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  • Writer's picturePanchi

Chapter- I 'The Dangerous Other'

Queen always felt really troubled and surprised the way our society was so afraid of self introspection. The Indian society is used to making an instruction list for daughter-in-laws explicitly. However, if scrutinised properly, the root cause of the issues lies in the social construction of men in Indian society. The men in our houses are socially trained to be dependent on their mothers for every small task. Right from their food to clothing, their lives are ceaselessly reliant on their mothers. This dependency is not harmful for them as individuals, but this dependency might shut the doors of a nurturing and open relationship for their partners. This also makes their mother an unquestionable powerful figure in their lives.

On a weekday morning when Queen was preparing tea for breakfast her MIL* came out all dressed from her room. It seemed like she was about to go on a trip.

MIL (to Queen): I am leaving for Goalpara in few minutes. There is a function at my mother’s house today. You will have to look after your father-in-law and your husband today.

Queen: Okay mother.

indian woman preparing food for their family

FIL** (in an anxious voice): Who is going to make me lunch now? Will I be starved today?

That was a clear cut taunt directed towards Queen. Although she never hesitated to help her mother-in-law in the kitchen, they had an issue regarding her job. According to her in-laws she was not a ‘sensible’ daughter-in-law for their son. When society labels a woman as ‘sensible’, it isn’t always a compliment. So, if you are a hard working jennet, good at managing, unemployed, a non-demanding, non-complaining superwoman, then you are a sensible woman.

Queen had only two hours left to clean her room, cook an elaborate lunch for her FIL and husband, clean the kitchen, wash the utensils, shower and get ready for office. It sounded like a handy job except it wasn’t. She was kept on her toes from that moment onwards. She ran straight to the store room, picked up some vegetables, cut and peeled them down, washed the rice, lentils and prepared a whole three course meal. After Queen’s husband leaves for work, the atmosphere in the house changes automatically, and she increasingly sees herself simply as an obliging and mute daughter-in-law in the accumulation of exceptional phrases, or, if her in-laws happened to be somewhere public, as their social cover. People would grin at the vision of a family nurturing and supporting their daughter-in-law’s work but Queen knew better. In Queen’s mind, her in-laws were like a museum for words; Queen was an annex necessary when space became limited in the native’s building.

That evening Queen had some pending work to complete in her office so naturally she was late when she reached home. In the evening her FIL and MIL were sitting quietly around the dining table with a long sigh on their faces. Queen soon learned that long episodes of silence meant trouble and could forecast moods much like dark clouds in a sky.

FIL (to Queen): What took you so long today? It is 7 p.m. already. What kind of work do you perform in your office after all?

Queen: I am sorry but my boss asked me not to leave if I didn’t complete the pending work by today.

There was again a long pause and then her in-laws left the room. That evening Queen was bewildered when she recognised that there was an unspoken list of rules or a list of do’s and don’ts for daughter-in-laws. Like she was supposed to cook, clean and do all household chores besides her job. But she was never supposed to be late from work as it might harm her in-law’s reputation. The Indian social construction never tries to think of daughter-in-law as a human being who was aspirations, a valued mind and certainly her own way to lead life. It is an unfortunate collective failure of our society that we have reduced them to just property which gets exchanged between one owner and another.

In Queen’s case she was considered to be as the ‘dangerous other’. Post her marriage she was treated as if she had no identity of her own. Even though she was a working woman, she had her own savings and earnings which she wished to share with her new family. But she realised slowly Abhinav’s and his family’s thinking was completely different. For them she was an ‘external force’, who might destroy their family by financially contributing and in the process becoming an ‘equal’ to her husband.

At night after dinner Queen tried to reach out to her husband and said, “Abhinav, I don’t know why your mother and father are so upset with me but they objected when I was late from office today. You know this is not regular with me. I seldom come late from office. Today I was made to stay back for work by my boss.”

man shouting on girls

Abhinav: They are absolutely right. Do you think that you are the only who works in this house? I work thousand times more than you. You shouldn’t be complaining about them to me like this.

Queen: I am not complaining. Please try to understand me. I didn’t arrive late today intentionally. It was just work. That’s all.

Abhinav: Maybe you should rethink about resigning your job. They will feel better with you around in the house.

Queen was shocked by his response. After all being the obedient daughter-in-law wasn’t just enough for them and her husband, she was required to quit her job as well in order to fit into the family. Abhinav too feared her as the ‘dangerous other’ who would inflict harm on his family. This fear generated inside him by constant perceiving of Queen as an ‘other’ in the family. Her MIL made sure she didn’t fit well into the family and brain washed her son against Queen. Outside home Abhinav was such a jolly partner who would love to do everything along with her equally. However, inside the house, he would often demean Queen by perceiving her as an ‘other’, an ‘enemy within, a ‘nuisance’, a ‘burden’, a ‘silent’ harm. He says he does that because he cares for Queen. What kind of caring was this? No, it wasn’t. It was humiliation indeed.



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