By Rajeshwar Singhal | PUBLISHED: 31, Dec 2010, 14:18 pm IST | UPDATED: 15, Apr 2011, 14:18 pm IST
IN LAWS, OR ‘OUT LAWS’
Ah, are we not sensitive on this issue. I guess this is the most touchy area of human relationships, or relationships in a family, as it has serious impact on success or failure of relationship between spouses. Even a stray and vague or most indirect mention of cribbing mothers in law, or daughters in law, or real or imagined hurt at the hands of a sister in law, in a gathering of females in law of the opposite generation or relationship, brings out most rabid reaction out of women who are otherwise soberly looking and are noted for their genteel behaviour, poise and grace.
In such gatherings women love to narrate ‘horror’ stories and compare the levels of hurt and harassment, with a ‘mine is bigger hurt’ approach. They are agreeable to use of strong words like ‘bitch’, ‘whore’, ‘slut’, while carefully smoothing and uncreasing their expensive silks or chiffons. At times, the expletives used by such ‘refined’ women for their in laws of any generation would easily shame not only the most crude ‘boys in barracks’but also the womanhood as such. We have heard of such behaviour among noted families of politicians, top businessmen, and middle class, who make up the mind and soul of the society. Tales of such behaviour can be found, I am sure, in texts throughout recorded history of mankind.
Even the millennia old famous temples in Rajasthan have statues of traditional feuding females in law with wonderfully carved in marble expressions of disgust and cynicism. We have to agree that nature made things this way and left it to the dynamics of a family and wisdom or otherwise of its constituents to work things out in an amicable manner. While innumerable instances of such perpetual strains causing relative levels of damage due to apparent lack of wisdom and patience are there in every society, tales of amiable relationships based on patience and balance of equity are rare and exceptional.
Quite often homes become war zones where all semblances of equity, propriety, sobriety, and patience are missing. The personae dramatis are perpetually itching for a fight, looking for an opportunity to get even for something said or done earlier by the other side. Ladies forget their age, maturity, and relationships while indulging in such behaviour. Spiritual leaning of these women visible in their frequent visits to holy places, regular recitations of hymns and prayers and related rituals, and fervent holding of and participation in religious and neo spiritual congregations is missing when the demon of ‘in laws’ is attacked. They love to read and discuss latest self help books and pontificating tomes with same flair as they would abandon their sermons for themselves.
They love to write on social networking sites, with an obvious eye on laudatory response, seeking almighty’s grace and help in forgiving all who traumatised them emotionally and physically. But once off the keyboards, same fingers are hooked into scissors or wrapped around a knife grip for the next attack. Aged matrons in 70’s and 80’s mouthing obscenities at or about their females in law, unmindful of their stage of maturity, and hurt that would be caused to relationships are as commonplace as young women in 20’s and thirties doing the same of other side of their in laws. Socio-economic background has no restraining effect on such vile behaviour. Women from unread and lowly families match steps with women from the other end of the spectrum in this expression of feelings. And then, while they are aware that the scriptures, or the gods and goddesses or the fuzzy wuzzy babas or mendicants in whom they repose their faith, do not permit such primeval behaviour and expect only patience, compassion, forgiveness and equity, they gladly allow themselves to behave in this manner.
Equally condemnable is the deliberate self denial approach whereby realisations are ignored and double standards are adopted. An elderly woman would passionately narrate misery of her married and employed daughter, facing problems balancing her profession and household chores, and harassment by her mother and sister in law, but would not tell how she herself treats her own working daughter in law. Women’s professional and social achievements bring out jealousies first among their females in law, who exhibit it by reinforced hatred and harassment. They may still expect the daughters in law to be serving them obediently, and get salacious pleasure while mouthing in gatherings that they have a manager, or CEO or school principal as their domestic help. But it is not as if the reverse is untrue. Smart young ladies would be equally comfortable ignoring genuine love and affection of their females in law, and their contribution in household chores, even if despite their age, and health problems.
