The Mother in law – Book review













I picked up this book from the ‘New Arrivals’ section of a popular book store, thinking it’s a tongue-in-cheek account of various anecdotes gathered from interviewing daughters-in-law across the country.

The synopsis at he back of the book proclaims it  a ‘witty, acute and often painfully funny book…’

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 from the chapters ahead.

Contrary to my expectations, the book turns out to be a lot more serious. Each chapter deals with a story of a daughter-in-law, who meets up with the author in coffee shops, hotels, taxis and various places to recount their horror stiries.

Horror stories they are. Undoubtedly.

Of course any true-blue Indian will know 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 12 stories take that ‘control’ to totally another level.

According to Venugopal, every Indian mom starts planning her son’s wedding,  right from the day he is born. As he grows up, she guilt-trips him with stories of her various 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, movies, etc even before her son comes into the picture. To mom-in-laws who were so affronted that the son chose a bride himself, that she makes it impossible for the girl to find any happiness with him after her marriage.

There’s Rachna, whose mom-in-law courted her for months before introducing her son. Literally taking over her life and grooming her to be the exact daughter-in-law she wants her to be…

Carla, an European bride having to put up with her conservative  ‘Mummyji’, who initially refused to accept her, but when there was no choice, accepts her grudgingly and treats her like an unpaid maid…

Payal, who manages to break away from her domineering ‘Mummyji’ by creating a separate kitchen for herself while still staying in the same joint family…

Keisha, who not only put sup with a nightmare of a mother in law, but also an abusive husband…

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

Of course one constantly hears about the power-struggles between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and various petty fights over the years, but I haven’t heard of such nasty stories since the 80s…

Even then, as a child, I never personally knew the vile mothers-in-law, whose stories I eavesdropped during family gatherings… It is shocking such people still exist, fueling the TRP rates of soaps like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi…

Veena Venugopal goes to an extent of saying her campaign is to save the Indian daughters-in-law from this mother-in-law menace, which is rampant in this country.

Once I started reading the book, I just could not put it down till I finished the last page…

Though it really saddens me to read these heart-rending stories, I cannot help remembering sad stories of meek mothers-in-law who are really a rare breed.

I’ve come across a few who cook, clean and take care of the grand children while the ‘modern’ daughters-in-law is always traveling and skypes them with hundred instructions on everyday chores. These are the moms-in-law who meticulously organise the daughters-in-law’ wardrobe for her next trip, sit outside play schools to pick up their grandchild while running the household successfully.

Of course, like I said earlier, these are a very rare breed.

Most of them, I guess are the ones in this book – The mother in law – The other woman in your marriage…



Decency & Decorum

Pardon me if this post sounds preachy… (But if I can’t rave & rant about things that irritate me in my blog, what’s the use of it?!)

Road-rage is rampant in our cities. I’m subjected to it on a daily basis. Even if I try to keep my cool, there’s always some boorish nut case challenging my resolve.

He honks non-stop when I have no place to move this side or that and even if I get fed up & give him way, all he does is get caught between my car & the car in front of him!

And some take great pleasure in overtaking you from the left… When you least expect it.

And of course with my 8 year old son travelling with me most of the time, I have to constantly watch what I’m saying.

Once when he was 4, we were off to some place. After ten minutes, he asked me “Amma, where’s that idiot uncle?”


“That uncle who always comes on the bike every time…”

It took me a minute to realise he thought there was just one guy on a bike every day who irritates me & his name is ‘idiot’!

Oh and don’t even get me started on auto drivers! Yesterday, an auto suddenly shot out of a side road, directly on to my path on the main road. The driver was not even aware of me screeching to a halt within inches of him because he was too busy talking to someone on his mobile.

The other day a group of us in a car burst out laughing at an auto driver who was casually manoeuvring his auto with one hand and holding a hot cup of tea on the other. God save his passengers if he had to hit a pot hole!

All these are just a few examples of the hundreds of irrational driving in our roads. In almost all cases, accidents are just waiting to happen. Only avoided in the last minute with some divine intervention!

I’m not getting into drunken driving. That’s a whole new ball game altogether.

