The Mother Figure

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The Mother Figure
Thursday, August 03, 2017 @ 03:19 PM

What sets a mother in law apart from a mother? Why is there a constant tussle between the mother in law and the daughter in law? We seek to unravel an emotional trip through the story of one woman (now a mother herself) and her relationship with the mother in law. Is the mother in law at the receiving end of misunderstandings too? Or are some things better left unsaid? Find out here!

She was sitting down to have her green tea, ready to take a heartening sip that would cloud the monsters of her mind as they ran rampage with anger and related emotions. Just then, the slim figure of the mother in law descended upon her line of vision. Irshad sighed internally and narrowed her eyes as she laid the cup to rest.

I wonder what national calamity she wants to solve in the kitchen now, she wondered.

The older lady also sighed inwardly. Why could this girl not understand that I only want what is best for her? Look at her body language – it is as if she is drawing her sword back, waiting to strike back.

If only the two knew that their respective swords were pulled back, grasped firmly by the bleeding fingers of societal norms and boundaries. And ego. Always ego.

As she sat down, Irshad mustered a smile and asked, “What happened, Ma?”

“Nothing, dear. I was just wondering where the child is.”

“Playing with the tenant’s daughter upstairs,” Irshad said, relieved that there was no task at hand. This was just the old lady’s way of saying she wanted Irshad’s company. Her heart warmed unexpectedly. She cursed it and kept her head plus expectations down.

“Irshad, there is something I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Sure, Ma – go on,” Irshad said tentatively.

“Are you planning to join Anand when he gets allotted a home in the new station?”

Irshad put her cup of tea down and looked her mother in law squarely in the eye. Then, she asked, “Why?”

“Why am I asking, or why you should join him?”


“Darling, you have to understand. The child needs him.”

“Ok, now why are you asking?”

With downcast eyes, she said, “Because I want to see you all as one happy family.”

Irshad leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, “I see. So it was not enough that I lived without any concept of self respect for a decade. I should march forth and relinquish what little of it I have left.”

The older lady shook her head and said, “No darling, that is not what I am saying. If there is a problem, let us talk about it,” she said as she tucked away a strand of hair that had escaped from Irshad’s hair tie due to her agitated head shaking, “We will make him sit down too and you both tell us what the matter is.”

“I already told you – your son has hit me. Among a variety of other things.”

“Well, you must have done something.”

There was a shocked silence for a long moment as Irshad dealt with the verbal slap she had been just delivered. And then she realized one very crucial detail which put the ball firmly back in her court. Her mother in law had not been able to meet her eye while delivering the said dialogue.

“I see, is that how they justify domestic violence here?”

The old lady’s eyes flew up to meet Irshads’ and she shook her head, “No, dear. That is not what I meant. I mean, there must have been something that you must have done too. No one is condoning what he did.”

“So I should go back and get a few more? Is that how women are meant to be treated here? Especially those errant ones who have actually grown a spine and a tongue?”

“No, Irshad. But I do want to point out that my son has done a lot for you too….at least, think of all that…”

“Oh!” Irshad balked and her body came furiously forward as she clutched the table with her hands, “And I have not?”

“Of course you have.”

“Then how come no one gave him the memo? How come no one asked him to treat me right and at least not hit me because I have done a lot for him?” She asked vehemently, her voice slightly higher in pitch than she had planned or expected, the shill note hurting her ears yet egging her on.

When she gained no response from the older lady, her voice fell to low almost feral growl as she replied her question, “Because I am a woman. If he does a lot, it is a favor. If I do the same, it is my duty.”

She stood up and pushed her chair behind her with the back of her knees. Before stalking away, she said, “I had no intention of hurting you or howling at you, Ma. But the truth is that your conundrum is not that both your sons have errant wives and failed marriages. It lies in the fact that they have not been taught better. Your values are misplaced and so is your sense of judgement. Spare me and my child. We actually have a life to live.”

And preferably a normal one, she wanted to add as she walked away.

The bus stop was busy, dusty and generally chaotic when they reached. The buses were lined up one next to the other, waiting for passengers to disembark and new ones to take their place. The ticket counters had lines of nonchalant people queuing up to buy their tickets. The hideous everydayness of this town she had once loved came back like a bucket of scalding water hurled on her being. Her spirit had been broken and soaked a lifetime ago, now her soul shook with anger at the things she was having to see in the name of duty. She vowed never to return to such a scene. She was quite done romanticizing things that did nothing for her, and all that had hurt her.

“Have some water, darling,” The old lady’s voice claimed her back from her thoughts and she instantly softened. She shook her head.

“Irshad,” she said, “Please be kind to him. He’s not that bad. At least for the child’s sake…”

Irshad smiled and shook her head, emotion strangling her and her upbringing stopping her from lashing out again. In anger it may have been justified that one time. But as a normal response for a mother like figure, it would not be justified in any way. “Ma, let it go. I don’t want to have this conversation while leaving. You have your way of looking at things and I have mine. You say – at least for the child. I say – especially for her.”

The bus pulled up just then and the furore of loading the luggage and boarding began. The bus was to stop only for a few minutes. As she checked her tickets, belongings, phone and other paraphernalia, she also did a quick jog to the steps of the bus, her body and mind now habituated to the rigors of travel. Before taking that last step inside, she turned and ran back to the old lady, throwing her arms around her and letting the tears flow.

“I love you, Ma. I will miss you.”

As always, she knew her mother in law would be too choked with emotion to say anything. Her father in law patted her head and said, “Go, child. Be careful.”

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