Equally commonplace are instances of such real fights and shadow boxing or proxy fights through male members, between females in law for property matters, often leading to dangerous and most horrible consequences. Soothsayers and ‘miracle workers’ are patronised by smart, well off women of all ages seeking help for effecting harm on such in laws through mumbo jumbo, tantra mantra, and what not. Such incendiary bombs destroy the family relationships, be it in a joint family or any smaller one. Most of the time, males take sides of their own ladies and there is man to man verbal slang instead of father and son balanced talk.
While these aberrations are commonplace, but cannot be justified in any manner, there are any number of real instances where the in laws were better than real relatives and did not choose to become out laws. They defied nature’s inbuilt hostility for the ‘one from other family’, did not give in to needless jealousies, and treated each other with compassion and care. And this held on even in times of extreme need. Even the Indian films generally full of melodrama have not failed in their duty to project on screen this rarity in society. In two wonderful Hindi films titled ‘Patita’ (of 1953) and ‘Safar’ (of 1970), the role of mother in law was played by actresses traditionally seen in films, as scheming, cribbing, and always full of hatred.
But these women whom the audience loved to hate, had altogether differently scripted roles in these films. They saved their daughters in law from serious court cases and ignominy due to unnatural deaths of their husbands, and helped them later in life. As normally seen in families and films, such hapless young windows are often blamed by mothers in law for having ‘eaten up’ their husbands, and treated badly in later life. But these films projected the rare exceptions.
Equally rare are instances of young hapless widows helping out their in laws in most difficult times. In one such case seen by us among our very close friends, a housewife in early 30’s age, and from a working class family, lost her husband and was saddled with elderly in laws and two small kids. Father in law was retired and mother in law, thanks to her nature, was called a ‘devil’ even by the neighbours.
The young daughter in law, now a widow, went on working on her small job, and listened to barbs from her elders in law, all for the sake of her small kids and joint family. A quirk of fate saw the family losing daughter’s husband also at an early age and daughter coming into the parents’ family. This was also accepted by the dutiful daughter in law. Pretty soon the ‘devil’ mother in law also passed away, leaving the father in law in depression. She managed this also. Then father in law had to undergo health related surgeries. Unable to afford a car, the daughter in law carried him everywhere on a two wheel scooter, even making sure that the old man was seated properly and securely and his diaper was in place. With patience and perseverance, she has been able to raise her both kids and is now seeing them through college.
So, nature may have ordained any negative behaviour, seen commonly in all societies, in any generation, fact remains that there is no alternative to compassion, patience, care, and equity in such relationships. We have to follow the exceptions, and not frequently enacted dramas in households.
ASSETS AND LIABILITIES
Same paradigm with emphasis on patience, compassion, and equity applies to even family relationships between generations. The joint family system in India has its own merits and failings, quite often more of the former. Things get taken care of by one and all in a manner that is like a plane cruising on auto pilot. Kids grow up, go through college and job hunt regimen rather painlessly, thanks to support from within. Same applies to anyone sick or incapacitated in the family, who also gets taken care of. But all this seems difficult in today’s fast evolving and mutating environment and life’s priorities. But even then, can we dump our blood relations, of any generation, elder or younger, or our siblings? Perhaps not. True, its easier said than done, with competing pressures on all of us from increasingly difficult professions, and the hopes and aspirations in an urban grind. But even then we all need to maintain patience, though not easy, and handle the situation in a manner that is most amiable to all.
In a joint family system or in a social relationship, now both facing strains of changed environment, can we treat our relatives or friends or our relationships as assets or liabilities in a balance sheet? Certainly not. Again, can a relationship in a family, social, or professional setting be based on convenience, usability, cost-benefit ratio? Again, certainly not. Further, it is common that in a relationship, at times, assets are felt as or treated as liabilities, and vice versa, maybe perhaps due to mercurial behaviour of those in a relationship, or due to changing socio economic factors. Elderly parents and relatives, otherwise much cherished for their presence, company and advice in a joint family and treated as assets, become liabilities when responsibilities and commitments of those they are dependent upon become strained due to changing environmental factors. Then they are treated at a level even below social or casual friends. At times such relatives, earlier considered as liabilities, get status of assets, if they are discovered with valuable properties or contacts.
