When an Indian girl marries, she marries not only the boy but the boy’s entire family.
Indian custom demands that a girl proceed to her in-laws’ house right after marriage. There she’s expected to live with her in-laws, imbibe their family traditions, culture, social do’s and don’ts, cook or learn to cook meals for the family, respect elders in her husband’s house, in case there are no servants, do the household chores like sweeping, swopping, washing clothes….
She’s the new bride. Visitors will come calling and she’s expected to prepare something for them to eat and serve with a smile.
I used to travel a lot by train between Chennai and Hyderabad in the late 1980s. I would always book a seat/berth in the Ladies Compartment only. That gave me a wonderful opportunity to befriend all the lady co-travelers. We would share not only food but also family matters. I would be the one to start conversations. Many have shared their experiences as new brides. I do not know their names or other personal details. I recall the incidents they shared. I am going to share a few interesting incidents today. Many were educated ladies, working in government offices 30 years back and went through tough times early in their married lives in joint families. The journey seemed short and stories long which i still remember as it was all about emotional connect.
One lady did not have brothers nor was her father present all the time at home. She said she had no idea about men’s clothes. Day 2 after marriage as she went in to have her early morning bath and there she found this huge pile of soiled men’s clothes belonging to the menfolk of her in-law’s house. She was about to have a bath when there was a knock on the bathroom door. It was her mother-in-law telling her to wash the men’s clothes before having her bath! She found it really tough to wash those heavy pants, shirts and inner wear. Being a new bride she could not disobey her mother-in-law’s command. Her hands were aching so much so she could not have a proper bath that day. Later she told her mother-in-law that she was not used to washing men’s clothes. The reply she got was, better get used to it as she has to wash at least her husband’s and a brother-in-law’s clothes from now on! Washing machines were not in vogue in the late 1970s
Another one stood crying in her in-law’s kitchen which was new to her, not knowing where to find tea leaves, sugar and milk when asked to prepare tea for visitors the next day after her marriage. With no one around to guide or help her, she stood nervously with tears running down, until a granny came in to check on the tea. Since granny was a good soul, she prepared the tea quickly, asked her to wipe her tears and serve it to the visitors. Needless to say, granny and she became soul mates forever!
One was not allowed to join her husband who worked in another state for 6 months after marriage under the pretext of mother-in-law familiarizing the new bride with the family’s traditions, family cooking style, taking care of household duties which included cleaning an attic single handedly, brooming away all the fallen leaves from a very big garden full of big trees! Giving care for a sick relative staying with the family, fetching water from elsewhere for household needs. Very good internship indeed! That generation thought marriage was for keeps so they stuck with it for society’s sake. But these are times, when girls will agree to live with their husbands provided its just the two of them. So in-laws become out-laws right from day 1!