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Different Hues - Chapter 8

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‘Two States’ ~

Ours was not at all an easy marriage. People from ‘Two States’ getting married was more an unthinkable concept in our country, thirty years back than now. His parents were strongly against having a ‘non Brahmin girl’ as their daughter in-law, my mother too did not consider the idea of ‘giving away’ her daughter  to a‘non Bengali boy’ very acceptable.

We could have eloped of course or just walked out of our homes but we decided to wait till we got our parents’ consent for starting our new life, together. Four precious years were lost in the process. 

We walked in twice to the Marriage Registrar’s office but decided at the last moment to remain patient for some more time. For him perhaps it was more an ego tussle with his parents. He wanted his parents to welcome the bride their son had chosen for himself. For me it was something else. At early twenties, wedding to me meant the red bridal finery, the sound of the ‘shehnai’, the trousseau, the feasting, the laughter and of course the ‘bidai’.

Finally when the families accepted, it was agreed that the conventional rituals of both the states would be followed and we would get married to each other not once but twice, on two separate dates, each day, auspicious according to the respective almanacs. So we do have two wedding anniversary dates and thinking back we both laugh back at ourselves for agreeing to that. Getting married to the same person I was already married to just for the sake of undergoing a different set of rituals sound hilarious now but at the same time I do agree that it helped each of us to know the extended families better and it did play a big role, helping us to gel well with both sets of cousins.  It is indeed true that it was because of our wonderful cousins that we felt so comfortable in adjusting ourselves with customs and cuisines so different from each other with so much of ease.

The first big challenge that I had to face as a new bride was that of running a TamBrahm kitchen, when my mother in law got the news of her mother’s demise after two weeks of my wedding and had to rush to Mysore immediately. I was left back with three foodie men, having to run the home and the kitchen, without getting any chance and time for being trained for the job. The first morning after Amma left was one of the scariest one in my life. I woke up 5: 30 in the morning, bathed, draped a saree, wore my kumkum and bindi.  I got myself geared up for batting in my mother in law’s kitchen without having any prior net practice at all.

The kitchen and its shelves looked all like a maze and an unknown territory to me.  I remember my husband giving me instructions from the bedroom (our room was incidentally right opposite to the kitchen) by signalling his hands. He too was perhaps equally keen as me to impress his dad about his new bride’s culinary skill, I think. I did manage to make pressure cooked rice, a sambar and a curry and serve my father in law his office lunch, right at 8 :30 in the morning on the first day itself. But all my elation over such an achievement and a commendable feat came to a halt as Appa declared that the sambar was good indeed but  was without the mandatory garnishing of the mustard seeds and the curry tasted too sweet.

Once the first hurdle was crossed I became bolder as a cook and slowly introduced some new vegetarian dishes in the daily menu, which I tried to pick up from my mother, over the phone. When Amma came back after her mother’s rituals were over she didn’t have much to complain about. She found her kitchen clean and her husband and two sons well fed and happy. She even allowed me cook the sabji for the dinner once in a while, after that.

The biggest barrier between the different states of India, as we all know, is the language of course. My husband, who had been brought up in Kolkata and had attended a school, known for its strong Bengali roots, does not only speak Bangla in a much better diction and grammar than many of the natives but can read Bengali books too. He also knows the lyrics of most of the Tagore songs and can sing them to perfection. He never had any communication problem at my parental place. He even had won over all my female cousins on the ‘Bashar Raat’( the wedding night ) by singing some hit Bangla ‘Adhunik Gaan’ ( modern song ) of Manna De for them. 

Tamil, the language spoken at my in law’s place was to me more unknown than any Latin and Greek and my mother in law, the poor lady, tried her best by gifting me a copy of ‘Learn Tamil’ in 7 Days. It is needless to say that didn’t help much and I soon gave up on the book after making a couple of embarrassing blunders by making a vain attempt to display my linguistic skill.

My husband had left to work in a foreign country after a month of the wedding and I continued staying with his parents for a few months, till my Visa was done. That stay did help me to bond with my parents in law I agree. I learnt a lot about the family and the traditions, while listening to Amma, as she kept on spinning on her sewing machine,post lunch. She did try to teach me some needlework as well but gave it up soon probably either by seeing my incompetence at it or my reluctance to learn or both.

