Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Daughter-in-law she never had

I chose not to blog about Women on International Woman's Day yesterday, because it is my genuine hope that everyday should be woman's day for every woman on the planet.

But in honour of the most wonderful woman I ever knew - my grandmother - here is a story that she told me a couple of months before she passed away. The facts of her son's 'love story' may or may not be true, but that is how my grandmother saw it.

The Daughter-in-law she never had
Eighteen years and four daughters later, he was finally born. The apple of his mother's eyes, the pinnacle of his father's aspirations, he grew up knowing he was special.
A brilliant student, he topped every exam he appeared for. As soon as he started applying, he had Universities queuing up to offer him a full scholarship to pursue his doctoral studies. Within weeks of appearing for his Masters Exams, he left for the States.
Though never stated explicitly, he knew that he was expected to return to the country some day to marry a suitable girl. He knew he would have the final say in which girl he ultimately chose to marry, but that she would have to be one shortlisted by his parents was something he always knew.
One of the first friends he made in the States was a doctoral student who was working under the same guide as him. She was intelligent, compassionate, fun, and Jewish!
She fell in love with him. If he had any prior experience in dealing with women, he would have realised that he too had fallen in love with her. He told her that he would eventually marry a girl chosen by his parents, but that didn’t stop her from loving him.
She invited home for Thanksgiving. Introduced him to her parents. When he fell ill, she took care of him. When he was lonely, she kept him company. She learnt to cook his favourite dishes. She even celebrated his festivals with him.
But he refused to think of her as anything more than a friend. His mother had the right to choose his bride for him. She would be devastated if he told her he had fallen in love. And with a Jewish girl at that. At least sound them out, she begged, but he refused. Even mentioning her as anything more than a friend would break his mother’s heart, he insisted. And he could not subject his mother to that.

His mother was a lot smarter than he gave her credit for. She could read between the lines. A lifetime of living had taught her to understand emotions even when they are not explicitly stated. She knew her son was in love with the girl he called his friend. She compared every prospective daughter-in-law to her son’s Jewish friend – none of them measured up. She hoped her son would come to his senses and propose to his girl. She looked forward to welcoming her into the family- she knew that the girl would look after her son better than any girl she chose. She never said anything to her son, hoping he would come to his senses and do the right thing.

Years passed. The girl started hearing the ticking of her biological clock. If she didn’t get married now, she may never get married in time to have children. She gave him an ultimatum- marry me, or I will marry someone else. He did not want to hurt his mother by talking about her. She married someone else.

Before she passed away, his mother told her daughters that she wanted one of her sarees to go to the Jewish girl. She knew the girl would never wear it, but she hoped the girl would recognise it for the token of acceptance and gratitude that it was. She wished she had been able to welcome the girl into the family, but there was no way she could have proposed to her, and her son refused to take her hints and do so himself.

That Thanksgiving, the girl wore the saree and cooked an Indian dinner. It was her tribute to the mother-in-law she would have loved, if the man she was in love with hadn’t presumed to know his mother’s mind.


Anonymous said...

Oh, this story moved me! So tragic and senseless.. if only his mother had told him very clearly to marry his girl!

Mason Canyon said...

What a touching story. It goes to show that we should talk to others about what we are feeling and not think we know what they want. If only ..

dipali said...

What an amazing grandmother you had!
Such a sad story, though:(

Michele Emrath said...

Can I save this and give it to my son in 20 years? :) I refuse to say mothers know best, but I am so glad you shared this. What a strong woman, and what an stupid man! (He wasn't your father, was he?)


L. Diane Wolfe said...

That is tragic!
It's the things we don't do, not what we've done, that we most regret in life.

Ann Elle Altman said...

What a sad and tragic story. This could be a novel... perhaps the story could be written.


Faith Pray said...

What a beautiful story! I'm with Ann Elle - it could be a great novel!

Jan Morrison said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Fiona/ Mason - yes, the one thing this taught me is to not hold my thoughts back. If I feel strongly about something, I just say it - better to be hated for something I said than for something the other person thinks I intended to say.

And Mason, welcome to the blog.

@ Dipali - the entire framework of how marriages happen in India makes for such tragedies, doesn't it? And yes, my grandmother was a very special woman.

@ Michele - Welcome to the blog.
I would be honoured if you do. And now that you mention it, I think I should do the same myself (my kids are a little younger than yours).
And, no, it wasn't my father- it was my mom's younger brother - still a bachelor at sixty.

@ Diane - that is so true.
@ Ann - I never really thought of it as a novel, but now that you mention it, it could perhaps work as one. You've planted a seed, my friend, let's see if it germinates.

@ Faith - and you have watered the seed. If it ever sets roots and grows, it would be the best tribute I could ever pay to the most wonderful person I ever knew.

@ Jan - I trashed your comment like you asked me to, but I have to tell you that if I achieve even a fraction of the enlightenment my grandmother had, I would be sure to attain Nirvana.


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