Whatever maybe the reasons behind such behaviour which can be easily justified by those indulging in it, fact remains that nature certainly does not allow such behaviour. Nature has its recourse to balance things, though such measures are rather difficult to accept and have a very long time effect. Take this example. In this case of two struggling brothers trying to raise their kids through jobs and helping settle another younger brother and taking care of the widowed mother, the effort was always by one brother to shift the onus of younger brother and mother onto the other brother. The shirker brother considered his own family responsibilities bigger than that of his other brother with similar set of his own. The shirker also called the mother and younger brother as ‘liabilities’ very frequently.
Though this brother was always happy welcoming relatives and friends or their relatives as guests, even for long term stay, who came over for official work, education, and for preparing for or appearing in competitive exams. These staying visitors were treated by him as ‘assets’ or investments’ as at later stage they were to become doctors or civil servants or some equally important persons and hence ‘useful’. But he was not willing to keep his own younger brother and mother. Other brother brought home the mother and younger brother, who had by now due to plays of nature become a schizophrenic wreck, adding further to his ‘liability’ factor and discomfiture of the other brother’s family. We may say that it is a common story, seen and heard of in any number of families, here or there, or everywhere. Very true. While there is no novelty factor in the facts, things may differ how such situations are dealt with.
The elderly widowed mother with her own health problems and the lunatic unemployed, unmarried younger brother were felt as equal liabilities by other brother’s wife. Noting new here also. The wife mocked at simple rustic ways of her in laws staying with her family and cribbed at doing odd jobs and cooking for them. I think this is also a common phenomenon. But the brother kept his patience, dutifully attending to his old mother and schizophrenic younger brother, as well as his own kids and wife. He also balanced his professional and social commitments well, alongwith these onerous responsibilities.
The usual cribbing against in laws continued, once reaching a stage that the wife walked out of the house with a packed suitcase, only to be brought back in and counselled by her college going son. He asked her a simple question if she would behave in same way if he himself were a lunatic or incapacitated. She understood the deeper meaning, but did not reply, obviously as giving the only reply possible would be against her ego and as things go, nobody wants a defeat from anyone closely related or known. The elderly mother ended her life’s journey after few years having experienced usual heath problems. Her death coincided with the man’s son finishing university education and getting into a prestigious job, evoking comments from one and all that man’s sincerity and care for his mother had been duly rewarded by almighty. The man’s lunatic brother also met his maker after some years, having passed through his set of health problems, but having been taken care of adequately by his sincere brother.
Now going back to the shirker brother who had also been able to settle his two sons and a daughter over twenty years after he had jettisoned his mother and brother as ‘liabilities’. His elder son’s wife was blessed with a son and the arrival of a male progeny brought the usual joy in the family who had a new ‘asset’. The man was retired and doted on the newly born baby often making the baby sleep next to him during daytime. But nature’s balancing act was still pending. And as said earlier, such justice is often harsh and has long term effects. Few weeks after the birth of the male child, first in that generation in the family, it was learnt that the child’s brain had got damaged during his complicated delivery. The family looked at the prospects of lifelong burden or responsibility, or ‘liability’ of caring for a retarded member of the family. The shirker brother passed away four years after birth of the ‘liability’ in his family, never realising, or maybe not admitting his own words for his own old mother and schizophrenic brother over a quarter of century earlier.
Take yet another case which was similar in nature as the rich family, including elders and young parents of a newborn male baby celebrated his birth as arrival of a ‘new asset’. But next day doctors told the family that the child had serious internal disorders and would require constant heavy medication and expensive surgeries at later stages. So the ‘asset’ turned into a ‘liability’, and the family turned from blood relatives to fiends instantly. The conniving doctors were paid off well and asked to stop all medication and care to the newly born, so that he could die at the earliest. Poor child survived for six days and then died crying and silently seeking care and life. But the family had got rid of the ‘liability’.
