April 04, 2013

Of Marriage and Mother-Daughter ties…

This is not a feminist post. This is just a post about a daughter juggling a phase of commotion, confusion and the hullabaloo called marriage. I had my marriage solemnised three times in three different ways. This is not a very uncommon practice in these days of intermarriages. Now, neither my husband nor I were ever particular about the details. We just wanted to be together.  But the whats and wherefores of a wedding ceremony are hardly up to the groom and bride alone, at least in most Indian families, even today. Needless to say, we too got caught up in the negotiations of families, in what was expected and what one definitely did not want to do. In the end, we had a legal wedding, a Shankari wedding and a Vedic wedding…in that order necessarily. Necessarily?  Well, to ensure both our families were happy with the customs followed, as is the case with any couple going through multiple ceremonies.  What then was different in this wedding series? Probably nothing, probably nothing at all. Or, maybe, just everything, at least for us. But I move ahead of myself. Marriage happens to be just one very visible, but never the first, social event in the life of an individual. When discussions started taking place between families, I began to introspect, in a somewhat clichéd fashion, on what really mattered and why. In the process, my attention was drawn time and again to how much a wedding mattered to the parents of a bride or groom-to-be. We made our choice. Parents mattered. We had our whole lives to ourselves but for this particular event, we decided to give the moments to our parents.  Both mothers, in particular, became the focal points of our final decisions on what we wanted to do or not do. The crucial point was that neither was to be hurt.  The only trouble was in ensuring how this could be amicably done: for one mother lived, believed and actively pursued the prescriptive dos and don’ts of life put forth by the religious faith she had chosen as her calling. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with this; except, the other was a woman of her own making. One who was used to deducing her own meanings of norms and dictats, choosing to follow only what she could make sense of. Choosing to live her own life. This one was mine. Trying to find a balance between the two was not easy, especially since my mother is a woman I emulate in my day to day living. She is a woman whose viewpoints I was more perceptible to, whose position I was more inclined towards. A woman who clearly holds my admiration in this post as well as in life. And that brings us to the order of the weddings. My mother-in-law, true to her religious self, refused to believe any form of wedding (even the legal one, though she knew it had to be done in this day and age) as valid except for the one that her faith sanctioned. In keeping with the same beliefs and customs she also did not think it proper for groom and bride to meet before the wedding, or, for that matter, mothers to be present at the weddings of their children.  That put the Shankari wedding as the first of the social weddings on the list. My mother, on the other hand, did not share the same beliefs. She did not see anything wrong in letting the groom and the bride meet before the wedding, especially given that in a love marriage partners already go through their fair share of meeting and courting much before parents actually come into the picture. She in fact wanted us to have a pre-wedding get-together of sorts but that could not happen without hurting my mother-in-law’s sentiments. The legal wedding, therefore, preceded the Shankari wedding- allowing us both to meet and not meet (since, strictly speaking, it did solemnise a marriage). Most important however was my mother’s desire to be there as a part of the wedding ceremony.  She wanted to watch and participate.  Traditionally, and this I realise stands in several Hindu cultures, mothers are not allowed to be present at a wedding because it is feared that a mother cannot let go of her child into adulthood. Her love and attachment is supposedly so great that she will invariably cast an evil eye on the one who was now symbolically taking on the role of her child’s partner or ‘caretaker’. To allow my mother her space in the ceremonies was as important to me as it was to her because, for one, I have never been superstitious and for another, I do not see how according to the above ‘logic’ mothers can be harbingers of ill luck for their children any more than fathers can be. That ensured the decision to conduct the Vedic ceremony. Since my parents did not care about the order of precedence, we decided to go through with it after the Shankari wedding. In keeping with her beliefs, my mother-in-law attended none of the ceremonies. The day of the first social wedding began with the traditional Juroon ceremony where the would-be mother-in-law comes to bless the bride-to-be with clothes and sindoor, and a ‘thank-you gift’ (usually a mekhela chador) for the mother of the bride. The gift is for all the trouble she has taken in rearing the girl until now. A bride price, in other words. My mother, never a stickler for any of those patriarchal frills and flounces that puts women in the place of commodities or cattle, changed the ceremony by choosing her own words. Instead of expressing gratitude for the gift and wishing me well for the future, she thanked my mother-in-law for choosing to be my mother alongside her, for giving her daughter two mothers!  Needless to say I was elated, but of course not too many women around us liked it. After all, my mother-in-law wasn’t the only one present who believed tradition was sacrosanct. On the evening of the Shankari wedding, my mother took her chances and came out to watch the ceremony. Unfortunately, I learnt later, she was shooed away and she disappeared so as to not disrupt the proceedings. This ceremony was so patriarchal that at the very end the couple was only required to take the blessings of the two fathers and other elderly gentlemen present. Things changed the next day though.  Not only did my mother watch the Vedic ceremony, she also participated in it. Rewording the ‘kanyadaan’, she refused to ‘give away’ her daughter; instead, she accepted a son into her family while placing my hand in my husband’s and holding both together. A few days later we had our Saatmongola meal, the traditional meal that takes place at the bride’s house where the sacred thread tied during the wedding is cut and along with it, the last symbolic cutting of ties with one’s ‘maika’. Needless to say, we ate and made merry with no such rituals taking place. To quote my mother,

“Marriages are about additions. It is only on a positive note and through a pleasant attitude that true happiness is attained, so why the need for unpleasant customs? It is true that a daughter moves out of the house to live somewhere else, but is that not a natural process? Do adult birds not fly away from their nests to make their own? Why the term ‘giving away the daughter’?”

  (Editor’s note: The author of this piece starts off by saying this is not a feminist post. One begs to differ: feminist thought, action and experience ranges across a spectrum. And it is by owning it as such that many amongst us recognise bits of ourselves and realise that we are on this spectrum.)

About: Radhika Baruah

Newly married and still making the transition from singlehood to the challenges of marital life, Radhika is an occasional blogger and avid reader with an interest in comic books, performance and translation studies. She has worked as an Assistant Professor in English in several colleges of Delhi University from 2008 to 2012. Currently a nomad shuttling between the US and India, Radhika is learning to co-opt herself into the dynamic and forever present cycle of dislocation and assimilation of cultures on multiple fronts.

5 comments to Of Marriage and Mother-Daughter ties…

  • Thanks for this, Radhika.

  • Reba

    Thoughtful piece…

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    Radhika, I enjoyed reading this post and appreciate your mother’s sentiments. Negotiating relationships and cultures, both, the ones we are born into and the ones we acquire later in life, can be an interesting and challenging journey for pretty much all of us. Which is why I respectfully disagree with the first line of your post. If talking about female relationships against a backdrop of patriarchal practices isn’t feminist, I don’t know what is. :) Best wishes to you and your spouse!

  • SheilaG

    It is very nice that you tried to keep both mothers happy. However, in my experience, parental demands don’t stop because you ‘gave them this moment’. The mother who demanded that all her religious beliefs be followed will also be demanding that you follow all her beliefs in years to come, especially when you have children.
    That’s my prediction, anyway.

  • Karuvaki

    beautifully written!

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