[Right] “I am the eldest daughter-in-law, and in a typical rural household, that meant I was her [left] successor in terms of being the “lady” of the house. There were a lot of expectations placed on me; I had to follow in her footsteps in everything – from household chores to only being allowed to wear saris. There were a lot of challenges for me to navigate when I joined the family; I hail from a village in the state of Karnataka, and the only language I knew was Kannada. My in-laws’ place is in Maharashtra, so the main language of communication is a mix of Marathi and Hindi. She was instrumental in helping me overcome the language barrier, and I think that was the period when I grew closer to her, because she encouraged me to speak when staying silent was the easier option. She also eased my transition from being the youngest daughter to the eldest daughter-in-law – and that was a lot harder than it sounds.
I share a special bond with her because she has stood up for me when she never even stood up for herself. We live in a stringently patriarchal society, and that brings with it this huge weight of expectations on the wife and ‘bahu’ (daughter-in-law), one of them being the idea of motherhood. I couldn’t conceive for the first eleven years of my marriage, and that meant I was deemed a failure in society. My husband and the rest of the family were unsupportive and disappointed – and then she stepped in. She told me she wasn’t disappointed in me, but in society for their perception of a ‘baanj’ (a derogatory word for a woman who can’t conceive). She herself has had a string of children and grandchildren, so her support and solidarity their meant more to me than I can express.
There is an unspoken power-play between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws – and it still astounds me how she managed to shirk all that to become a close friend before anything else. She goes against everything a ‘saas’ (mother-in-law) is expected to do; she ensures I get to visit my ‘maika’ (native place), when she herself was only allowed to visit hers every ten years or so because it’s usually frowned upon. I love her to bits, and I like to think our relationship defies societal norms.”