Cross Connections

Ah, women! They are called the “weaker sex” and yet they carry the biggest responsibility of all: childbirth. They are expected to keep a good home, and take care of everybody, and yet are berated for “not doing something” about their career. They are to be gentle and motherly, and yet responsible for maintaining discipline in the house. And most of all, when they get married, they are expected to simply pack up and leave the houses they were brought up in, to go live in some different household altogether.

While the concept of a nuclear family is quite the trend now, there was a time when a married woman’s biggest nightmare was to invite the wrath of the Mother-In-Law. Gone are the days when girls were brought up in villages, and married off to some guy in the same village, and sasural and maika were at a stone’s throw from each other. Women travel cross-countries to be with their husbands now. And sometimes, when they are marrying into a family that has a different culture altogether, they mold themselves to fit into it.

Meet Mani Padma and Kavita Saharia, two women who have successfully molded themselves to fit into their husband’s family post marriage. While Mani Padma is an Assamese woman married into a North Indian family, Kavita is a Kumaoni woman married into an Assamese family. Was it an easy thing to do? Were there difficulties? How has their cultural differences affected their married life? Read on to know more…

Here’s Kavita’s side of the story:

As much I loved my Kumauniroots, living in Assam I also had deep fascination for North East culture .As a small kid I was encouraged by my parents to appreciate and learn good things about other cultures .My family had many local friends ,we actively participated in local festivals and other cultural activities .Going to see Assamese theatres ,Bhaonas ,Bihu competitions was a regular thing for us .

I first met my husband in Dental College. When we finally decided to get married the toughest task was to break the news to our families. “Reconsider your decision” was a common advice that both of us received .After some initial hiccups and hesitation both the families agreed to meet and pleasantly it was ‘love at first sight ‘ for both .I don’t remember a single instance where our families had any slightest disagreement over any issue. We got married in a mixed style. I wore a mekhela-sador for Jurun ceremony .On the wedding day the groom came dressed up in Assamese traditional attire while I wore a Kumauni style ghagra -pichauda .We saw the best of both the sides’ .Our wedding ceremony was a unique one, family and friends still talk about it fondly.

The fun of differences started right from the day of marriage at vidai which is the time for the bride to leave her house. Usually vidai is an emotional moment as the bride’s family and friends bid her a teary farewell. My parents announced to my relatives that as per Assamese tradition post vidai the bride comes back to her parent’s house in two hours after performing certain rituals at groom’s house .I still remember the huge laughter of everyone present there when one of my aunt asked, “to hum royenge kab” ?(So when do we cry?) Our married life started with a very positive note which gave me a great mental boost and confidence.

My new family made it a point to make my initial days as comfortable as possible. Everyone was extra helpful and understanding. I was raised in a family where sons and daughters were treated equally and luckily my new family too followed the same trend. I found a great friend in Ma, my mother-in-law. If I ever felt little anxious about anything just a reassuring looking from her relaxed me. You can never know everything about a culture even if you spend a life time learning it. The first lunch at home in itself was a revelation. Meals were elaborate with at least six to seven different dishes .Except for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, non-vegetarian food, specially fish was cooked. Fish used to be everywhere, in daal, in green vegetables, in khar, in tenga and sometimes in chutneys too .I always got my vegetarian shares but could not help noticing fish eyes floating on plates of people sitting in front of me at dining table. Soon I took over breakfast preparation where whole family would gather around me to see my chapattis pop up over gas flame. Some of the junior members clapped at every roti. That used to be funny and sweet. Till today every morning we eat a typical north Indian breakfast. I also introduced different varieties of legumes in our meals and slowly learnt most of the basic Assamese dishes. I don’t often do it but can scale and cut a fish into pieces with no problem if required. Many of my Assamese relatives now keep chapattis wrapped in a cotton cloth to maintain its softness after seeing me do it.

