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 ?