Every time I see the name of my mother-in-law on the caller display when the mobile rings, my heart does a nervous somersault and my stomach dives down to a depth I didn't know even existed. Each time we talk, I am left with a feeling that I'm a sore thumb sticking out in the family. I could not let go of my own identity and embrace their rules and rituals without adding my own flavour to them.
It has been 7 years since we got married - a traditional arranged marriage fixed by the elders of both the families after meeting the prospective bride and groom, and interviewing the girl with the run of the mill questions, as, for marriages in India, there is a direct relation between knowing how to cook and taking care of the house to being ready for marriage; where the suitability of the girl is in proportion to her homely qualities, irrespective of how many degrees she holds or in which MNC or at what post she is working.
Being a working professional, I had never stepped into a kitchen full-time. So, after my engagement, she would call me regularly just to inquire if I had started learning how to cook and take care of the house, going as far as to suggest that I leave my corporate job and join cooking classes to learn different cuisines- just because I had to take responsibility of managing the husband and the house after we got married and shifted to America where he used to work.
From not making that perfect round roti to not putting out the clothes to dry properly, to not knowing how to bring up my own child, to not being a good daughter-in-law (just because I did not do the prayers like they did in the family), I was constantly under the radar.
As a mother-in-law, she never missed her right to put me down - once even telling her son in front me that I don’t have the “sanskar” to be a good daughter-in-law because I left for America to stay with my husband instead of being left here to gel with the extended family and learn their house rules.
I ask you, dear mother-in-law, why could you not accept me as a part of the family? Why am I expected to address you as my "maa", giving you the same position as my own mother, but can't expect to be treated like your daughter? Why is it that whenever I come home, I am I still treated as an outsider after almost a decade in the family? Why does my heart start beating loudly with that familiar sinking feeling, knowing that even on my best behaviour - at the cost of losing my own self-esteem and confidence - I will still be judged and remarked at whether I like it or not.
The guilt of knowing no matter how hard I try I would still not be good enough for her son, and their family drives a twisted knife in my heart as I also accept that the web of these cordial relations would sooner or later engulf the sacred relation between a wife and a husband and destroy it like slow poison.
For now, I have time to think about the great mysteries of the universe where a mother-in-law conveniently forgets that once she was also the proverbial daughter-in-law, before she transitioned onto the other side of the equation, before she makes the weekly call and disturbs my fragile peace of mind.