On my parent’s advice I made a special effort to learn the language .I made a fool of myself a lot but most of the time everyone around maintained a normal face no matter how funny the situation was. One morning I heard my younger sister in law say to my mother in law, “Mur xeuta heraise, bisaripuwanai” meaning I lost my xeuta and can’t find it .I assumed that she lost something like her hair clip or comb as she was getting ready to go to the college so in my attempt to help her I started to look for “xeuta” everywhere; on the floor, under the bed, in drawers. Perplexed, my mother in law asked me what I was looking for and I told her that I was looking for xeuta .Soon I was told that xeuta meant hair parting .We still laugh at that incident. As mentioned earlier my new family’s non vegetarian food consumption amazed and overwhelmed me. To pull my leg, my brother in law would purposely share some false scary stories like how sometimes they catch birds and small animals to eat .Once a beautiful mynah got trapped in our living room and all the kids and few of grownups ran around the living room trying to catch her .I heard them shout ,”Dhor dhor, aami puhim “ and I translated it as “Catch it catch it, we will eat it “.It was too much for me; my heart melted for the bird and I shouted in broken Hindi, “Hum tumko isko puhne nahi dega “ which I thought meant I will not let you eat it. Soon I was reassured by my mother-in-law that the word puhim meant “keep as pet “ and this time they could not control and everybody was on floor laughing including me. The mynah took full advantage of the situation and flew away.

I speak fluent Assamese now and still try to learn new words every day. My folks have now improved Hindi .My kids are fluent in both the languages .They now understand that their parents come from different cultures .They love getting pampered by their Nani (my mom) and all other relatives on our annual visits to Delhi. My daughter likes her fish tenga with matar pulaw while my son loves his parathas with Assamese style daal .We try to celebrate all Assamese as well Kumauni festivals. Both the families attend important functions at each other’s. In last seventeen years I have learnt a lot about Assamese traditions and culture and continue to do so.It all was smooth for me because of constant support of my dear parents and my husband and mother in law All along it has been my decision and no pressure from my husband and in laws. Learning a new culture has not diluted my love and belief in my roots nor have I lost my identity.

And here’s Mani Padma’s side of the story:

A friend of mine, a male, had once commented that in contrast to how lament about it being tough to leave home and become the ‘bahu‘ of another house, it is tougher to accept a stranger in one’s house than going to a strange home to be one of them. Well I didn’t argue because I really had no idea how it felt to have a stranger at your house and maybe he did have a point. But moving in with some strangers and sharing your life forever with them in a strange house hold did seem…strange.

Isn’t that the story of every girl in a traditional Indian family? And the ‘strange’ element multiplies if you are marrying into a family which is completely different and extreme in your spectral range of customs and tradition.

As an Assamese girl married to a North Indian family, life was certainly one big adventure after marriage. The events leading to the marriage was no less than the drama of Two States by Chetan Bhagat while the wedding itself was a bigger melodrama, but that is another story left to some other day. In my case the fun doubled after marriage when I had to take up post of second command in the kitchen

In my first week there I burnt everything on sight. The food was different and so were the utensils, which were totally not in sync with me. A rice eater like me had to convert to a roti maker. The rotis were such that my husband seriously started thinking of selling them at subsidized rates to the Indian army to serve the purpose of bullet proof vests. Even the rice which took just minutes to be cooked back home now took just seconds to turn to charcoal.

The dal was such that the Dead Sea would float in it; so high was the salt content. I became surer by the day that it wouldn’t be long before I would be kicked out gracefully. But something happened; something nice happened to smoothen out things. Mamaji and his family were visiting us, especially to meet me as an introductory gesture. My Ma-in-law had sadly shaken her head and asked my husband to order some food from outside. It was then, that my husband did something unpredictable. I still remember him saying to my Ma-in-law, “She will cook. She can. She has cooked before.” No frills. These were the exact words. I still remember them as these were the same words which in a very filmy manner boosted my confidence and yes, I did prepare lunch that day. Mattar Paneer and chilli mushroom which turned out beautifully well with the right amount of masala and gravy and rarely had I gone wrong since then. Not the roti of course. No amount of pep talk could correct them. It’s only after seven years of marriage, that I have reached that level with the rotis where you can eat them without the fear of your teeth falling off due to the effort.

After being brought up with the regularity of pink masur dal, being introduced to the sheer variety of dal that was available there was completely confusing. Which one to put in a rajma? Which one in khichdi? In fact even now I need five minutes of steady meditation .to sort out my confusions about the variety of dal before proceeding to prepare it.

I still remember the time when I had to prepare khichdi for my father in law, in which the split moong dal is used. As can be expected I confused it with the urad dal, and I think I created history of sorts by preparing khichdi with Urad dal (which is a total no-no at my in-laws).

