Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bahu gets a promotion!

Earlier in the Summer, husband-ji went to India for 3 weeks for his cousin-brother's wedding. It was a grand, uber-traditional Tamil wedding - arranged, of course - to a girl from a smaller, more traditional city. Basically, by Iyengar standards, she was the perfect Tamil bride - beautiful, thin, fair, young, extremely sheltered by her parents, from a smaller city, and hates garlic, onion, and North Indian food. A South Indian bride, through and through - and probably the most traditional out of all the sister-in-law's (me included) who have married into the paternal side of the family. As you guys might remember, I could not go for the wedding because I was helping my parents' shift houses, and also I did not want to risk me or Maya fainting from the inhumane May heat in Tamil Nadu.

Anyways, during the wedding time, I kept in touch via modern technology and watched the ceremony via Skype and spoke to everyone giving my congratulations.

And then, something interesting happened...

Husband-ji handed the phone to his uncle (the groom's father) and I offered my congratulations for the marriage. Here is how the conversation went:

Me: "Congratulations uncle!"
Uncle: "Congratulations to YOU!"
Me: "To me, why???"
Uncle: "Now you have been promoted to the ELDER SISTER-IN-LAW!"

I was a little shocked, because it just dawned on me that this WHOLE TIME I have been the dreaded choti bahu. And that people actually think this way. And friggin' thank god, I was finally getting a promotion!!!

Even though husband-ji and I have been together for 10 years, we have only been married for 5 years (because obviously the first 5 years of me waiting around to get married to him doesn't exactly count in desi family values). Technically, I was the last bride to marry into the family, making me sister-in-law #3. That means that until now, I have been under scrutiny. I totally forgot about all of this because since I have had Maya (produced an offspring for the clan) most of the extended family has gone easier on me because I have distracted them by being an amazing mother.  (Shocking, I know. That a Firangi can actually be a devoted mother!) Luckily, I had Maya 9 months to the day of our honeymoon, so I didn't have to deal with too much choti bahu nonsense. However, for some families, choti bahu bullying can last a lifetime.

(My wedding day)

You see, the choti bahu - or the newest bride to the family (and thus, the youngest), is subjected to all kinds of strange treatment. Everything about her is dissected. Her appearance is torn apart. Everyone discusses IF she cooks, and WHAT she cooks, and HOW often. Does she have her husband on a tight leash? How does she express affection with her husband? How does she get along with in-laws? Is she an obedient daughter-in-law? Does she work outside the home? Is she eager to impress? And whom does she want to impress? She is basically put under a microscope - for years - as people try to figure out how this new, unknown person fits into the complicated and tight-knit Indian family structure. Her each and every move is sliced apart. Her relation to others in the family. What she says and does not say. Being the newest daughter-in-law in the family is a LOT of pressure, and nothing you do goes unnoticed. Most daughter-in-law's are ruthlessly compared to the angelic daughters of the family, and to their co-sister's-in-law's, as if they are being lined up to perform some Olympic rat race.

Of course, men do not have to deal with this kind of sorority hazing because they technically never leave their natal home - emotionally, at least. Such discussions are limited to the ladies - all hush-hush talk in back rooms, kitchens, and private phone conversations and messages when the guys are out - because, let's face it - the guys just don't get it! Somehow I think that if the guys of the family were subjected to as much comparison, then they'd murder each other in less than 10 seconds.

For example, even though I have not met my new cousin sister-in-law, I know how she chops her vegetables, how she cooks, the dynamic between her and her husband, and all sorts of odd random details that have made it all the way to Canada through the desi family grapevine. The newest bride is always the newest gossip.

One thing I am relishing is as the years go by my seniority in the desi family increases. And with seniority, comes more respect. I have come a long way since being "the foreign girlfriend" and I'm glad to be in a better position. In desi families, there is a clear hierarchy - especially for women who marry into the family. It's sort of like marrying into a sorority house where they haze the new members to scare the shit out of them - lets just call it "kappa delta desi"!

Being promoted to the "elder sister-in-law" role is basically like being promoted to that cushy corner office with the great view...where you can basically do whatever the f**k you want!

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Dear readers, do you have some "choti bahu" stories to share?
Did you face any hazing as a new bride?

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9 comments

  1. LOL this is the most awesome, cutesome description of youngest bride and transition to senority, i have ever read :) and very perfect description.

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  2. Alex,

    This was an awesome post, I am so delighted that you have now been promoted! You have done an amazing job getting your in laws and parents moved. Know this was lots of planning and hard work. Have an fun summer with your family.

    Love

    Melissa

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  3. :) Spot on. I recently became the elder daugther in law. Being Indian I already was waiting for it desperately. Enjoying rt now as the attention (hopefully) has been diverted. Enjoy!!!!

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  4. Haha, amazing!!

    I have never thought of it before but in our family, I am the eldest and youngest DIL and it will be several years until the next Bahu comes along (my husband's cousin brother is still in his teens). The elder family members have called me 'Bahu Rani' several times but I think that is a dig at the fact I don't follow the traditional Bahu roles. My husband's cousins all call me Vahini, I think that means eldest sister-in-law in Marathi. Hmmm, I wonder how it will be when my little cousin-brother gets married.

    I love that you could be apart of the wedding via skype, God bless modern technology! Best wishes to your new SIL <3 xx

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    Replies
    1. Generally bahurani is meant to convey affection and respect. It means something like lovely or very good daughter in law. It is one word that also gets lost in translation. But yes the way things are spoken may change the meaning altogether :)

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    2. Vahini, means Brothers wife/sister-in-law. Co sisters-in-law will also call each other Vahini.

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  5. I am the ONLY DIL, so all attention will always be on me :), no escape for me..

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  6. Bravo!
    We have an odd predicament in our family.
    I am married to the youngest son so I should technically be the "choti bahu" forever.
    However, in spite of being the youngest son my husband has surpassed his 4 older brothers in career & income. In fact 2 of his older brothers are now his employees!
    So I'm not sure what I am now, but the derision I endured my first 2 yrs of marriage as 'choti bahu' shifted since my husband's great success. Oh yes, and her supreme majesty the eldest DIL (married to the eldest son) now terrorizes second DIL and refuses to eat in the same room with 3rd DIL. This Desi DIL & family hierarchy system nonsense and who gets to do what and when to whom is so ridiculous I've given up trying to understand it.

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  7. I truly feel sorry for the new bride.

    Millie B

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