucky he is today. To have someone like her, back. I don't know many people like her.

But one wonders, what kind of parents brought up a son, who would go selectively blind and deaf where his wife was concerned ? What kind of parents treated a daughter-in-law is such a terrible way ? Was the son, a grown man, superbly educated and capable of fathering a child, so influenced by his mother ? Or was his father the dictating type ? Had this kind of event happened earlier in the family history ? Is this a mental malady ?

And should we conclude, that education in our lives in meaningless unless accompanied by an open, encouraging , family upbringing, which really is the key to this problem, of why women undergo such mental trauma ?

Is a woman responsible for another woman's woes ?


  1. Very touching story. Bold lady, Ms R, I must say. It is not easy to do what she did several years back, even today. While it is never one way street in relationships, I feel parents have to give greater space to their son [or daughter] after marriage. We often do not think of our changing roles with addition in family, and that causes problems.

    Recommend reading 'Bhinna' by Kavita Mahajan in case you have not already read it. It is shocking to see how women who become HIV +ve are treated by in-laws.


  2. I see the infinite patience and ability to forgive and forget that these women have and am amazed. This type of domestic violence, where there are no visible cuts or bruises is even hard to identify. Many women might go through this kind of abuse and not even know it.

  3. Very touching and I am glad it worked out for your friend in the end on her terms. But yes I am sure a part of her has frozen because of her experiences. She must have large heart to have gone back to him despite what he put her through which amounts to nothing less than treachery - letting her down so badly in favor of his parent's demands.
    Or perhaps she knew that he was essentially a good man but a coward when it came to his parents.
    certainly this is an example of violence and in my experience, I find a lot of educated people are capable of mental cruelty.

  4. Such a touching story, Suranga. And wonderfully told- as always!

    So many years lost- how sad....

  5. Sad story. DV comes in all sorts of shapes

  6. Oh, yes, Suranga, a very sad, touching story and as the others have said, it is beautifully told. But that is true of all your posts and stories. Domestic violence differs in kind but not in the effect that it has.

    Thank you,


  7. I worried this story would end tragically as so many have. I am glad it did not. I don't understand that kind of parenting. By now my parents are dead so I mostly concentrate on being the supportive type of parents that she had. The problems evidently are in all cultures for how this can be and emotional abuse is a terrible thing. She was a strong woman to hold on as she did.

  8. Although the situation is different, there are similarities to this story to my daughter's. Her husband was selfish, manipulative and so critical of her that her self esteem is almost gone. She finally decided that she had enough and filed for divorce. It is not working out as well for her as it did for R when she took a stand. She has been unable to find a job in the existing economy because she has not been in the work force for 15 years. She will never go back to her husband as R did and her situation is becoming dire. I hope there is a happy ending for her, but right now emotional abuse has left her without the self confidence to even seek help.

    Belittling someone is cruel and the person(s) that do so are small, petty people.

  9. Whether it is Women against women or the insecurities of losing the son, who's the boss dialogue, obeisance...I fail to fathom the reasons behind such torture even from educated and 'open/modern/broadminded' folks or their opposites.

    It is observed with such regularity as if it were a custom/ritual...plain cruelty it is n it hurts...

    But hats off to R, her parents and the relatives.


  10. Very sad story of your friend, and I must say she has a very big heart to take him back.

    To your question about is anyone responsible for anyone's woes? I would say yas and no. We cannot control how others will act. But we can definitely control our own reactions.The more we make others responsible for our plight the more miserable we feel. The more we identify our mistakes the beter we can correct them and make progress.

    We all just get one life and it is too precious to waste on one mistake or one wrong decision in life.

  11. October is supposed to be domestic violence awareness month.
    Now you are telling me.

  12. Read a little poster on another pal's page saying "Many of us now proudly bring up our daughters like we'd bring up our sons...but we seldom see sons brought up like daughters"

    Maybe when that begins to happen the balance will change. I still think it is demeaning how a woman is just expected to let go of her identity and dreams and just morph into this entirely new person post marriage.

    More strength to the Rs...though this story does have a typical bollywood ending.

  13. gappa,
    you just told my story....it must be a universal truth.

  14. in-laws think they have a "RIGHT" over even where the son and his wife should travel even if they live out of town. the father would say , " i will drop in un annouced "

    - it would have been my story too UK, but somewhere I stood with my husband (not behind) and made sure he was my husband first and their son second, because he took the initative to get married.

    u would wonder why first and second, but then sometimes situations demand it.

    and it so happens when we do take a stand and have an opinion, no pillar can move us, just that our opinion should be logical, and have a reasoning.

    we always have to think out of the box to live lives - isn't it ?

