When my mouth-watering koftas failed to elicit a response and the finger-lickingly good biryani evoked but a disdainful sniff, I was at my wit’s end. I had followed all the instructions in the housekeeping manual to ensure that no self-respecting speck of dirt would cling to her finger when she checked under the corners. The perfectly sharp creases of my clothes would probably look good on my resume if I applied for a job at the Laundromat next door. My small family of three would get a clean bill of health from the toughest of practitioners. Yet, I was lagging way behind in the race for the ideal bahu.
Whenever I knew that Mother India was due for a visit, I would spend the wait in agony. My poor husband has had to wake up to torturous sounds in the middle of the night. (He swears that sometimes I acted as if one possessed…and intent on strangling him to death!) I do pity him, seriously I do. In those few days, I would turn from my normal loving self to a veritable monster, forever on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Anything and everything was guaranteed to produce a snarl or a growl in response. Everyone avoided me till we were finally out of the war zone a.k.a her departure.
How do I win over this woman who played such an important part in my husband’s life? Where was I going wrong? No one had handed me the “Good Bride’s Guide to Win the Tough Mom-In-Law”; I was on my own! Then one day, I experienced a Eureka moment; that beautiful instant when everything inexplicable suddenly seemed to make sense. Like a fog that had lifted to show the clear road up ahead. I hummed a little as I patted myself on the back. This visit, I would change the way married ladies all over lead life. It would be one small step for me but a huge leap for wo-mankind. Yes, I had finally understood what mothers-in-law wanted!
Some time back, I had received a joke from a friend. It was about a man publishing a 200 paged book on the subject “What Women Want” and apparently it was 200 pages of absolutely nothing – blank white paper reflecting the perpetual confusion and disorientation that men experience in their interactions with their better halves. Now, if I were to write my book on “What Moms-in-law want” it would probably be a thesis of several volumes that covered everything on the planet – from being a perfect specimen of “femalehood” (for want of a better word) to rearing the perfect children to having the most beautiful house ever. And then, at the end of the last book of the series, there would be a disclaimer – “Be prepared to have your non-existential flaws highlighted. Because, as fate would have it, there is no perfect bahu.”
But that’s all in the past and I am sort of digressing from the point here. Maybe I want to drag this moment of glory longer. I shall, however, restrain myself and spill the secret. The way to the heart of your most dreaded opponent is flattery. Yes, you heard me right. Praise her to Kingdom come. Speak in hushed tones when you mention her upbringing of her children. Let the faith in your heart shine forth as you hand over the kitchen to her much more able hands. Seek her advice on every topic under the sun – from cleaning the toilets to the right way to wash your hair. Don’t play the miser here! You can never go wrong with a few additional compliments. And once you are sure that you have subjected her to an overdose of niceties, heap on a ladleful more just to be on the safe side! Then my dear, she will leave your home (as she did mine), with a big smile on her face and the promise to mail across your Certificate of Completion. You will finally have graduated to a level befitting your status!
*koftas – melt-in-the-mouth dumplings in an exquisitely rich gravy.
** biryani – A lip-smacking rice dish with a choice of vegetables/meat.
*** bahu – the perfect Indian daughter-in-law