So, the quintessential question remains, whether one can or should treat such relationships as assets or liabilities, depending upon one’s convenience and worth. I have seen the animals in most wild area on the planet, that is Tanzania, where the animal variety and volumes in natural habitat are mind boggling. Though I am an amateur and zoologists would perhaps know better, yet even an amateur can see animals procreating, giving birth, and taking care of their young ones and kin, in most natural surroundings, without any asset or liability factor. They make all attempts to save their young ones and kin from attacks by fierce animals and then grieve over the losses for those taken away by carnivores. But among humans, can the perceived assets turn into liabilities in a fraction of a second or vice versa? Is there no inherent worth of a human being and his relationship as ordained by nature?
An inheritor to a fortune would be loved and cared for even if he is bed ridden and helpless. But a person otherwise considered an asset, but getting into a health problem, with attendant responsibilities, or failing on professional front, and having no fortunes would automatically become a liability. Relationships fail even now, as they did in the times of great Indian epics, that are the widely accepted as oldest recorded history of our culture. There are instances dime a dozen where the man losing out on professional front, after a glorious run with attached life of comforts for the family, is often derided and chastised by his wife and kids less for his errors of judgment but more for resultant loss of comforts and fun.
The man who was earlier lionised by family and society is no longer seen as a role model by his own family who consider him a deadwood and roadblock in their own social, economic, and professional paths. Any person in such a situation would look forward to emotional support from within his family and close associates. But reality sinks in early when he is failed primarily by them. He has to seek help of lesser known people and beg of them to stand by him for his bail and surety. His own relatives are happy comforting others for their problems, and are comfortable taking day off from work to meet intimate friends, but the poor man, an ostensibly a ‘liability’ now, makes the dreadful trudge to courts, generally alone. At times, even his parents heap scorn on him for ‘messing up’ their old age and ruining their reputation and social standing.
People helped earlier by him in similar police cases, often refuse to take his calls for the fear of getting tracked by investigation agencies. His reluctance to spend money due to its lack and the years of his solitude and being away from work are mocked at by his closest relatives, even spouse, without any compassion as, “you were not working then”, or “when will you spend money on family’s recreation, when you get your matters settled and get all your salary dues?”, leaving him wondering if he really deserved it all from his relatives in most sacrosanct relationship, and if the same could have been told in a more pleasant manner with empathy.
Take this old case of a typical business family from a very small town in Punjab. The joint family of two brothers and parents had combined business of dealing in foodgrains. A contract entered into by younger son was not appreciated by elder brother and father as they thought that it would lead to loss in business. In a heated discussion, the younger brother, till then considered an asset, promised that to make up for the foreseeable loss, he would not take any share of the profits from other business contracts. But for the father and elder brother, this man had already become a liability and they mocked his rejection of his share challenging him about his kids’ sustenance from proceeds of same business. He quietly assured them that even his children would not be a burden on the joint family. Like the elders and other family members with ego bloated heads failed to withdraw their barbs in times of Ramayana and Mahabharata, here also it remained the same.
The traumatized younger brother quietly took his two kids at night to their shop in town, forcibly made them gulp pesticide, and consumed the same himself after both kids died in his own lap. Here also, the assets had become liabilities and had been told point blank that they were so. Such tales are common. True. But like in other facets of life, higher frequency of an event, as ignoble as this, in different places, can never justify its happening in any society. Same are the commonplace cases of dowry deaths, honour killings, gender selection and resultant female foeticide and infanticide. Here also, relationships are tossed out and personal ego, greed and hatred take over wisdom and sense of equity. But their frequent occurrence does not validate them in any manner.
The feeling of closest relatives, including blood relatives, like natural born children, or siblings, being liability is equally demonstrated in countless instances in all societies. Reasons maybe manifold, ranging from passion, property, ego, etc. There have been frequently reported cases of mothers killing their own young children, just to be with their paramours, unhindered. Fathers killing sons and vice versa for property matters are commonplace in both rural and urban areas. But there are instances where elders killed their sons, who had families of their own, only because the sons had objected to such mundane things as elders’ cribbing or excessive coughing. In all such cases, relationships and relatives had become equal liabilities for those perpetrating the heinous crimes.