  15. Vivek Thank you. R is amazing. It takes a huge amount of grace and guts to let bygones be bygones, and not everyone can do that...

    Will certainly look out for Kavita Mahajan's book. Have read some others by her too....

    Shilpa So true. And when they themselves do not realize how mentally traumatized they are, it leads to psychological problems, sometimes life changing .

    Usha Thank you for the comments. And at the end of it all, I just hope that R's husband realizes what a lucky person he is. Like I mentioned to Vivek above, it is very very difficult to let bygones be, and get on with life, but R did it. Not everyone can.

    Manju Thank you. Yes , so many years of the best part of her life and the child's life wasted. And I always wonder how she got the strength to go back, and the grace to brush history aside. I often think we , as a culture do that based on the Karma theory..

    Carol Thank you.

    Sylvia Thank you. And yes, the effects are devastating, regardless of the type of violence....

    Rain R was happy to get her family back. And I think what kept her sane and balanced throughout was her job, and fantastic parental support, as well as support from her husbands other relatives. But what a waste of the best years of her life...

    Darlene I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. But it makes a huge difference if there is parental support, particularly of the emotional kind. And she is lucky to have you. I just read the US economy is looking up. I fervently hope things improve for her. Is she the one who came with her daughters to stay with you ?My best wishes to her.

    Pins and Ashes You said it. Its really "hats off" to R and her supportive family...

    Enchanted Good questions. Theoretically doable. But things are never so simple, in a family milieu. And what you say of having only one life to enjoy things is true. I wish her husband had realized that. I mean how many parents, demand that a son leave everything and come back to them because "they are sick and will die any moment" ? How many sons continue to get taken in by this even the thing happens again and again ? Didnt the son see through this trick ? And how come he didnt stand by her when she returned to Mumbai from up north ? Lost of questions. All point to mind-sick parents. the only person coming out of this like gold, is R.

    Haddock Does it make a difference when I tell you ? Should we really have declared days like this ? Shouldnt all men be ashamed that such days need to be declared ? Because of their inability to take a firm stand at times ?

    A. I. I like the words on the poster you mention. Some of our parents even brought us up like that, way before posters happened. And i wonder if R's is a Bollywood ending. I think she has mainly kept her daughters future in mind . Her own scars are too deep. But she has a deeper heart, which is capable of forgiving even the worst. Her daughter was very small when all this was happening. Today she is a very nice young woman, secure in her family, and on the threshold of a nice career....

    Amber Star Oh ! I didnt know that. But like you say, the world over its the same story. My best wishes to you.

    Anrosh So glad to hear that things have worked out for you too. People are different everywhere, and so are the victims. Each person has to take a stand. R did it her way. You did it your way, and I am so happy things are fine now. As you say, one has to think out of the box. In India, sometimes the box is a bit more stifling.

  16. You are amazing in the way you told this story. But I feel so angry with the husband and so terrible for R, I can understand she must have had her reasons for not leaving him altogether, I am glad she did whatever she could to retain some sanity.

    I have met women who say the best years of their lives were ruined like this, and they didn't have the guts to leave their husbands - In their middle age now, they are reasonably happy and although extremely bitter about their younger years, and although they are not in love with their husbands, they do care for them, and are kind of happy. But I feel terrible about all this, simply because it needn't be like this.

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  32. 日本最大、だれもが知っている出会い系スタービーチがついに復活、進化を遂げた新生スタビをやってみませんか?趣味の合う理想のパートナー探しの手助け、合コンパーティー等も随時開催しています。楽しかった頃のスタビで遊んでみよう

  33. Good old days of balck and white cinema. Kahani poori filmy hai aur naari poori bhartiya hai.

    Found employment in alma matar good old days. Accepted the spineless squid and made baby with him too. Wao,fully B&W bhartiya naari.
    Still wondering why did she chose to miss out on her youth. Was it love or she was too stiffled to find it again? Was it a desire to prove self rightously that she was right and he was wrong. Just wondering how do you sleepwith a person who exposed you to poison? Was it the stigma of being labled divorced that prevented her from filing one?

    Lost youth is no happy ending for me.

    Recommended reading Behind Closed Doors by Rinky Bhattacharya.

    Desi Girl

  34. Thank god, everything worked out for R, eventually. The years wasted is a pity, but atleast they are all happy now. I wonder what her in-laws gained from all this? The sense of owning their son? Beyond that, what? His happiness clearly never mattered to them, forget about the daughter in law. And the son, it is unbelievable that it took him so long to some to his senses...

  35. Linked up to this post - really liked the quote about bringing sons up the same way we bring up daughters.

    Hats off to R. It seems to have worked for her, though it is tough to take that so many years had to be spent that way.