Desi Mothers: A Generation Lost in Translation
Readers are aware some half a decade ago DG was thrown out of desi married people’s club since then her interaction with them is very limited. Her life her obsession with karma and disinterest in other people’s business just makes her pretty more unfit to be part of any desi group. Couple of Saturdays ago she had wanted to attend a desi event and was looking for a ride. When she moved to this new location she had seen a senior Sikh couple around the corner. She was skeptical if she’ll make a courtesy call or she’ll let it be… Now her need to find a ride took her to their door steps. She greeted them in Punjabi and started her usual spiel. They speechlessly kept staring at her face as if she was an squeaking alien. They invited her in and offered a cup of tea.
As they walked in the lady just held DG’s hand and said “I still can’t believe you are real, and you are speaking Punjabi.” DG’s answer was, “please pinch me to make sure I am real and if you want I can talk in six other languages that I know.” The lady set the teapot on the stove and came to living room. She said before we go ahead tell me something, how long have you been living here? How old are you? Are you married or single? Where is your family? What do you do? DG was not prepared for this interrogation and for this reason she maintains distance from desis especially of a certain age group. DG has learned to be civilized and not throw the table so her responses were, less than a month, mid thirties, single, India, looking for work. Thank God the teapot started whistling. While the lady (now auntie ji) went to fetch tea DG examined the living room and kitchen.
The living room had very desi ambience, diwan like single beds in the living room with mismatched sheets and odd window treatments, an entertainment center with a TV and a music system, a load of religious CDs and DVDs, family pictures on the walls, a shoe rack near the main door, a kitchen full of mismatched things and pretty much disorder all around. With the tea began the conversation how DG knew the language and etc… Auntie ji began with a deep sigh:
They bought this house and moved in six months and eight days ago. (Wao, she knows exact days just like S who knows exactly how long it’s been her dry spell.) For a year they lived in a senior living. It was difficult coz’ they had just one bedroom and there was no freedom as such. (DG thought may be they needed their independence so preferred living there.) She pointed to the pictures on the walls and said, that is my son and his three kids, they live just on the south end of the town. Their daughter is in India married with kids. Then she started sobbing and narrating she was a teacher in one of the leading convent school in New Delhi and her husband was an engineer. She married her daughter pretty young and her son came abroad for studies and never went back so they packed their bags and came abroad to be with him. While he had a traveling job she and her husband found work to keep busy. They bought two homes across the boarder so that their son did not have to live in hotels (the parents made the down payments, they had sold land in des).
The son was reluctant to get married but parents (mother) kept pushing for a bahu. According to her she had almost checked out every medico desi girl in the US, Canada and Europe. The son would reject them or she would, this continued for ten years finally the son said find anyone I don’t care. She zeroed on a B.A. from a modest family for a bahu. The son did not like her coz’ she was not well read and lacked sociable skills according to him. Now the MIL (auntie ji) took it as her personal responsibility to make it right for the couple. She had promised herself she’ll bring in a daughter not bahu, so she’ll do every thing to make her feel accepted and settled in the new household. She’ll be exactly opposite of her MIL and show the world it is possible to be a kind MIL. She sent the new bahu to school to continue education, while she packed lunches for her and did the housekeeping.
In two years the couple had a baby; MIL immediately took off from work to take care of the baby and the new mother. Once the new mother was out of childbed things started to change, MIL’s work load increased, she was the one responsible for the baby and gradually two more children followed along with new dramas. Once bahu had a baby she became edgy, she started having problems with everything MIL did and she would not let her husband be alone with his parents even for a minute. Their son started acting up, yelling and screaming at the mother and often times not talking to the parents at all for days. After second child bahu asked MIL to give up her job for good as she wanted to work. MIL took it as a retirement bonus to be with the grand kids. Managing two homes across the border and three children under five became a full time job for MIL. Gradually the quarrels became so frequent that MIL felt she was a prisoner in her own home. It is then she asked her husband to move out.
One cold evening they walked out just with two suitcases. This explained the mismatched stuff in the house, all came from thrift stores in the community. It broke DG’s heart but all she could say was, this is karma and we all are making a choice whether to resolve it this time or come back again. She didn’t find a ride coz’ this couple avoided going to any desi event as they could not show their faces in the community that they were thrown out by their son and bahu. But DG had to promise she’ll visit again.
DG did visit again within next ten days. This time auntie ji invited her for brunch. There she met another senior gentleman, a recent widower living in the same senior living they lived in. His wife died two years ago. He said, his younger son would throw tantrum at a drop of a hat, beat his kids, yell and scream at his father. Poor man could not stand the child abuse and he asked his son to stop. But when the son did not he asked his other son to come and get him. He left with the elder son the younger one created another scene that his elder brother was trying to make him look bad. He did not want his father to live with the elder brother he insisted his father should go back to India or live with him. The poor old man had sold the land and house in India and given the money to both of his sons. Thus his only option was to move to a senior living. Here he lives not in peace but in utter silence; he goes to the grocery store every day just for the sake of getting out of the house. Why doesn’t he work? Economy is so bad who is going to hire this engineer after ten years of retirement. His last words kept ringing in DG’s ears, “I kept changing diapers and did not realize how much the world changed outside the home.”
DG asked if there were other desis in that senior living. He said there are 15 desi couples, their ethnicity he mentioned was Sharma – Vermas (read north Indian Hindus or just Hindus). DG met this bunch on another occasion and everyone had similar stories. None of them goes out to greater desi community because they feel slighted and ashamed of their living situation. Most of these seniors were professionals who came to help their children raise their kids. They are beyond working age even if they found work it is much below what they are qualified for. Most MILs asserted they wanted to make a difference by being good MILs unlike the ones they had. They kept asking where they went wrong. Some said they gave too much freedom to the bahus so the things went wrong and others said the bahus came prepared to use and throw them out. Strangely none blamed the western culture and influence. None of the MILs blamed their sons rather shielded them by saying it is their wives who instigated them; in a way totally exonerating the sons of any responsibility for personal behavior.
It is not just here in pardes but DG personally knows handful of nice MILs in des who are being ill treated by their own sons and DILs. These women are first generation working women who decided to make a difference by raising efficient daughters and productive sons and treating DILs as daughters. Are these women lost in translation of making a difference? They wonder if they should have been drama queens like their MILs and created living hell for their bahus to beget space in the home. This bunch asked DG if she could do something about this problem of an angry generation. She can blog about it.
Another one asked DG how come she is still single and where was she all this time how come she never ran into her. Had she met DG just half a decade ago she would have taken her as her bahu because DG thinks so much like her. DG was not flattered with this complement. Her nonchalant response was thank you but it wouldn’t have worked because I could like you but I can guarantee your son couldn’t stand a chance.
DG is wondering:
Is it a good idea to leave one’s familiar territory to go and help raise grandkids in a foreign land? If not then aren’t we desis known for our family spirit? Then what is the family for?
Is it wise to give away every financial asset to children be it Baagban san Avatar style or use restrain?
If these good MILs raised DG like confused daughters then how come they didn’t get similar confused DILs? Who riased these bad DILs?