My husband calmly but sadly looked at it and said,”Yeh daddy ke liye kya banaya, Blacky bhi nahi khayegi isse toh”: ( What have you cooked ? Even Blacky our pet dog won’t be able to eat it).I was beet root with shame and hurriedly prepared the ‘right’ khichdi (thankfully), but what do you know, Blacky did eat the khichdi and that too with relish!

Well, though kitchen was tough for me to manage, I had an easy run at other quarters. Brought up on a steady diet of Bollywood stuff, what used to scare me most was the thought of waking up early and doing a ‘Bhor Bhaye Panchi’ a la the quintisssential Bollywood ideal elder bahu who leaves the bed at the crow of the rooster and washes, cleans, bathes and waters the tulsi while singing a melodious bhajan. Now that would have been real difficult for me, being brought up in a very non-spiritual non-traditional manner, but nothing of that sort happened. Rules were quite flexible with just one ground rule- “The breakfast should be ready before your man wakes up” which was fine with me as my husband was a very late riser. In fact, I think, that he knows the sun rises in the east is just from the books. Not witnessed it. He used to mostly have night duties and the few day duties that would come our way was manageable. So ‘Bhor Bhaye Panchi‘ was a myth much to my advantage.

But it wasn’t a bad experience when I first came face to face with the traditional aspects. I was speechless with delight at the grandeur of Diwali– the lights, shopping, gifting, ceremonies, the kathas, aarti and the pujas totally awed me. Starting from the Navaratras and Dusshera till Diwali, the month long period used to be one big party. Karwa Chauth was another experience. None of the filmy melodrama with me of course, but what struck me was the level of self control that one had to practise. It was not only devotion to one’s spouse, but a determination which said, “I will not allow any harm to befall on my husband”. At least the alpha female in me used to look at it that way. Ahoi Ashtami or the fast for the children was one such experience that caught me totally unawares the first time. Just four days after Karwa Chauth, it is another fast as rigid as the Karwa Chauth. After the fast of the Navaratras, just few days before and after the Karwa chauth and Ahoi ashtami, one just develops a kind of fear psychosis about eating anything. The first thing that comes to your mind when you stretch out your hand unmindfully for something to eat is – ‘Oh My God, now was I on fast? Am I on fast today?” And this lasts well after Diwali. But no complaints really. At the end of the day when the family sits together for the special dinner amidst easy banter and silly jokes, it becomes worth all the trouble just to see everybody happy and together.

I don’t know how tough it was for them to incorporate an alien like me being amidst them but my transition from an Assamese girl to a North Indian daughter-in-law was an interesting journey in itself and one which is still evolving. Of course I have had my share of sulking and grumbling (whoever doesn’t?) but so have I had my share of giggles, dance in the streets of Jaipur complete with a band baaja in a relative’s wedding (something that I had vowed never to do before marriage but sigh! Such is life),long chats and bonding with my young nanads and nieces. I have had my share of silly tiffs and at the same time did I enjoy the compliments and love from my extended family. Being from Assam had never been a disadvantage, rather everyone had welcomed the fact that their newest member was from a distant beautiful land and had eagerly inquired of me about how it was over there. Their eagerness to know more used to be so contagious. When they mentioned Bhupen Hazarika and Pat or Muga silk, I was pleasantly surprised. Every now and then I receive requests from my cousin in laws to take them on a trip to Assam and I hope to God, some day I might be able to bring all of them over here to have a glimpse of where I used to belong long time ago before becoming one of them.

By

Sutradhar Sankhya Samhita

The Koina- Kavita Saharia

The Dulhan- Manipadma

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2 Comments

2 Comments
  1. Thanks Manashree for sharing your post.
    Of course life has more to it then the kitchen adventures , but we have attempted to just share the first hiccups that we had faced- the first thing that imprinted in our minds at those times. Thanks for visiting FE. Do keep on coming 🙂

  2. Hi,
    I loved reading the story of Mani and Kavita. More so because I could relate to their stories. I myself am married to my ‘once TamBrahm internet chat buddy’ and perhaps one of the first marriages to happen through cyber love affair. Thank you Mani and Kavita for sharing your stories. However, I think there is more than just the kitchen adventures in a multi-cultural marriage. I would have loved to read about the cultural shock we face immediately after the marriage. Looking for more such stories.

    I am sharing this link from my blog where I have written about four such friends. I think it may interest you too!
    Thank you!

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