Sunday, January 11, 2009

That "Maika" Feeling........... माहेरची माणसं

One of the things peculiar to the institution of marriage in India, is the concept of "Maika/Maher" or "parental abode" and "Sasural/Saasar" or the "in-laws' abode". This concept is very women centric; these entities are treated very theoretically in the case of the groom. These two concepts of Maika and Sasural, stand strong and permanent , in, what I call, minds of middle class type folks, regardless of whether the married couple stays on their own or with the extended family. Somewhere in a far corner of a female mind that swears by nuclear families, is a small neuron that has definitive opinions on the topic.....

By definition, going from the Maika to the Sasural, is like going from green sylvan surroundings, to a scheming jungle. The Maika has all the good people, and the Sasural has folks just waiting for you to arrive , so they can practice all their bossy , and sometimes evil, greedy tendencies. While all these concepts , today have faded into a place closer to oblivion , popular cinema and theatre, continue to show this, sometimes even as a parody.

There is , a well defined part of the wedding events, that is called "Bidaai" or bidding farewell to the bride. Actually, throughout the religious ceremonies associated on the wedding day, there is an undercurrent of the fact that a daughter is being "given" to another family, that she is now the responsibility of the elder seniors of the new family and so on.This particular "giving the daughter away" ceremony is actually a precursor to all the tearful events that happen during the day.

During the "Bidaai", the girl bids farewell to her parents and other extended and close members on that side. There are ,on part of the bride's family, publicly, lots of tears, crying, uncontrollable sobbing, and touching of old feet respectfully, as the husband, after a decent interval, hints that they need to go, and the bride, with glistening clothes, eyes and jewels, makes her way to a fancy car.....[It has been recently been parodied to ridiculous extremes, in a commercial for Pampers, where the happy gurgling of baby, ( consequent to not feeling wet due to wearing Pampers diapers),
carried by a relative, makes everyone laugh at the Bidaai ceremony , instead of cry ...]

In my community, a daughter's second name is her father's name. When she gets married, the second name changes to her husband's, along with her last name, also her husband's. As if this changing of two names wasn't enough, there is, sometimes, a peculiar custom of wilfully changing the bride's first name too, after marriage, and everyone is kept guessing till the husband writes it with his finger in a big plate full of rice, at some point in the wedding festivities. Sometimes, it is a surprise even for a bride. Sometimes names are changed to complement the husbands first name. I know a case of someone, whose name meant "an ocean", and the in laws changed his wife's name, in the wedding, to something that meant , "river"....

And so it gives rise to running into, who you think are unknown people, but end up being your classmates from 30 years ago....all with a completely changed name. In today's day and age, when the boy and girl get many opportunities to meet and get to know each other before marriage, it so happens, that the husband continues to address his wife by her old name, while stubborn senior in laws practice the new name......

There are varying degrees of comfort and /or noncomfort that one associates traditionally with Maika and Sasural.

Even today, the wife returns to her parents' home for her first delivery. Its a joyous homecoming from a world of minding p's and q's, performing gestures of respect to prescribed folks, to a place where you can sleep late, be fussed over your eating urges while pregnant, meet all your old childhood friends, and chat away into the night.....
Long after the children have arrived and are school going, it's not unknown for women living in a town, different from their parents, to come for a longish visit to their folks, when the children have vacations. It gives the grandchildren, an opportunity, to get to know their maternal relatives, and gives the woman a respite from the busy life she leads otherwise, catering to so many lives and routines. Grandchildren are known then to eat stuff they refuse to eat in their own homes, and my daughter has been known to loudly declare to all and sundry, that I was incapable of making french beans a particular way, like my mother....

And so there is a concept that defines friends, on how much of a "Maika' feeling you get with them.

There are friends, where you strive to be proper, a notch higher than you normally sit, you praise their cooking, admire their house and garden, offer to help with things post-lunch where things have been just-so; you turn a blind eye, to something not-so-nice, that their children are up to. You don't feel comfortable wandering into their kitchen, and always get the feeling that there is a secret meaning (which you don't get) to whatever they are saying. And their house is NEVER in a mess. These are friends, who always say nice things to you. They shy away from making critical comments.These are the Sasural types.

