The mother-in-law in Indian society

Author and journalist Veena Venugopal tackles matriarchal norms

The mother-in-law in Indian society
The mother-in-law in Indian society Image #2

In her new book, Indian author and journalist Veena Venugopal uncovers the tricky role of the mother-in-law in matriarchal Indian society.

After a year of research, many meetings with married women in coffee shops, malls and on the Internet, Indian journalist and author Veena Venugopal has written a fictional guide on how to survive your Indian mother-in-law. Venugopal lays it out in 12 cases, the spectrum of abuse ranging from emotional to physical at the hands of the mother-in-law. She also reminds us that even the Supreme Court of India says a mother-in-law can be an annihilating force to any stable marriage.

Venugopal does tone down the melodrama in her crisp introduction recounting her early days of marriage, trying not to adhere to the squabbling mother and daughter-in-law stereotype. She offers tips on how to handle the other woman in your marriage, but what really makes you turn the pages are her reporter-author skills that lay to rest notions of an urban liberated India, which supposedly treats its women with respect. She writes, ‘Modernity is like a new outfit: you wear it only when you go out. Once home, you can take it off and go back to living like it was 1813.’

What prompted you to write about the mother-in-law?
The idea initially was that it would be a funny book. I was not sure, because it was not my area, and I had never given the subject much thought or importance. But as I spoke to my friends and acquaintances, I saw everyone had a story to share and would jump in. So there clearly was a lot of interest in the subject.

You say this is the worst time for the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law battle. Why do you think the need for control has increased by mother-in-laws?
The earlier generation of daughter-in-laws were not as educated and exposed to different cultures and ideas; they were not put off by the idea of giving control to a mother-in-law. Daughters-in-law are now exposed to different cultures, many are 24 to 25 years of age, they know what they want, they know how they want to live, and in this, there is a different daughter-in-law who doesn’t give into the mother-in-law’s demands.

What has been your mother-in-law’s reaction to the book?
I have not sent her a copy or told her. We are both living in our islands of denial. I don’t know what her reaction is, nor do I have the gumption to ask her. But my mum did say that I shouldn’t have done this. She feels it is different to talk about it to friends, but to write a book is putting it out in a public forum. She said, ‘I wouldn’t like it if my daughter-in-law did this.’

What surprises did the book throw up?
Two things surprised me; firstly, how easy it was to find such tragic stories. I was shocked to find such horrible stories. And secondly, friends mostly share stories about their mother-in-laws in a comical fashion. However, these women who I had just met were honest and earnest in their telling.
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