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old lady living alone across the street and Seema Gosain have been friends
for a long time. Every evening on her way home from office Seema looks
in on the old lady. Seema's cook cooks for the lady and her husband Sanjeev
seems equally fond the lady. At least a part of his off days and holidays
are spent with her. And their children adore her too.
No, they have not adopted a lonely old person. The lady is Sanjeev's mom
and Seema's mom-in-law. "We weren't always like this," says Seema, a 36
year old banker who has been married to Sanjeev Gosain for the past 12
years. "To begin with like most mom-in-laws, my mom-in-law too was possessive
about her son and resented almost everything I did for him. There would
be fights everyday. From the food I cooked to the shirts I bought for
him, nothing was right. There was nothing I did that was right. And poor
Sanjeev didn't know what to do. If he liked what I bought then his mom
would start crying and would say, 'now that you have a wife you don't
need me'. My job in an investment bank is hectic and she didn't understand
my need to stay late at work, so there would be fights about who did the
housework. We couldn't afford servants back then. There used to be fights
everyday. So we moved out."
So what turned the erstwhile foes into friends? Seema's Mom-in-law Arti
elaborates: "I resented that my son had someone else in his life and didn't
know how to handle that. But when they moved out, I realised how much
I missed them. I also realised that they were young and needed to live
their own life. They seemed so happy when they came to visit me here.
I also began to understand that there was a place for me in their lives
and it was a very big one. When my elder granddaughter Asmita was born
I began to care for the baby while Seema went to work. All these things
built a bond between us and we grew close. When I lost my husband, five
years ago, it was Seema who was supportive, who took care of me."
Says Seema, "By then we had begun to understand each other, we had ironed
out our differences. But most important we were both certain of our places
in Sanjeev's life. So when my father in-law died, it was only natural
for amma to live with us. And since we don't have a flat big enough to
accommodate one more person, we bought a small one in a nearby society,
so she could be close to us but have her privacy as well." It is an arrangement
that has worked well for both Seema and Arti, but one that took nearly
ten years to build!
Meghna Aggarwal was luckier. When she married Haresh and came to live
with his family in Mumbai, her mother in law was the first person to understand
the young US bred girl's problems in moving in to a traditional Aggarwal
family. "When I came here, the first thing she did was teach me all the
family customs and even taught me how to wear a sari. But she never insisted
that I wear one all the time. She took me around and introduced me to
all her friends and ensured that I made friends in the neighbourhood.
We used to go together shopping for groceries and vegetables so I could
get used to it all. We don't live in the same house today because it is
convenient for us to live in the city while my in laws continue to live
in the suburbs. But I am grateful for her tutoring in the first few months
of my marriage. It helped me get over a huge cultural gap."
Says Sunita Aggarwal, "After all, my son had chosen to marry this girl.
It was up to us to make her feel at home. So I took her around to all
my relatives and taught her all our family customs. It is no more than
what I did for my daughter, only this was a crash course!"
Such an understanding relationship has eluded Manika Fernandes, a Bengali
girl who married into a Goan family. Ten years into her marriage, Manika
is still struggling to gain her mother-in-law's acceptance. "The old lady
is just not ready to accept anything that I do or say. Everything would
always have better if her son had married a Goan girl. For years I have
tried to accommodate her whims but she sees red every time I suggest anything."
As a result, Manika and her husband Oswald stay away from her as far as
possible. "Even that is my fault, she says. Even Oswald is tired of all
the bickering. So he goes to visit her in Goa with our children but I
stay away. It is not that I want to come between the mother and son."
Says Oswald, "There seems to be nothing I or Manika can do about my mother's
resentment over my not marrying a Goan girl. She doesn't realise there
is nothing to be gained from harping on that now."
So, what is at the crux of these seemingly simple yet complex relationships?
Says Lalitha Subramanian, a 60 year-old mother in law to two bright and
busy girls, "You must be willing to accept change in everything including
the way young people live. You must also realise that you have had your
fun, and allow the young people to have theirs. Respect their space and
they'll respect you. Don't interfere but assure them of whatever support
you can give, whenever they need it."