(Names changed to protect identities)
In India you don’t marry a person, you marry a family…. When one of my close friends got married to a wonderful man in another city, we were all excited at the wedding but worried when we saw her mother-in-law…she looked strict and dominating.
Her mom was also worried, but Reema seemed happy. She was doing well at work and was besotted with her man. When she came home next and we got a chance to chat alone, the first question I asked was about her mother-in-law.
“She is lovely and lonely,” is what my friend offered. Her sons were busy in their lives, one a surgeon and the other a banker and after her husband of 40 years passed away she was finding it difficult to cope. So over the years Reema and Mummy formed a bond which was unique and wonderful.
Her own mother was amazed at how she made it a point to watch a film and do lunch with her mom-in-law once a week, despite her crazy work schedule. We joked that she saw his mom more than she saw her husband!
She got promoted and Mummy was the one who took her out to celebrate. When Mummy had a minor eye operation, Reema was with her all through. Mummy was a woman of few words but when she called Reema’s mom thanking her for bringing up her daughter so well it was a joyous moment.
The chasm in Reema and Vikram’s marriage was clear to all and communication was at an all-time low. His mother tried talking to him but he shrugged it off. Reema confided in me that she felt ignored and lost in the marriage and didn’t know what to do.
In a span of three months, the 3-year-old marriage broke up…an extramarital affair was exposed, her dislike of his spending habits became an issue and a swift divorce brought her back to her maiden name. She got back to work as soon as she found a new apartment. Two of us friends went to spend time with her and were shocked when on the third day she told us she would meet us later as she had to meet Mummy for lunch. We asked her if she was crazy…she just smiled and walked out.
Later she told me that it was a bond she wasn’t ready to break. She had decided she liked this little town which was her home now. She loved her job, she could practice yoga and the hills around helped her heal. It was a small town and she couldn’t avoid her in-laws even if she wished to.
She only genuinely liked her mother-in-law and with the others she had cut ties, including common friends. Her ex-husband was glad that he could live outside the city, as long as Reema was there for his mom. She told him her relationship with Mummy had nothing to do with him.
Her mother and we thought she was mad and not able to move on. She said that this was a relationship built on mutual regard and respect. They never spoke of Vikram and Mummy told her she would understand if Reema chose to break ties…
Reema didn’t want to, because to her it was crystal clear that while the marriage was a sham, this bond was genuine. She saw no reason to let go of it. So they met once a week.
Sometimes Reema questioned herself…was she in touch with mummy only because she didn’t have family here? She knew that wasn’t the case, because now they had no expectations from each other. She did have friends and she was spending a lot of time with Chris, a new colleague. She missed her lunch with Mummy twice because she was with him.
When Reema started dating Chris, Mummy was the first person she told. Mummy hugged her and said, “I knew there was someone. Cherish him, he’s someone you’ve have chosen after having discovered yourself. You don’t need him to complete you, but he will.”
She told Reema that they shouldn’t meet now, lest Chris felt uncomfortable. Reema hoped it wouldn’t come to that. I told her, “However liberal the guy is, you shouldn’t be introducing him to your ex mother-in-law. Say she is an aunt.” Reema was hurt and said, “If he can’t accept people in my life, it makes me think twice.”
Mummy chose not to attend the wedding and graciously sent a gift and flowers.