My mother in law and I went for a facial cleansing last night to a lady who runs a small salon in the garage of her home. My experience there was as relaxing as it was depressing.
The cleansing started off as it usually does- moisturizer on the face and small chit chat- but the casual chit chat came to an abrupt halt when my mother in law asked the lady a simple question; “How are things at home?”
The sudden pause in the lady’s movements, and the sigh with which she replied, “worse” was enough to make my mil feel instant remorse. Since this was the first time I was meeting this lady, I had no idea what this was about but as the conversation progressed, I started to understand where she was coming from.
Before I begin the story of Mrs. Khan, the facial lady, let me give you a brief background about her family situation; Mrs. Khan is married and lives with her husband, two daughters and a mother in law. Her husband hasn’t been quite lucky with jobs and has been on and off work for a while, consequently being unable to support his family as a man in Pakistani society should. In order to meet the needs of the household, Mrs. Khan runs a salon in her garage after six pm and her afternoons are spent running a gym and giving Yoga lessons at home. Mrs. Khan’s mil, too, happens to support the family financially, by running a Montessori on the Ground floor of the house. So far, so good?
So what makes things at home “worse” for Mrs. Khan?
Her mother in law.
It is true that the principal of a Montessori, an educator, a woman children look up to and parents have high expectations from, is actually an old school monster at home. Who would have thought? And all because her daughter in law failed to produce a son! It’s been over twenty years since Mrs. Khan got married and moved in with her husband, and her mil’s been after her life ever since. “I don’t understand why women get their sons married if they can’t stand sharing them with another woman! Is it just so somebody can do the housework and be at their son’s beck and call? Why are we reduced to becoming faceless slaves if we fail to produce a boy?” cried Mrs. Khan angrily.
Mrs. Khan’s mother in law makes it a point to verbally abuse her on a daily basis, not helping out with any of the house chores and making life impossible for servants, ensuring their immediate departure from the house. So Mrs. Khan has to shoulder the burden of two of her businesses along with the demanding chores of the household. Even her daughters are not spared! They too have to suffer the consequences of simply having been born. Mr. Khan does not join his mother in verbally assaulting his wife, but his lack of support in defending her feels like a physical blow to his wife. With constant bickering and a lack of social life, Mrs. Khan’s world is dark, depressing and forever ruined.
But this was not as shocking to hear as the story that Mrs. Khan narrated next. One of Mrs. Khan’s Yoga students recently got a divorce. She was married for a total of four months in which her husband would beat her up occasionally, her mother in law would time her showers, meals, chores, calls and everything else she did, physically reprimanding her if she exceeded the allotted time. Together, they made her life a nightmare with verbal and physical abuses that could easily damage a girl’s soul. Finally, four months into the marriage when the girl was pregnant, she was sent to her mother’s house and a divorce notice followed a week later. The girl lost her baby from shock.
There are so many such cases that Mrs. Khan comes across on a regular basis and she feels that it has become a common problem in most households. Mothers in law are treating their newly wed daughters in law as competition, trying to show them who’s boss by repressing them every chance they get. These repression tactics often get out of control and result in physical abuse and a destroyed marriage. Husbands do not stop this constant battle because they usually feel more loyal towards their mothers and believe the wife must deserve whatever comes her way. Sometimes, husbands may take part in the joys of beating up the helpless woman, while at other times, he may feel benevolent and ignore her. What I fail to understand is why educated men, coming from apparently respectable families, do not find this violence shocking or even unjust? Why do young girls, who have an MBA degree and a certain level of independence that comes with it, not stand up to such violence and walk out?
Why are so many women going through this today? This is not something that happens in illiterate families because, if the principal of a Montessori can enjoy being a monster in law, then why not any ordinary educated housewife? Can these atrocities be stopped by limiting arranged marriages? Or are these problems a result of living in large joint families? Why do these things happen in this day and age? When did these older women lose their consciences?
Once the cleansing was complete, my mother in law and I exchanged a look that probably conveyed a million thoughts in a second. I left the small salon with many questions and several concerns, but with certainty regarding one thing; I have the best in laws ever and I am a very very lucky girl.