This kind of behaviour does not stop with just driving. We encounter indecent, thoughtless, mindless stuff everywhere. People throwing junk behind their walls, spitting on the roads, talking loudly on their phone in public places… the list is endless.

The easiest way to lable these ‘don’t-care’ attitude of our people is to blame the government & corruption. But aren’t we living in a democracy? Shouldn’t we take the blame too, for keeping quiet & letting hooligans inherit the earth?

I feel the government officials, administrators, lawyers, judges, politicians should not be blamed.  They just go beserk with a little bit of power and their kith & kin get equally drunk with the reflected glory.

How will they know what they’re doing is wrong when they were never taught to behave with decency & decorum?

How will an illiterate auto/cab driver know it’s indecent to honk too often? How does a mechanic rushing off to his job on a bike know it’s wrong o overtake from the left? How will a man realise it’s wrong to urinate in public if his parents taught him to do just that when he was a kid?

Do you know what will really help? Catch them young.  Why wait for people to grow into adults and start teaching them ethics and values?

In my opinion ‘Decency’ should be taught in schools as a subject. Not just as an optional, with no marks subjects like Moral Science, but compulsory, up there with Maths, Science & the languages.

Children should be taught good manners, on being sensitive to other people around them, care for the environment, everything under the sun which comes under decency & decorum. People who fail in ‘Decency’ should not be allowed to progress to the next class.

Just imagine. After say ten years, we’ll have a new crop of people who’ll be courteous to each other. Road-rage will be extinct. People will patiently wait for their turn in queues instead of pushing each other like savages. Government employees will be punctual and treat people with utmost kindness. Auto drivers will drive carefully & return the exact change due. Maids will do their jobs sincerely and not bunk at the drop of a hat. Colleges will be more honest about the courses they offer and more transparent with what they do with the fees they receive. Builders will not cheat by using substandard materials for the price of better ones.

There will be less fights and more peace.

Less noise pollution and more happiness.

Less stress and more bliss.

Utopia, here I come.

Mera Bharat Mahan!

Last year, I’d taken my son to the U S of A just before Halloween and he was so impressed with that concept. And his cousin later called to tell him she has bags & bags of candy from Halloween that should last till Christmas and he felt so cheated.

“Amma, Can I dress up in a costume and get candy from people in Chennai?” He asked.

I was horrified. “No way! They’ll think it’s some new-age begging!” I said.

“Why???? Won’t people be kind enough to kids to give them candy?”

“It’s an American concept da.” I explained. “Not everyone will know the meaning of Halloween here.”

“You know what? ” He said, narrowing his eyes. “I hate being an Indian. Indian festivals are noisy & scary, they do not like giving candies to kids, the roads are so filthy, people around us are so rude to each other. And everything is so difficult here. Can we please, please go & live in America? People there are so kind to kids. It’s so much cleaner and everything is just awesome!”

I was horrified at his lack of patriotism.

“How dare you say that? ” I bellowed. “India is your home country. If you say you hate it, it’s like saying you hate your own mother. Do you get me?’

He was shocked at my outburst. “But Amma, I’m only telling you the truth!” he countered.

“Enough! Not one word from you”. I said and resumed driving, seething inside.

But then I calmed down after giving it a lot of thought.

Now whose fault is that children these days do not feel the tug of pride about their own country?

I can’t speak for all kids, but other kids like mine – have never heard of the freedom struggle. the Brits are just another source of toys to them. They get to taste life in other countries either by first hand experience on holidyas or by all the movies and serials they watch.

They have at least one aunt or uncle happily settled abroad.

Most of our cities have malls &  stores just like the one they see abroad.

When I was young, maybe because we were just one generation away from the freedom fighters, it was taken for granted that we were proud of our country and its achievements. We mugged up stories in school about Bhgath Singh, Kumaran, Gandhiji, Sardar Patel, so on & so forth.

Everyday at assembly we’d recite The Pledge.

Foreign countries were some far-off lands which we’d get a glimpse of only in Enid Blyton books or the occasional English movies one went to.

Almost all the movies in the theatres used to play the national anthem at the end and all of us stood ramrod straight to show our respect.

(My uncle used be furious if he ever caught me sitting down when they played the national anthem on tv!)