Generally, in our society, women are considered more God fearing and hence law abiding. But even this seems like a misconception as there are any number of instances where young women killed their elders for simple reasons that elders had objected to their going out often or without their permission or even against local mores. And such instances are as commonplace in rural areas as in lowly semi urban or upscale urban areas. Perhaps the most vicious example of the genre was in a small town Hissar in Haryana many years ago when a young married woman named Sonia got her state legislator father, mother, and six siblings killed for property inheritance. She is on death row now, but unrepentant. Same are the cases of fiendish women of all ages, including elderly matrons who know they do not have much time left, who indulge in female infanticide, and harassment, beating up, torture and even killing of their daughters in law. And this is as rampant among lowly working class families as in upscale ones with tonnes of dough and all material comforts of international scale.
Fair weather friends/relatives?
Perhaps this is the most commonly and openly experienced challenge to relationships. Proverbs and ethics have come out of such flawed behaviour, down the recorded history of mankind. Yet we have remained the same, ignoring all sermons of the ‘Song Celestial’, and other equally revered Books. Friends leaving a man in distress is common news. Perhaps the one in lurch himself would not expect much out of such relationships. But family members leaving him stranded emotionally, materially, and filially is a big setback in life. Even bigger setback than this is when the friends and family members who had been amiable with him earlier with a back slapping bonhomie and benefitted through his professional standing, start behaving differently once the man is going through life’s troughs. They join the bandwagon, led by some of them only, against the hapless man, touting his errors along the beat of the drum. In times of such need, they themselves expect and seek out help of friends and relatives, but when the other person has such problems, some become indifferent refusing to even take his calls, and some lead the advert processions. Sounds familiar? Quite right.
Take the case of a guy who worked for a central enforcement agency and was on a secondment abroad in the Indian embassy. He had helped a lot of his relatives and friends stuck in usual bureaucratic morass and was very popular both in India and abroad in social and professional circles. He was approached once by country head of a large Indian corporate conglomerate for help in tracking down a person of Indian origin who had fled to India without paying the company dues of over five million dollars. As the tentative whereabouts of the defaulter were known, the officer had to make few phone calls only in different places in India, that took him less than twenty minutes. By next day morning, the defaulter had been not only picked up but deported also from India. The guy again arranged for getting him tracked at the landing point abroad, eventually getting him arrested.
Not a simple and easy feat, we have to admit. Later the friend, that is the country head of the Indian conglomerate, had personal problems within his own organisation with his colleagues accusing him of having shared the money not paid by the defaulter. This business head had to leave the country quietly, on the excuse that he and his wife were taking a three months long vacation in India, but sent their household goods on the sly with another Indian relocating to India. Back in India he joined another relatively obscure company at an even more unglamorous level. After a year or so this guy from enforcement agency also returned to India and had problems of his own within the professional setup. Many other people known to him and former business honcho were also in India now.
The business guy was now a team leader espousing errors of judgment by the government officer, even though he had no direct or indirect links with his work. He had forgotten his own days of problems and help received through the government guy abroad in tracking and deportation of a payment defaulter. He had also forgotten how he and his wife had slipped out of the country abroad quietly and sent their baggage with others.
Sounds very common? Quite right. Such aberrations challenge the very basis of relationships between friends. While the old adage ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ remains solid, it has to be read with a proviso, that, ‘A friend helped in need is later on, generally the foe indeed’. Once a person comes into professional or family problems, his friends and relatives, who had earlier been benefitted through him and used to lionise him, are the first to jettison him. And we all experience it regularly.
Even in case of this officer, who was on the ‘other side of the grace’ now, his family friends and professional colleagues shunned him, some even refusing to take or return his calls. His close friends who used to regularly look forward to fancy parties at his place, now did not invite him at their places. Even though nothing had been formalised yet against him legally, his own sister, instead of being sympathetic and helpful, told him point blank, “I heard through some officials that you are not innocent.”
Needless to say that the hapless guy’s mind was challenging the validity of family relationships. But he consoled himself saying that these things happened even in times of great epics.
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