She was crying like a little girl on a relative’s shoulders as she looked at me from afar. My sister whispered in my ear – she is your mother-in-law! Lifting my bridal veil a little, I looked at her more closely and tried to fit her into the typical Indian ‘mother-in-law’ category.
I tried to fit her into the slot of a domineering lady, who would like to boss over me and would want me to do things the way she liked. But she had the kindest eyes. I tried to think of her as a fierce lady, who would try to find fault with everything I do. But she was looking at me in a very familiar way – the way my mother would look at me. I searched her face, for the faintest trace of jealousy now that I was, sort of, intruding in her haven, but there was none. With tears flowing down her eyes, she was looking at me tenderly. At that moment, I knew I could not fit her in the ‘typical’ category of those dreadful mother-in-laws, whose stories I would hear and fear since my girlhood days. She stood tall and regal in the crowd yet had an exuberant child-like quality.
"Those were tears of joy on seeing my baby doll,” she affectionately told me later.
I was sceptical. Since childhood I had heard my granny relating stories of her mother-in-law, who was a formidable woman. As a bride of fifteen, she was asked to walk slowly, speak softly, close her eyes, when relatives lifted her veil to see her face and be submissive to everyone. Once her aunts-in-law had decorated her hair with flowers using some sticky substance, which was quite uncomfortable. So, she washed her hair, this act brought her condemnation from all quarters. Her aunts-in-law glared at her and her mother-in-law was livid. Had it not been for her grandmother-in-law’s timely intrusion, she would have been mercilessly bullied by those Amazons.
Brides in those times were not expected to go to the toilet in front of the elders and if by chance their arm-length ‘Ghoonghat’ slipped, they would be termed with multiple adjectives with insinuations to their character. My granny was married when she was little more than a little girl, yet she was not allowed to play, dance or sing. She was okay with it, as girls in those days were brought up in that way. But all that seems appalling for us.
Even my mother had to face a lot of flak and she would tell me wisely, “once you get married, you will be severely judged and those little things which we find funny and sweet in your character would be considered as your biggest folly by your in-laws. Marriage is difficult. You would be blamed for multiple faults, which you thought never existed.”
Well, I was sort of prepared for everything. Maybe I would not be subjected to trauma of the same nature, but I would be judged critically, nevertheless, I had thought. But what came my way was sweet adoration in bounty. There was no judgment just acceptance! I still waited for that give-away moment, when I would find her comparing me, judging me, criticizing me, but that never came. Surrounded by her birds, pets, flowers and trees, the spirited lady laughed with me, covered up my faults and instantly came to my aid if I struggled with something. My mother had told me about her sweet nature when she had met her for my arranged marriage. But I had not believed her then.
Only when I boarded the plane to fly to Delhi, and she waved at me with tears in her eyes, I realized how blessed I was. Here was someone who had not set boundaries in love. At that moment I saw ‘my mom’ in ‘my other mom’. And I cried too as I had done long back, when I was going to the hostel and my mother was waving from the platform.