But today, with the world becoming a global village and all, there’s precious little we can do to make our kids patriotic.

My son hates Diwali because he’s terrified of crackers. He loves Christmas because he gets presents.

And new clothes & sweets are not exclusively for festivals anymore.

Now how do I inject patriotism into his mind?

Do I start by telling him stories of brave soldiers who laid their lives for our great nation’s independence?

Do I start educating him on our rich history and how we were miles ahead of any other country hundreds of years ago in every field?

Do I stand a chance getting his undivided attention while competing with the Ben 10s, Beyblades, Kick Buttoskis, PSPs of his world,  who hold him captive the second he gets home?

And when I see the news everyday about thousands of crores of rupees swindled in various scams by politicians, the sheer audacity of those in power, the cheap mind-games played, the vengence unleashed by some in power, and close to home the over-flowing garbage bins….

All make me feel I should just shut up and let him figure it out for himself.


Best wishes…

All my childhood years, attending a wedding meant tagging behind my mom, behaving myself in front of strangers who were actually related, eating lots of laddus & jangiris & occasionally playing hide and seek with long-lost cousins from distant lands.

But after K’s sister got married, this meaning changed for me. Having just stepped into college, we were all still getting used to being treated like grown-ups.

Now it was all girly fun, where we could all dress up in our mothers’ fineries and prance around, inventing jobs for ourselves or just hang out together, gossip & look around coyly for good-looking boys.

Oh , and it gave us a legit reason to stay out late.

So when K’s cousin’s wedding rolled around a year later, I was all set to have fun. I went across to H’s house the previous day to check out what she was wearing. But she wasn’t attending.


“K did not invite me properly..”

“What? Didn’t she come over to give you an  invite?”

“Yeah, but I felt she did it for formality’s sake. Didn’t say I have to come or anything. After all, we hardly know her cousin.”

“But H! K is sooo close to us! Remember the fun we had at her sister’s wedding? We chatted with this cousin for hours!”

Nothing I said moved her. Now I was in a dilemma. Should I be the patch-up friend here and call K and tell her about this? Or should I just ignore it and go for the wedding with N & B? Or should I call them too and find out if they felt the same? Weren’t we a little too young for such grown up ego-tantrums?

But then, what if K was not very keen on me going too?

To end all the endless questions, I dialed K’s number. When I told her, she was horrified.

“I went over to her place & invited her with a kumkum dabba!” she wailed. “Please explain what she means by ‘inviting properly’?  And hey! I invited you over the phone. Are you also going to ditch saying that was not enough? What will I tell my aunt & uncle? They are so keen to see you all at the wedding!”

I assured her I’ll make it with the other 2 and in fact had a great time at the wedding.

I’m sure this is a unique problem we face only in India.

Anywhere else, either you’re invited or you’re not!

No ‘inviting properly’ or any other hidden power-play at work!

But with us, the inviting and the attending has so many subtle nuances. I suppose it’s because, we’re totally caught between the age-old customs and the evolving westernised concept of giving people their ‘space’.

There were times when we used to land up at a friends’ or reatives’ homes unannounced and never doubt for a minute if you’ll not be welcomed with open arms.

Now we have to call beforehand to check if they’re home and if they’re free to receive you. Heck! even I wouldn’t like it if someone lands up with family for a meal while I’m planning on catching a movie or have anther dinner scheduled!

At the other end, we have the custom of ‘visiting’ an ailing person.

When do you know its the best time to visit someone who’s recuperating/has had a baby/has had a surgery/is in the intensive care?

We hear horror stories of someone who’d underwent a minor surgery, but expired because he’d caught an infection from a visiting relative.

Or about a newborn who had to fight for his life for weeks in the neonatal care, because some visiting relative had forced a pinch of sugar into his mouth which had some bacteria?

When one of my own family members was in the ICU, even we, the immediate family, were given only 5 minutes to visit her, twice a day. Reason: she’s recovering from a serious infection and she does not need any fresh ones. And since she was stable and would require a few more days of intensive care, we were asked to go home at other times. “What’s the point in you guys hanging out in the crowded lobby?” we were asked. “She’s doing well and if there’s an emergency, we’ll call you. You’re fifteen minutes away, anyway.” Reasoned the doctor.