And then there are those, who you go see unexpectedly, and they will tell you to grab a plate and sit down for dinner because someone is making hot chapatis, and they know you have a thing about them. They know you gorge on pickles, so they will bring out their latest homemade special mango pickle, and not raise any eyebrow, as you put in a finger to grab a piece. If they know you are coming, they will ask what to make for dinner, and your answer is always about comfort food and never about the gourmet variety. These are friends, where you sit cross legged on a chair and polish off your plate, wiping the wonderful flavours till the plate gleams, and no one thinks you are becoming uncouth. They will tell you if they are worried about something, a child or an event, and you are always part of seeing a solution. These are folks who don't get into a dither when you casually open their fridge to see what good stuff resides inside.
And they don't think twice about telling you off if the occasion so demands...

Having said that, it would be wrong to say these Maika and Sasural classifications are rigid. Times have changed. There is more education. More awareness and respect.

There are families where a girl is considered lost and gone from her own family once she is married. She is called "Paraya Dhan" or "Someone Else's bounty" , and her parental family will have nothing more to do with her....

There are situations where a girl , widowed, is treated like their own daughter by her earlier in laws , and given away in marriage later (like they would, their own daughter) , in an effort to settle her down again. I have known people who did this and the quietly faded out of the picture to allow their earlier daughter-in-law to make a new life, unencumbered by things that would remind her of an earlier life.

Many like to describe friends as good friends, best friends, "fast" friends, the last a typical Indian phrase.

I like to classify friends as sasural or maika types. Some very good and proper , and some that give you a comfortable feeling of having come home. Respectively.

It is interesting making friends in the blogosphere. There is something that draws us to certain blogs, and allows us to skip over some blogs.

What is even more interesting, is that I get a gut feel, of which of them are maika types and which of them are sasural types.

I wonder if this happens to anyone else .....


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very nicely pieced as usual.

    I do have the feelings of Maika and Sasural as you put it I just use different terminology though sentiments are the same.

    U really should think of putting together a book!!!

  3. A peculiar equation that often develops is that the father in law makes every effort to make the daughter in law comfortable. In many homes that relationship develops like a father and daughter. There is a distance of course but still it can be a very healthy relationship. And the peculiar custom of Rakhee brother [sometimes, may be, a cousin of the husband] is another way a girl creates a 'maher' in the vicinity of sasural.
    Some ladies make an elderly lady neighbour as an effective substitute for an aunt. It is amazing how ladies can create great relationships. Things are changing but the ability to build close realtionships remains a hallmark of our society.
    Thanks for discussing this subject,

  4. I quite like the metaphor : 'is like going from green sylvan surroundings, to a scheming jungle' !!

    None else need to be said !!

    It was interesting to read some of the customs that you mention. Some are similar to what we have down in the deep south, but the name change was quite peculiar ! And the "ocean-river' context mapping was quite...well... (to my imagination running riot) threw open a lot of possibilities!

    And the topping was the blog convergence !! Hmm.. putting a finger into a mango pickle bottle would be akin to writing a three para comment without saying much !! :)

    hmm !

  5. I do love learning more about your culture and you write about them in such a beautiful and fun way! Thank you so much for sharing these. Makes you wonder which type you are???? maika or sasural??

  6. Instead of "going from the Maika to the Sasural", i like to call it
    " going from your maher to your husband's maher".
    Sounds funny..

  7. I do hope I fall into the Sasural kind of friend.

    I don't think I would like to be "given away" like a piece of pottery and yet our wedding ceremony asks, "Who giveth this woman?" and the father (if living) says, "I do". However, it is not a literal giving away as used to happen in your culture.

    I am glad it is changing because if a bride is given to a mean and jealous mother-in-law her life would be a living hell.

  8. It is pleasantly eeire to see someone else express my own feelings so well!

    A 'maika' friend of mine is coming over all the way from Gurgaon this is especially well timed.

    Great blog. Am a 'follower' since y'day. :)


  9. Ranu Thank you For your comments. Incidentally, just saw this Blog , and remebered you as it has something to do with railway stations, machchiwalis etc !

    VivekWhat you say is so true. We have been able to handle lots of societal problems, simply because of this ability in our society to build natural bridges across people......

    Kavi Thank you for the comments, and I did have a kind of inkling that there would be a few customs common across the country.

    And as far as the ocean/river matter, all I can say that the Castrol motto seems to be having an unusually strong impression on you.....

    Sylvia Thank you for your comments, and , of course, I am a super-maika type...:-)

    Enchanted Thank you. But I am firmly convinced that in the life of husbands, their maher and sasar are approved and ignored entities, respectively.

