Tuesday, 19 May 2015

About my mother-in-law


And please don’t scream during labour. It is embarrassing. Women should not scream out loud’, had said her mother to my mother-in-law, as a part of the list of pre-wedding directives.

My mother-in-law came from Nakodar, a small town in Punjab, from a huge joint family, the ruins of whose house sit whispering alone now. Despite all the educational degrees she earned, whatever all girls from many decades ago were taught was a part and parcel of her upbringing too.  One would assume, then, that she carried in her make-up - as a daughter, a wife, a mother and a mother-in-law – seeds of what the younger generation, our generation, views as “old-fashioned” and regressive. Including, not screaming in the face of deadly pain! One would also assume, thanks to the massive stereotyping on silver screens and easy banter part of ladies’ parties, that all mothers-in-law are monsters-in-law – overtly possessive about their sons and equally about their hold over household systems. 

One would assume. Or maybe, I got lucky? 

Some of the most cherished lessons and moments in life came to me from her, my husband’s mother and a woman who grew, in no time, to really be to me what I never thought I could call another – ‘Mummy’. 

While most parents cannot help but consider their children kids forever, perpetually to be guided, mummy respected your age, no matter how many times that number lower than hers. She welcomed advice, encouraged maturity. Just a couple of days into my wedding she made me choke on aloo-puri at the dining table, when she asked me to decide for her on a matter I never thought my turf. It made me feel confident, a participant in a house she had nurtured for 40 years entirely her way. She was an expert at regarding every individual as a person first, and every mind with an opinion which mattered. No ‘I am older so I know better’ for her. (Of course, what that did to my husband’s sense of ‘I know’ is another happy story, altogether.)

Because she never wallowed in the differences that old age usually starts spotting in us new-age youngsters, she was something of an expert at moving with the times and rejecting nonsense as exactly that, nonsense. Once, I had to go to the neighbour’s house to extricate her from her party (for she loved them so!) and meet the ladies of the locality in turn; usually not top on my radar and certainly not on my husband’s. Expectantly, questions about baby expectancy flew over left-over samosas. When asked when her daughter-in-law will bear her a grandson and they will get laddoos, said she to a lady she knew since decades, ‘Laddoos you will get even if it’s a granddaughter. Baaki, let’s leave it to the kids. Really not our age to think of childbirth, don’t you think?’ and gave her classic half-blush, naughty smile. I had clutched the house-keys tighter in sheer happiness. And pride.  

She belonged to her children’s times, moving aside and making way. All the time. She pushed me to begin my PhD, called up a list of people to share the joy of my proud decision. Not faith but ritualistic religiosity was considered a waste of time in her house. Most satsang invites for three hours of chatting-chanting were refused with ‘You know my knees!’ She would scan the newspapers instead. Or we would go for shopping and chaat-party. Often, for much longer than three hours. Thanks to her expertise in slipping while shopping with unbound generosity …

… for who would buy, after serving water to the door salesman, 12 boxes of incense sticks, get 12 boxes free with it and all that when she didn’t even use it? ‘It was so hot this afternoon and he was selling them for a good price, poor thing’ was her defense on seeing her children’s incredulous expressions on coming into the sudden, good-smelling riches on their dressing table. (This was five years back, and I still have those cones!) 

But the one motto that she had engraved on her soul was to keep the family together. Not just because she loved to cook for an army and even more, the fun and good times that would ensue, but also because she realized at the end of the day how important it was. Much more to her than to anyone else I know. What we saw as insane levels of ‘being accommodating to silly relatives’ was to her a way of life. She wanted to move forward with everyone around. Not because she did not see through pretense, but because she knew of no other way to bring estranged hearts back to love. Except, by giving it. She wanted to live life to the lees, with everyone, not without them.

But life often doesn’t want to be lived to the lees. It protests. 

While my mother-in-law went about her expert routine of keeping us all happy, fed, together, and herself pleased with the love-of-her-life, tea, a battalion of medical problems followed close on her heels. Doctors used to say for her that whatever can go wrong, is wrong with her physical condition. Ever since she was my age. 

