Last month I was at my parents’ place in Kerala, showing our wedding album to Vedu in an effort to engage her for some time. Hari and my parents were there too. I kept admiring myself shamelessly, telling Hari “Look how pretty I was!” for the millionth time since our wedding. I then told my parents half-jokingly, “I looked nice because I wasn’t wearing too much gold. If I put on all the gold that you wanted me to, I would have looked horrible.” My dad laughed. My mom then said, “I wasn’t all too keen on you wearing too much gold. But I wasn’t sure if Hari’s family and the people who came to the wedding from their side would be okay with that. Thankfully, when I asked his mom if I should convince you to wear more gold, she assured me that they had no issues with anything and you were free to do whatever you wanted.”
When she finished saying this, she had an accomplished look on her face as if she had made herself clear about how it is logical for parents to want their daughters to wear enough ornaments on their wedding day to keep people from “talking”. She also probably wanted me to thank God for giving me amazing in-laws who “allowed” me to stick to “my” preferences at “my” wedding. She didn’t realize that her monologue had backfired until she saw the awkward look on my face and Hari’s and my dad gave her an angry look that said “Why do you have to talk about unnecessary things?”
This is just an example of how our mindset is yet to change, despite education, career, worldly knowledge and other factors of progress. That awkward moment took me back to the time when my brother got married and my parents put their foot down and said they wanted nothing but the girl their son loved. My mom has time and again told me the story of how they felt embarrassed by an elder relative who kept asking my sister-in-law’s parents what all and how much they would give their daughter. My parents had to put in extra efforts at the time to subtly convey to her parents that they had no demands at all and they only wanted their kids to be happy. There was nothing to be proud of in that. It was just the ‘normal’ way of thinking in our family.
I then thought of how the very same people were concerned about what their son-in-law’s family and even his extended family and neighbours would say about their daughter’s decision to stick to what was considered minimal jewelry for the wedding. To think that they felt they had to consult Hari’s family regarding this and get their approval was appalling. To think that they felt they could convince me to wear more ornaments if they didn’t ‘approve’ was even more appalling. Did they really think I would do something against my wishes to make the society happy?
If I was told this a year ago, I would have exploded in anger and yelled at my mom for doing something so embarrassing and pathetic. But I didn’t do any of that. I gave Hari a mischievous smile that told him “This is so going in my blog.” He smiled back knowing only too well that he would get to read the blog in a couple of days.
It really made me think though, how we still have a long way to go. Even now there are so many men and families who make explicit demands on what all they want from the bride’s family – in cash and in kind – before and after the wedding. But even when the groom and the family say they want nothing, it is an unsaid understanding that the girl’s family would “give their daughter ‘whatever’ they wish to.” In most cases it is a matter of status and security for the girl in her new family too.
Even highly educated parents like mine, who have spent a huge part of their lives in the West, still go by these deep-rooted ‘traditions’ and feel that while they want nothing from the girl who comes into their family, they have to give everything to their daughters who go to a different family. I do not need my mom to tell me I have great in-laws. They are great not for “allowing” me to stick to my preferences and “approving” of my decisions. They are great for knowing that our life is ours and we know what to do with it. They are great for not caring about what the society says. I wish my parents understood that and did the same too back then. But for that to happen, we need to change a lot more. It is going to take time. But some day, I hope, we will be there. All we can do is to make sure that we, as parents, don’t make the same mistakes as our parents and truly, without a hint of doubt, believe that our daughters are the biggest treasure anyone can have. That day we will be able to say with pure conviction, “To hell with what society wants.” And that day we will stop losing our daughters to untimely deaths at the hands of those who see marriage as a business.