So we trooped back home and hoped for the best. But we kept getting calls every evening from relatives who called us from the hospital lobby, demanding to see her. And were horrified by the family’s absence!

One of them said, “Can one of you be in the hospital, so we can at least see you?” It was like marking their attendance. It only got worse after she was shifted to a room. Every evening we were swarmed by visitors and the patient just wanted to sleep!

Ditto when I delivered my son. I was still getting used to the lack of sleep and all the other discomforts only a new-born can give you, and every evening, I had to grit my teeth and be nice to the hoards that wanted to ooh & ahh the baby…

But when I did refrain from visiting a sick person, fearing infection, I was gently reprimanded for not showing my solidarity to a fellow human being!

God! its all sooo confusing!

The line between giving someone their space and giving your moral support when a person needs your presence has been so smudged that we don’t know when we’re wanted and when we’re not.

After my experiences on both sides for years, now I’ve made rules (at least for me) to follow.

When I need to be on my own, like when I’m ill or taking care of someone, I tell people not to bother visiting. I personally find making small talk when ill is all the more draining.

Sometimes its very irritating when people gape at you as you’re lying in bed, trying to memorise every detail, so they can compare notes with a fellow visitor. And don’t even get me started on the ones who just want to cross you off their list of visits that day!

And I never visit a new-born till they’re back home & well-settled. (except for very sensitive folks who keep a tab!)

But best of all, I like this uncle of a friend, who held his son’s upanayanam at home with just him, his wife & son and later sent a card to all relatives & friends which said,

“My son’s Upananyanam ceremony was held at home on ——. I know you’ll want to be informed and your blessings will always be with him”

It really requires lot of guts to something like that. I’m sure none of his relatives forgave him for depriving them their share of elai sappad and all the gossip they’d have caught up on!

The revenge of the ladle…

I’ve had this grouse against most Indian men for a while.  They behave like invalids in their own homes.

They are probably ten times stronger than their mothers, sisters or wives. They  lift tons of weight in the gym. Yet they cannot lift their plates from the dining table to the sink.

They run in the treadmill for hours. Yet they will not stand for fifteen minutes with their wives to do the dishes when the maid is absent.

They’re so agile in sports. But cannot bend down to pick up their own wet towels from the floor.

They drive for hours together non-stop in their powerful cars. Yet will not drive to the corner of the road to pick up some groceries.

I’ve been mulling over this for years. And I’m slowly seeing the light.

Rewind to hundreds of years ago, when the women were so oppressed.

Those women did not have a life. Education, knowledge, freedom of speech were all denied to them and their sole purpose of existence was to serve the men. Be it a father, brother, husband or a son, the man in her life at any point was her lord and master. They were literally imprisoned in the kitchens and made to cook & clean for the men of the house.

Now, we all know what a woman is made of. Where she lacks in brute strength, she makes up with a strong will and a cunning mind.

How did all those women get the better of their oppressors? Fighting will just not work. If they try any other methods like ahimsa or satyagraha, it will not work either. They can easily be replaced and they’ll have to spend the rest of their lives in the thinnais of their homes…

So they went along, played the dutiful wives & mothers. They did not step outside of their homes, cooked, washed, cleaned, laundered, brought up babies and kept house.

But oh so subtly they made the men dependent on them without them realising it.

They did pretty much everything for their men, so the men just cannot survive inside their homes without their women. Call it a survival act if you want, but the women chained their men to them by making them believe that they’re not capable of taking care of themselves. In short, they were invalids inside their own homes without their women.

And some aggressive women came along and made rules that no man can enter the kitchens or try to do anythig that remotely resembled housework.

But over centuries, we women have worked our way out to free ourselves. We can educate ourselves, go for jobs, excel in sports, run governments and have proved to men we’re their equals in everything but brute strength.

But these poor, poor men still are rooted strongly in their age old beliefs that they’re invalids and cannot even make their own coffees at home.

Power to women!


Perfect Eight – Book Review

Perfect Eight by Reema Moudgil is a haunting story of someone born to parents who are totally opposite in what life has dished out to them.