    Darlene There is some confusion in your mind. You are NOT the sasural kind. (Only GWB types are like that). Anybody like you has to be the Maika type.....:-)

    A.I. Welcome to the blog. And have a great visit with your maika type friend... and dont forget the mango pickle..maybe Punjabi style ?

  10. I liked the ending part , while i was going through your post i was wondering how you will end it :):) ! I may not be able to differentiate as maika or sasural but i get this vague feeling that i will something redable here (The failure rate of such feeling have been low and hence ignorable so far) and eventually it becomes a maika :) !

  11. Wonderful post.

    I really relate to the way you classify people and blogs into "sasural" or "maika" types.

    I also have this gut feeling with people, but I usally label it as "cold" or "sunny" people. I remember asking a friend a long time ago : "Am I cold or sunny ?". He replied : "both". We didn't stay friends very long :o)

  12. Such a lovely concept, and so true!
    I'd heard about your blog from friends we visited in Sydney, who are really 'maika' types!
    I've been lurking here for a while now- finally thought of dropping in.

  13. Your a maika type definitely :)

    When I got married, My FIL cried!!! :D Granted, he was reminded of *his* daughter's wedding (my sister-in-law) and the whole "giving her away" ceremony, but even so many years later it is a huge joke in the family about how it was my sasuraal walaas who cried (instead of the maherchi maansa) when I was married into their family :)


  14. Aha, the changing of the name, the writing in the rice, yes :)

  15. Very interesting post. Yes, I do get a feeling of different types even with the blogging community. For years my home has been open to anyone that wishes to drop by for a meal or just good conversation and I love to cook for anyone. In fact, I probably try and push food on my guests.

  16. :))
    She brought the pickle, we were the ones left licking it off our fingers! AND she's so maika that she made us her fantastic stuffed multi layered paronthas to go with it. She didn't have any tho, she she thinks its blasphemy to eat rotis when there is a southie repast on the it was one great visit..for her and us!

    I've promised to paste her a link to this blog :)


  17. Radhika Thank you. You will learn, Your time will come. When it does, be a maika type....:-)

    Helene H Thank you. Any guy who cannot recognize a pure maika type in front of him, is not worth spending time over....:-)

    DipaliWelcome to the blog. have left you a message on your blog....

    Priya How great that your sasural types are really maika types ! Lucky you. .....

    Anil P Why do I think you changed your wife's first name ? ....:-) Is that what the "yes" at the end means ?

    Judy Thank you. I just added Kentucky and your daughters' farm to my list of places to visit, once I win the lottery ......:-)

    Another Kiran in NYC Zara darwajaat thaamb. Bhakri cha tukda owaloon takte......

    A.I. I would have really loved both; the yummy southie repast, as well as those layered paranthaas, with the pickle.....I mean, just how maika can you get ? .....:-)

  18. I, too am in the middle of my sixth decade and pretty much tell it like it is. I truly enjoyed your post today, even though I was a little bewildered by the name changes and all. I was upset to "lose" my middle name when I married. In our culture a woman's legal middle name becomes her maiden name. If I'd lost all of my names, it would have been very odd.

    I've recently been reading Anil P.'s blog and enjoying it very much.

    I think you are so very right about women being able to make good relationships. Usually I can tell if someone is going to be a good friend or a social contact. My good friend Judy of Living on the Other Side of the Hill blog guided me to your blog. Glad she did.

  19. I, too am in the middle of my sixth decade and pretty much tell it like it is. I truly enjoyed your post today, even though I was a little bewildered by the name changes and all. I was upset to "lose" my middle name when I married. In our culture a woman's legal middle name becomes her maiden name. If I'd lost all of my names, it would have been very odd.

    I've recently been reading Anil P.'s blog and enjoying it very much.

    I think you are so very right about women being able to make good relationships. Usually I can tell if someone is going to be a good friend or a social contact. My good friend Judy of Living on the Other Side of the Hill blog guided me to your blog. Glad she did.

  20. Oh, wow, Suranga, what a wonderful compliment you pay me ! I feel very honoured (and you're so right, I'll remember that) !

  21. Amber Star Thank you and Welcome to the blog.

  22. And now for Sanjay Dutt's foot in mouth performance. Duh!

  23. A. I. Your comment sparked off this at a new site some of us bloggers here are working on !

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  25. I blogged in response too..Cdn't resist