The other department where Amma had miserably failed in getting me trained is music, the typical Carnatic kind. My knowledge of music was strictly limited to the typical Musical Band Box and AnurodherAshor numbers, we normally listened to on Sunday afternoons. Amma, who was in her early fifties then, when I came to the family as a bride, was attending music classes twice a week in the afternoons and often used to practice at home with her harmonium.  I confess that I tried my best but could not get myself much interested in that particular genre of music, chiefly because I failed to understand the words and the lyrics. I did nurture regret within my heart for my inability, I accept and maybe because of that only I enrolled myself in a Bharatnatyam dance class, only a year back.  To master that particular dance form of course one needs a pair of very strong knees which I sadly do not have any more, now that I am in my fifties and so had to switch over to Kathak and my mother in law was the happiest one when she heard of my new endeavour and interest.

Adapting to the new food habit of ‘sambar’ and ‘rasam’ with ‘chadam’ (rice) was never a big problem for me because I wasn’t ever fond of my ‘maachbhaath’ (fish and rice) at the first place. To start the day with a tumbler of strong filter coffee was little difficult, I do agree but after some initial hesitations I succeeded in convincing my in laws that I am a tea person basically and today when I visit my ma- in- law she keeps my Darjeeling tea ready for brewing on the other burner along with the coffee for her son.

When I think back, I realise that I have spent more years as a daughter in law of this family than as a daughter to my parents and so it is perhaps too obvious that I have started identifying with the Tamil culture and am well at ease with the rituals of a ‘TamBhram’ home as much as I am with my’ GhotiBangali’(Bengalis from West Bengal) roots. I find this almost as being twice blessed for getting the opportunity to celebrate both Pongal and Durgapujo with the same fervour, cook and eat the delicacies from both the states, loving my Kanjeevaram silks as much as my cotton Jamdanis.

Some of my friends ask me, what makes me so fond of my ‘sasuri’ or ‘sasural’, some doubt this fondness is all a part of the so called show off. I confess today that I did have my quota of differences, especially at the initial stage. Some of my habits and behaviour  did not meet her conventional standard; some of her practices were unacceptable for my comparatively modern mind. But then is that not a part of any mother-daughter relationship? Did we not disagree with our own mothers; does my little one not fight with me for every small matter? With age, Amma and me, both of us have mellowed down much. Both she and I know each other better after being in the same family for almost twenty seven years. After all do we not share our concerns for the same people and are our complaints and grievances are also against the same ones? 

Mine was a difficult marriage, true and like all other marriages it still is a difficult one. I do not know whether I could have survived all those difficulties if not for the solid support of my extended family and my mother in law, especially. I am not sure whether I can claim any credit for adapting to the ways of my husband’s family but I am quite confident that I could not have been what I am, if I were not given space and a chance for remoulding my persona and my beliefs, without having to compromise with the existing ones.

Whatever the bestsellers or B-Grade Bollywood movies may try to project, it is a fact that marriage between ‘Two Sates’ is also the same story of adjustments, reconciliation, harmonisation and mutual respect. Differences do exist in all marriages, be they cultural or any other kind, it is for us to know how much to give and how much to take, how much to bend down and how much to reconcile  keeping our own identities straight.

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About the column : Champa's column :"Different Hues"  will reflect on various aspects of Relationships. 

About the Author : Champa Srinivasan is a Post Graduate in English Literature from Jadavpur University. She taught in a college under the Calcutta University for many years and had to give it up once her family started getting scattered. She now keeps herself busy, designing leather items for her family owned export business. She keeps travelling between her two homes and loves to write about her mother, her childhood days and her children, as her past time

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Your '2 States' rocks!

This is a beautiful account, Champa! While I relished each detail, the 'Learn Tamil in 7 days' was hilarious!

I could pick out a few more:'Getting married to the same person...' Haha, as though you had a choice!

The most touching is your bond with your mom-in-law. Very beautifully put!

Do continue loving your Kanjeevaram silks as much as your cotton Jamdanis :)

Here's to many, many years of loving togetherness.

Your '2 States' rocks!

Most warmly,
Ruby

Loved your story of '2 States'

Loved to read this! A loving, endearing account tinged with nostalgia and love, and peppered with the honest, timeless insights about the bond of love, companionship that strengthens every marriage with all the little compromises, triumphs and revelations. Loved the way you have effortlessly narrated the cultural assimilation in the story and what that means to you personally :)

Best,
Lopa.

Thanks

Dear Ruby and Lopa,

It was indeed a great pleasure for me to recount the moments because I almost relived them while sharing with you all. This particular anecdote is different in every sense because I did not sit with the intention of doing a write up but as I was narrating my experiences to my friends on our group chat, Antara's request came and I mailed this to her, copying the pieces in bits and pieces from the chat thread.
Am so overwhelmed by the response I got from you all and am happy that I decided to share this.
Thank you once more.

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