If there is one person in this huge wild world who enjoys utmost royalty, it is the Great Indian “Damaad” (Son-in-law). So revered and honored is he that often a girl’s parents could go to any extent to keep him happy. It is like as though the Good Lord himself has entered their family and wed their daughter.
Saroj, my laundry lady, seemed unusually anxious. “Didi paanch hazaar rupaye chahiye” (I want Rs. 5000/-), she said. My eyes popped open for a moment. Not that I had issues extending the loan, but the amount seemed large for a daily wage earner like Saroj. In a city such as Delhi, with high costs of living, it would probably take her months to pay me back. “My Damaad and Beti (daughter) are coming from Itarsi (a town in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India) during the “Navratri” Festival. I have to prepare a feast for them and also, get a new sari for my daughter, a suit piece and a gold plated wrist watch for my Damaad. We can’t send our Damaad empty handed. Damaad Kush tho Beti Kush (If the son-in-law is happy, the daughter stays happy),” she said with glee.
My eyes popped wider. Of course gifting your loved ones is indeed a good gesture, but stretching it beyond one’s financial capability was something I failed to understand. As I handed Saroj ten crisp 500 Re notes, I casually mentioned, “I am sure you must be getting something new for your newly wedded son and daughter in law too”. Saroj was quick to snap back, “Arre, who tho Bahu he, usko thode hi dete he” (She is just a daughter in law, why should she be given)”. I wondered in my heart…Why is the same loving gesture of gifting and pampering not extended to the daughter-in-law of the family? What about Bahu Kush tho Beta Kush (If the daughter-in-law is happy, the son stays happy)? Why didn’t this logic apply?
Anyways, I brushed these thoughts aside, thinking that probably, such practices were common among the economically weak, where the women are seldom financially empowered and need to be dependent entirely on their husbands. I was almost sure this would not be the case in educated families, where equality would prevail in relationships. But I soon realized how wrong I was.
I bumped into my next door neighbor Mr. Mehta at the local grocery store. He was pushing two over-loaded carts and seemed ready to strike a conversation. “Priya and Alexandro are coming this Sunday,” he said brimming with excitement. Mr. Mehta’s daughter Priya had recently wed Alexandro Gubbini, an Italian college professor. After a lavish County wedding, she moved to London with him, settling down into matrimony. “This is my Italian Damaad’s first visit and we want to make sure he feels at home. The feast would include all his favourite Italian dishes so that he feels special”. I asked Mr. Mehta casually, if any Indian dish would be served to his Firangi Damaadji. “Oh no, what if he doesn’t like it? How could we upset our Damaadji? It is our Indian tradition to treat our Damaad with utmost care and pamper him with all that he likes.”
I nodded and walked towards the billing counter. My thoughts wondered to the conversations I have had on multiple occasions with Nita. She was the daughter-in-law of the Mehta household. Being of the same age, we often went for long walks in our colony sharing tidbits from our daily lives. On many an occasion Nita had expressed her feelings of displeasure on how she was expected by her in-laws to change her tastes, lifestyle and dressing habits as per her sasural (in-laws home). After all, she had moved into their family and was expected to eat, sit and move the way they did.
I wondered why there really wasn’t an Indian Tradition to treat the daughter in law with care. Did Mr. Mehta, put in effort to make his Nita feel comfortable in her initial days of marriage? Did he ensure her favourite dishes were prepared so that she felt at home? Why was she expected to change her habits to suit their needs?
Itarsi or Italy, the Indian Damaad surely enjoys a privilege treatment in comparison to the humble Bahus. This is common in almost all households where the Damaad is place on a pedestal high up, a place where a daughter in law never reaches. I wonder why…