In my few years of marriage she went through major surgeries every six months. (She tricked all but one of them.) Her expertise? That will to get wheeled out of the OT feeling better and looking for a hot cup of chai even before the anesthesia wore away. Her right knee was made metal because she wanted to wear saris again, wanted to travel again, would you believe that? When I made her leg exercise in the recovery period, she would rent the air with her screams. But on being asked if I should stop she would expertly say ‘Why? Let me scream. This is important. Push. Let’s make the heel touch the hip this time. Has it happened, yet?’ and other patients in Ganga Ram Hospital would look her way admiringly. (Oh yes, she was screaming, in case you didn’t notice. Her mother’s lesson regarding screaming women long forgotten!) 


With a strange sadness I realize we hark back thus often after the person is no more. So late. But then not too late, either, because as life goes on so do its little lessons lodged in our minds and memories, habits and hearts. She’s not going to read this, and probably never realized what I thought while I was her daughter-in-law. A stabbing regret, but what can one do except pick up the fallen flowers off and on and make a garland to decorate the house with?

My son, all of 4 months when she passed away, never got to experience the woman that she was and the grandmother that she would have been, spoiling him to bits with panjeeri and mango pickle, jams and cakes, pakoras and hot paranthas and her specialty – a bottomless martbaan of love and laughter to give, like pure homemade desi ghee; which, like fresh green chillis, she enjoyed thoroughly!

Lalita Nanda. That was her name. 

And I was so fortunate to have her as my first expert in so many ways. 


[Written for #MyFirstExpert Story, sponsored by Godrej Expert and hosted by IndiBlogger.]


50 comments:

  1. A stabbing regret, yes. And you have picked up the flowers to make a beautiful garland here.
    She must be smiling somewhere, very proud of you.

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  2. A beautiful and touching tribute to your first expert. I am sure she is watching your son grow up and showering him with her love, blessings and pampering from wherever she is.

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    1. Yes, my first expert for so many things.
      Wherever she is, I hope she has some tea to have! :)

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  3. Fabulous write up Sakshi...hats off to you

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    1. Thank you, Rathina. Pleasure to see you here today.

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  5. Beautiful writing Sakshi, which makes Lalita Nanda feel known to us, her presence so real. You are blessed to have known her, lived with her and married her son to share your life with. Memories keep people in our minds, and their legacy is an eternal gift.

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    1. I have been fortunate to be a part of her family, yes, Kiran. Legacies are indeed eternal, till the baton is passed on. All we can do is try to keep the best ones from fading into time.
      Thank you for liking this, Kiran.

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  6. lovely post.. bless her soul

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  7. Great tribute to your MIL. She was the woman of present times with a kind heart and open mind. As I was reading your post I could not help draw similarities between your MIL and mine. We are lucky indeed!

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  8. A truly beautiful garland of memories, Sakshi!

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    1. Thank you, dear Dipali. Always good to see you here.

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  9. Such a heartwarming post. It seems she was a woman of substance, as they say. She might not read this post, but trust me, the universe has a way of letting our loved ones know that we miss them and remember them fondly.

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    1. Oh, I loved reading 'the universe has a way of letting our loved ones know'. Akanksha, that was lovely! Thank you, my dear, for being here.

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  10. An excellent piece for an even more excellent mother who was beautiful inside-outside.. May her soul rest in peace. I can see her smiling from up there. God bless you Sakshi. Proud to have a daughter like you.

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    1. What a post to see you finally comment on my blog, successfully, mummy!
      You both are my "first" experts, equally, but this tribute to her was on my mind since a long time. We are always glorifying mothers, but we seldom write about mothers-in-law. This was important to me.
      I am proud to have you as my mother.

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  11. Just in nick of time when I was wondering whether I really love my MIL. And now after reading this piece, I can proudly say yes, I do. Not only love, I feel blessed to be with her all the time, though I still wish she understand how important it is for her to be active. She is sick too, it is chronic!!

