Book Review: The Mother-in-Law

Sunday, 22 June 2014 - 6:35am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Funny and frightful in turn, The Mother-In-Law offers insights into that most important relationship in a married woman's life through 11 different stories, says Rama Sreekant

Book: The Mother-in-Law
Author: Veena Venugopal
Publishing House: Penguin Books
Cost: Rs299, 252 pages

Can two women love the same man and still get along? Particularly if they are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Can they ever become friends — even close friends? Part hilarious, part insightful, part shocking, Veena Venugopal's The Mother-In-Law is a tongue-in-cheek account of anecdotes gathered after interviewing 11 daughters-in-law across India.

The introduction is a brief account of the author's personal experience with her own mom-in-law, followed by an inkling of what to expect in the chapters ahead.

Contrary to my expectations, the book, which focuses on a connect that can often take years to develop, turns out to be a lot more serious, a lot more horrifying. Each chapter deals with a story of a daughter-in-law, who meets the author in coffee shops, hotels, taxis and other places, to recount her story. The tales are varied, dealing with traditions and activities, some about managing differences in handling money, a few regarding handling intrusive comments and actions, accepting and rejecting child-rearing advice, and coping with differences in faith.

Of course, any true-blue Indian would know that the Indian mom-in-law is quite different from her counterpart in other countries and cultures. That a desire to wield control over the daughter-in-law is a given. But these 11 stories take that control to another level.

According to Venugopal, every Indian mother starts planning her son's wedding from the day he is born. As he grows up, she guilt-trips him with stories of her sacrifices and how he will break her heart once he gets his wife, thus ensuring his support continues even after he's out of the nest.

The stories in this book range from a mom-in-law hand picking her daughter-in-law, charming her way into her heart with gifts even before her son comes into the picture, to those so affronted he chose a bride himself that she makes it impossible for the couple to find any happiness after marriage.

There's Rachna, whose mom-in-law courted her for months before introducing her son. Carla, a European bride, put up with her conservative 'Mummyji', who initially refused to accept her but when there was no choice accepted her grudgingly and treated her like an unpaid domestic help.

Then there's Payal, who manages to break away from her domineering 'Mummyji' by creating a separate kitchen for herself while still staying in the same family.

Each story tells us the ugly, hidden face of some Indian families without mincing words.

Of course, there is enough heard about power-struggles between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and the various petty fights over the years. While one must salute these women for having survived their marriages, the reader is likely to wonder at some point — are these mothers-in-law imported from saas-bahu soap operas, do these vile mothers-in-law really exist?

One positive story would have brought the rare breed to the limelight as well. I've come across a few who cook, clean and take care of the grandchildren while their daughters-in-law are travelling and climbing up the corporate ladder. These are the moms-in-law who meticulously organise the household chores, pick up their grandchildren from school, while running the show smoothly and successfully.

Full of acute observations, The Mother-in-Law is a book that will make you smile and cry and understand better the most important relationship in a married woman's life.

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