Her mother is a refugee from Pakistan who came to India at the age of 5, brought up grudgingly by a family friend. Ever sensitive of her position in the lives of people around her, her outlook of life is rather grim. She never trusts happiness when it finds its way to her.

Her father, on the other hand, is a very cheerful guy who can sing a happy song at any given situation.

The story is also about her love for Samir, the boy whom she sees periodically during her stays in Anneville, his home.

The story travels easily from Pakistan to Kanpur to Ambrosa to Bangalore… The narration never loses pace even for a paragraph…

I think revealing the protagonist’s name in the last page of the book is a stroke of a genius!

The characters in the book, their pain, longing, happiness… everything is so real.

The language is lucid & poetic…. really touched a chord in me. (Imagine if  one can smell grief!)

Loved reading this book & I reccommend it strongly to people who love reading Indian authors.

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time!

How I got duped… again!

Disclaimer: The intent of this post is not to hurt any religious/caste/creed sentiments. But a honest depiction of my personal experience. All characters are 100% real.

I opened the door without even checking through the peep hole. Stupid me. Assuming it had to be my top-work maid who comes around that time.

At my doorstep stood two strangers in the garb of shastrigals. (Brahmin priests). The older one was rotund, with fierce eyes. The younger one was dark & thin with his shoulder-length hair loose.

One look at them and I knew what the visit was all about. Money.

“Are you a brahmin?” The older one asked me.

Totally baffled by this simple question, I blurted, “Yes.”

There began the melodrama.

“Did you know today is Mahasivaratri?” he asked.

“Umm, yes” I replied.

“We’re from _____ madam. We’re doing a yagna in _____ mandapam, in Maambalam. Can we come in?”

“No..” I replied quickly.”I’m very busy and don’t have the  time for this.”

The younger one looked at me with disdain. “You’re asking HIM not to enter your house?” he asked me angrily. “Do you have any idea who he is? He’s on TV everyday lecturing on spirituality. Don’t you recognise him?”

The older one looked suitably offended.

“We’ve never been to anybody’s house. He suddenly felt like blessing your house and you will not even let him in?”

And before I knew it, they’d pushed the door open and the older one had made himself comfortable on the sofa and the younger one stood reverentially by his side.

Then followed a full-throated recital of some slokas in Sanskrit.

Totally taken aback, I stared at them dumb-truck.

“What is your birth star?”

I told them.

“Your husband’s?”

I told them.

By now I was sweating a bit and wondering if they were genuine god-men or just some run of the mill con-men.

And they used this fear pretty well. The older one shot me dagger looks once in a while,  seated as he was, majestically while the younger one did most of the talking.

‘What is your gothram?” (lineage)

I told my husband’s.

Now it was their turn to look dumb-struck.

Because this was definitely not a tambrahm lineage.

“Telungala?” (are you a Telugu?) the older one asked.

“No. ” I replied. “My husband is.”

Comprehension dawned.

‘Siva, Siva!’ I could hear them think. ‘Love marriage!!!’

You married as per your wish?” the younger one asked.

“Yes.” I answered defensively. “Do you have any problems with that, knowing me for precisely 5 minutes?” I wanted to ask.

“Never mind.” The younger one conceded. “Despite that you’ll have a happy marriage.” He said magnanimously.

Before I could think of giving him my best scathing reply, he asked me, “Any children?’

By now my mom-in-law joined me, having heard the loud recitals in the drawing room.

“One son.” I told him, gritting my teeth.

“Birth star?”

I told him.

After some nimble calculations he informed me, “Brilliant boy. Has an amazing memory. But has a very bad temper. Am I correct?” he asked me.

I had to grudgingly admit it was indeed very accurate.

He had a handful of  yellow rice. The younger one gestured I should fall at the older one’s feet.

By now my patience was wearing really thin. I just did a mock namskaram while he proceeded to throw the rice on my head.

He shifted his focus on my mom-in-law.

To be continued. (Since this is getting too long!)

My name is Khan….

I went for this movie with mixed feelings.

First of all, will it live up to the hype that has been created around it?

Will it be too emotional/melodramatic for me?

Or will I sit back and enjoy the usual magic of Shah Rukh all over  again?