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    1. How beautiful are the ways of feeling akin to another, Roohi.
      Wishing her good health and you all a good time together.

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  12. To inspire someone to write this way about them, in such loving terms, with such glowing words, she must have been quite a character. Gob bless her soul <3

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  13. Such a beautiful write up/ tribute that was to your mil...she would be super proud of you..where ever she is, im sure she is smiling at you.

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    1. I hope so too.
      Thank you for reading.

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  14. What a lovely ode! Those are mighty big shoes to fill when, one day, Young Nanda brings along a new partner into your family.

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    1. You stole my thoughts, Rickie. :)
      I am sure you, his uncle, will be a witness to me as a MIL.

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  15. You are one lucky Bahu ! ladies of that generation usually are very orthodox.

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    1. Usually, yes. We are all products of our times, I guess, and that is a robe many find impossible to shrug off.
      Thank you for reading, Nima.

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  16. You're right... elders are so like "a bottomless martbaan of love and laughter". Always loved the tone of your posts. Thanks for writing this one.

    Arvind Passey
    www.passey.info

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    1. Very happy that you stopped by and read.
      Thanks, Arvind.

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  17. If only all of us realize it earlier and make time to tell our elders what important life lessons ewe have learnt from them instead of making them feel like a liability all along, life would be so much better. She would definitely have known what your thoughts about her were. She must be smiling amongst the twinkling stars watching N's tactics.

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    1. Makes me feel good your saying she would have known my thoughts. Actually, who knows! :)
      Thank you for being here, Reks.

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  18. So beautifully written. It made me miss my grandmother.. pickle,hot parantha,pie,jam,chicken and what not.Grandmothers are very necessary for kids, for them they give the lessons about life nobody else can.

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    1. :) I agree with you, Abbas.
      Very good to see you on my blog. Thank you for coming.

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  19. One of your best! It's so good to have such a MIL who stands for you no matter what! :)

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    1. Thanks, Sheethal. Agree with you. :)
      Good to see you here.

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  20. This is such a warm piece. I am lucky to have a mother in law who is not the vamp, mother in laws are usually made out to be. Loved reading this.

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    1. Loved seeing you here, Diptee, and seeing us connect over mothers-in-law.
      Thank you.

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  21. Wonderful tribute to your MIL. Every writing was so touched upon and full of warmth :)

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  22. Hey! I am sure she is reading this and guilty you are for making me eyes moist!
    Laddoos you will get even if it’s a granddaughter. Baaki, let’s leave it to the kids. Really not our age to think of childbirth, don’t you think?’
    I call her a fab woman ahead of her age and what a luck bahu you are, if u don't mind me saying. Looove this: Ladooos you will get even if it’s a granddaughter. Baaki, let’s leave it to the kids. Really not our age to think of childbirth, don’t you think?’

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    1. Ahead of her age, without wearing signs of modernity on her person.
      Thanks, Vishal. You always read so intently. :)

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  23. Sakshi, somewhere this post just touches the heart. Wonderfully refreshing. I am sucker for emotions and may be I am growing old, but it was a "goose-bumpy" read with a heart choked. You were really blessed to have known such a wonderful person, this was so inspirational!

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    1. Thank you, Piyush. I like how you got affected by an experience which is entirely personal to me. Happy with your presence here.

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  24. Ur words are irresistible Sakshi.. This one moved me and made me reflect. A daughter in law - mother in law relationship transformed into a mother - daughter bond.. It is quite possible in every relationship if barriers are broken and personal egos are crushed

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    1. I agree with you that it's possible to form relationships beyond the popular tags and expectations out of roles.
      Thanks for the appreciation, Salesh.

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  26. Hey Sakshi,

    I got to visit your blog through Anita and I am glad.

    I have this post for my MIL in my drafts from long but now, I will work on it so that its not late. Thanks again.

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  27. It's brilliant. She must have been a great lady. I think this should be read by all mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws. I respect you for this piece of writing. God bless.

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