Well, the answers are as mixed up as the questions themselves…

The whole movie boils down to just one sentence. (Oft repeated in the movie, of course!)

“My name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist.”

Visually, K Jo has created his magic without his usual lavish sets. Its minimal, but very pleasing to the eye. The camera work is just awesome.

Kajol is a big plus for the movie. I cannot imagine anybody else in this role. Her enthusiasm and fiery emotions are all so infectious.

The storyline, though not the first of its kind, holds you captive for the entire length of the movie… Very poignant in some places, funny in some and really heart-warming in some.

The screen play is brilliant. (A 50ish man next to me kept applauding every time Sharukh delivered a punch.. Though I didn’t look, I heard him sniffing and blowing his nose more than once…)

Having said all that, I must admit  the Shah Rukh fan in me was grossly disappointed.  He was hamming a bit too much, I thought. And there were moments which were so forced. Like the Mama Jenny, for instance. That was a truly WTF moment for me. (Sorry, people! But don’t know how else to put it!)

And I open the Indian Express today, and I saw Bharadwaj Rangan’s review and I just cannot agree with him more. He laments that Karan Johar is forcing himself to do serious, realistic and un-Indian  movies and is losing touch with his usual Indian sentimental extravaganza..

In his own words,

‘I hope he returns to chronicling the lives and loves of people, leaving issue-oriented narratives to directors more suited to dour message-movies seeking to rehabilitate a world stricken with ills. Come on, Mr. Johar, be yourself. Raise a hand and repeat: “My name is Karan, and I am not a therapist.”’

I do too, Mr. Bharadwaj, I really do.

The Sunset

I was driving back home last evening and suddenly spotted an orange ball in my side mirror. Mesmerised, I turned and saw a spectacular sunset. One I’d have so easily missed…

“Look!”, I pointed to my son.

“Isn’t the sun just beautiful?” I gushed.

“Amma!” he rolled his eyes.

“Sun is Surya. And Surya is a boy. How can you call a boy beautiful?” he chided. “Boys are smart and not beautiful, okay? So never ever call the sun beautiful anymore, okay?”

So people, I stand corrected.

I saw a spectacularly’ smart’ sun, setting in the sky last evening!

Naan Avanillai!

I can spot a non-resident tambrahm (born & brought up in a distant state), miles away. Their Tamil is so pure, without any local flavour.

But it took me awhile to recognise this one. He was the receptionist in a hospital, where I waited patiently with a patient for our turn to see the doctor.

He was very helpful to us when he saw the patient with me was still a bit weak and recovering. He assisted us in all possible ways, directed us to the canteen for lunch and insisted we don’t wait around on empty stomachs and promised not to call our numbers while we were at lunch.

He spoke only in English which did not betray  his regionality. Since I didn’t spot any different accent, I just assumed he was a hard-core Madarasi like me.

We got back from lunch and flopped into the waiting room chairs, far away from him. There were about  30 to 40 people in the room, either swatting flies or trying not to fall asleep while waiting for the doctor.

I tried reading a book, but I was nodding off after the lunch.

“M’am!” His voice broke into my reverie.

I looked up.

He was indeed calling me. Frantically.

“M’am! Doctor vandhuttaan! Ullethaan Ukkandrikkan. Wait panraan… Seekrama pongo!”

To this day I have no idea how I went through the motions of  taking my companion inside, consulted the doctor and came back home without collapsing on the waiting room floor, laughing!


PS: It is very difficult for me to translate this for those who don’t know Tamil or the intricacies of the language. I’ll give it my best effort. But let me warn you,  it may just about go above your head.

In Tamil ‘he’ can be translated as ‘avar‘ or ‘avan‘. The former is for someone older to you or someone who commands respect. The latter is either someone younger or someone who really doesn’t deserve any respect.

We tambrahms use ‘avan‘ pretty liberally. We use it on anyone who’s outside the immediate circle of family & friends. It could be a politician, actor, sportsman or a even friend of a friend. But we don’t use this in public so we don’t offend the other tamils’ sensibilities. This receptionist, in all his innocence did not know the difference. Hence he called the Doctor – the presiding deity of the room, whose presence was patiently awaited by 40 patients and in all probabilities was providing him with his bread and butter – avan.

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